What Is Activated Charcoal? How This Detox Supplement Works

By: Dave Asprey
December 2, 2020

What Is Activated Charcoal? How This Detox Supplement Works

  • An activated charcoal supplement can aid in the detoxification process and also help counteract gas-related bloating.
  • You should never take activated charcoal with other supplements or medications, as it has the power to bind to other substances.
  • Bulletproof Coconut Charcoal is 100% sourced from coconuts, activated, free of fillers and provides gastrointestinal relief in a convenient capsule form.

For thousands of years, activated charcoal has been used to help detoxify the body. Of course, people in those days didn’t stuff their stomachs with processed foods that cause bloating, constipation and other uncomfortable feelings.

But what is activated charcoal actually doing once it’s inside your system? This wonder substance binds with certain heavy metals and toxins to help flush them from the body. It may even have anti-aging benefits, too!

Ultimately, activated charcoal is an effective way to feel better when you’re bloated after eating, and it’s also an amazing part of an overall detox diet routine. Because let’s face it…even the strictest dieters can have a moment of weakness and overindulge in energy-sapping processed snacks.

Let’s take a closer look at activated charcoal benefits, potential side effects and where to buy activated charcoal. Believe me, your bloated belly will thank you later.

What is activated charcoal?

Charcoal on wooden plate

Activated charcoal is the byproduct of burning a carbon source like wood or (better yet) coconut shells. The substance is “activated” by high temperatures which change its chemical structure to create much smaller particles with more surface area. The result is ultra-fine charcoal with millions of tiny pores that bind to and help remove many heavy metals, chemicals and intestinal gases.[1] In fact, one teaspoonful of activated charcoal has about the same total surface area as a football field![2]

Why use activated charcoal?

Charcoal has been consumed for centuries as a multi-use remedy. In fact, in the early 19th century, medical journals began publishing research revealing activated charcoal as an antidote for poisons. It works through a process called “adsorption” (that’s ad, and not ab), which means “to bind to” rather than “to absorb.”

Over the years, activated charcoal has become quite a popular supplement. After all, with processed foods readily available more than ever, many people need help cleansing their system of impurities and toxins.

Luckily, activated charcoal can be an effective solution to counteract bloating and other unwanted side effects from overindulging. It systematically supports the elimination of toxins, which can provide you with much-needed relief in the event you didn’t make the best food choices.

Benefits of activated charcoal

A medicine cabinet full of Bulletproof supplements

When it comes to activated charcoal benefits, there are several reasons why you should consider keeping this supplement on hand.

What is activated charcoal’s role in your daily life? Here are just a few ways activated charcoal works in supplement form to support your health:

1. General detoxification

Toxins from low-quality, processed food and environmental pollution sap your energy and contribute to brain fog and digestive issues. Regular use of charcoal can remove unwanted toxins from your body so you can feel better, fast.

2. Relief from gas and everyday bloating

After digesting foods like beans, bacteria in your body break down the cellulose, generating some less-than-optimal byproducts like gas or liquid stools. Charcoal enters the digestive tract and counteracts this process by binding to byproducts and easing these digestive issues.[3]

3. Binds to toxins

Charcoal was first demonstrated as a poison antidote in the 19th century, when scientists ingested arsenic and strychnine then chased it with activated charcoal—and they lived! Today, because it’s neither easy nor ethical to experiment on patients suffering from toxic poisoning, the results of using activated charcoal to reduce the damage from poison aren’t scientifically documented. That said, initial studies showed that activated charcoal made some drugs less bioavailable and the majority of some drugs cleared the body without being absorbed.[4] This is why you want to take charcoal away from other supplements and medications.

4. Anti-aging

Activated charcoal may have powerful anti-aging properties. Early studies in animals show that t by binding toxins in the GI tract it may prevent numerous cellular changes associated with aging. One rodent study showed that activated charcoal increased the average lifespan of older test animals by roughly 34 percent.[5]  This early work didn’t use activated charcoal every day and we don’t yet know what level of use may support anti-aging benefits in humans, but it’s interesting to consider that the periodic use of activated charcoal may have some benefits related to longevity, too.  We’ll keep you posted as more data becomes available on this one…

When to use activated charcoal

Person holding charcoal pill and glass of water

Now that you’re on board with the potential health benefits of activated charcoal, it’s time to take a look at when to use it. And although it may have started as a form of poison control, these days, there are many more common instances when taking activated charcoal can come in handy, such as:

  • Eating out at restaurants: When dining out, it’s important to keep in mind that chefs may cook their food with certain ingredients that may not sit well with your digestive system. Instead of being unprepared for this unfortunate event, you can take activated charcoal to help counteract bloating and intestinal gas issues that could potentially ruin your evening.
  • Consuming processed foods: Ingesting processed foods isn’t the best way to take care of your body. But if you fall off track from your diet with something that has a laundry list of chemicals and preservatives, you can take activated charcoal to help detoxify your system.
  • Drinking low-quality coffee: Some coffees have toxins. The detoxifying effect of activated charcoal can be handy if you happen to sip an unfavorable cup of joe.
  • Overindulging on party food: Whether it’s the holidays, a birthday or just any type of party, you know there’s going to be delicious food choices. However, they might not sit so well in your gastrointestinal tract. If you happen to overindulge on party food (snacks and sweets can be so tempting!), activated charcoal may just be able to come to your rescue.
  • When traveling: Sometimes traveling (especially flying) can cause indigestion and other unsatisfying feelings. Try adding an activated charcoal supplement to your packing list the next time you get a chance to travel.

While there are times you should take activated charcoal, there are also certain situations where you should not…

When to avoid taking charcoal

First, make sure neve tor take activated charcoal with medications or other supplements. Charcoal binds a lot of substances—even the good stuff, like prescription medications, vitamins and minerals. Taking charcoal at a different time of day than you take other supplements or meds gives it time to pass through your system and not bind to things you want your body to absorb. (That means best practice is to take your activated charcoal supplement away from the ingestion of other vitamin or mineral supplements. Otherwise, it may interfere with their absorption.)

Pro tip: Be sure to seek medical advice about whether charcoal can interfere with your over-the-counter medications or any health issues.

What to look for when buying activated charcoal

When it comes to purchasing an activated charcoal supplement, make sure to do your homework, first. A few things you should keep in mind include:

  1. Look for pure charcoal made from coconut shells: Unfortunately, other charcoal supplements on the market may contain commonly used materials like wood, peat, bamboo and debris. (No thanks!)
  2. Choose a charcoal that is activated: If the charcoal is activated, it is porous and allows the supplement to do its job acting like a sponge as it detoxifies the body.
  3. Ensure the supplement is free of fillers: This will ensure the supplement is in its purest form and will not be disrupted by other ingredients.

How to take activated charcoal

Closeup of activated charcoal pills

Since everyone responds differently to varying doses of supplements, you should always consult a health professional beforehand. That’s the case with activated carbon (otherwise known as activated charcoal).

What is activated charcoal’s recommended dose? Simply take 1,000mg of activated charcoal to detox. In fact, just two capsules of our 100% coconut shell-sourced activated coconut charcoal does the trick. Pay attention to how you feel to make sure everything comes out all right (bad pun intended).

As for frequency? While activated charcoal products certainly come in handy in single-dose situations to counteract bloating or other digestive issues, it isn’t just for isolated incidents. You can absolutely take activated charcoal as needed.

Activated charcoal side effects

If you take too much activated charcoal, your body will let you know. So, what are some potential activated charcoal side effects?

You may experience constipation if you take too much of this popular supplement. If you get a little bound up, cut back on your dosage. In addition, make sure to drink plenty of water, as it will help keep the digestive process moving (hopefully).

And, if you are successful in your bathroom efforts, consider yourself warned: if you use activated charcoal, it may result in black bowel movements. If that is new and unexpected for you, and only associated with the introduction of the activated charcoal, fret not; that is normal. If this happens, file it away as a note on how long food takes to pass through your bowel (called transit time).

Wondering about other ways charcoal can find its way into your daily diet? Check out these activated charcoal recipes which will help you detox from the inside out!

This article has been updated with new content.

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