Activated Charcoal: Is It Actually Good for Your Gut?

Activated charcoal in powder and block form.

Making the rounds in the health industry is a dietary supplement known as activated charcoal (or activated carbon). It’s been gaining popularity as a powdered food additive that’s added to things like pizza doughs, yogurts, tonic beverages and much more. While providing these foods with a rarely seen black coloring, most people find that it has no taste at all. 

In the video below, Dustin Moore talks about the trending topic of activated charcoal (including the benefits and risks).

If you don’t like the video or want more information, continue reading.

Perceived benefits

Those in favor of activated carbon praise it as a universal cleanser, capable of detoxifying impurities and poisons from the human body, eliminating gassy bowels, and smoothing out your skin.

It’s true that this supplement possesses some unique and helpful qualities, but that alone is not sufficient to pass it off as a validated health product. Here are a few facts to consider before consuming activated charcoal.

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Activated charcoal in powder and block form
Source: Ravedave / Wikimedia Commons

How it works

First of all, activated carbon is a processed form of carbon that is very porous. This means it’s covered in millions of tiny pores that can absorb surrounding materials. In other words, it has the ability to soak up and trap compounds it comes into contact. For this reason, it is quite useful in commercial and industrial grade purification systems.

Air particles, heavy metals, bacteria, sewage filtrates, and even medicinal compounds can be extracted through a system which utilizes activated charcoal. While this is wonderful for machinery, it can be dangerous for the human consumption. 

The problem with activated charcoal

To use a play-on-words, the problem with consuming activated charcoal is that as a filter is – it has no filter. It doesn’t know the differenced between good compounds and harmful compounds. Instead, everything gets trapped and cleared.

Calcium, iron, vitamin C, and thiamin are just a few examples of micronutrients that activated carbon removes. Unfortunately, this is not good for your body. In addition to nutrients, prescribed medicines may also be absorbed and not perform their proper function. In fact, your body already has a naturally efficient filtering system known as your liver and kidneys.

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Activated charcoal in powder form

Thinking about it further, most of the food prepared for your consumption is not going poison you. For example, processed foods are prepared in sanitary environments. Also, safe food practices require restaurants to wash off your fruits and vegetables as well as thoroughly cook your foods. In doing this, this greatly reduces your risk of developing foodborne illnesses. Therefore, a detox supplement like activated charcoal is not necessary and may actually be harmful.

More research needed…

No studies have been produced showing activated carbon reduces gaseous symptoms. Furthermore, some individuals may react to activated charcoal with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.

Last, even if you feel you’ve experienced benefits from consuming activated charcoal, we simply don’t know what a safe dosage looks like. If you’re looking to reduce unpleasant GI simples or simply eat healthier, meet with your registered dietitian to develop a plan that works for you!

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Dustin Moore, MS, RD
My name is Dustin Moore and I'm a registered dietitian, lecturer and program director for a dietetic internship. I received my bachelor's degree in dietetics from Brigham Young University (BYU) and completed my master's degree and dietetic internship at California State University (CSU) Long Beach. In addition to teaching undergraduate courses at CSU Long Beach, I've also worked as an outpatient dietitian specializing in gastric disorders. Education of individuals - whether it's patients, students, dietetic interns, or the general population - gives me direction and drive. Whatever is related to the wellness and longevity in the life of individuals is something I'm interested in teaching and discussing. My role as a dietitian centers on the question of "What is the purpose of having good health?" And I believe the answer to that is to maximize the freedom there is to life! In resolving health issues and struggles, people are granted great freedom which allows them to pursue life to it's fullest. Of course, I love cooking! I also love spending time with family and loved ones, writing, and teaching. But, when I'm not playing the role of the food snob, I also enjoy sports, weight training, archery and generally working with my hands on projects around the house.