What Is Activated Charcoal? How This Detox Supplement Works

By: Dave Asprey
March 19, 2020

What Is Activated Charcoal? How This Detox Supplement Works

  • Activated charcoal is trending. Its benefits include general detoxification, relief from gas and bloating and potential anti-aging benefits.
  • Charcoal binds to toxins and helps to flush them from your body, making it a powerful substance for general detoxification.
  • Activated charcoal comes from burning a carbon source like wood or (better yet) coconut shells. The substance is “activated” by high temperatures, creating millions of tiny pores that capture, bind and remove heavy metals, bacteria and intestinal gases.
  • Take activated charcoal powder or capsules when you eat out at restaurants, when you travel, when you feel bloated and when you overindulge on the weekends.

Activated charcoal is having a moment. You’ve likely seen charcoal “wellness” shots at your local hipster coffee shop, or perhaps you’ve swigged it at a juice bar. Its use as a detox and healing remedy goes way back — traditional healers have used it for thousands of years because of its numerous benefits.

Activated charcoal is a wonder substance for general systemic detoxification, known for its ability to bind with certain heavy metals and toxins and then flush them from your body. It may also deliver anti-aging benefits.

The best way to lead a Bulletproof lifestyle is by avoiding the things that make you weak. This includes energy-sapping processed snacks, sugar, and overexposure to toxic chemicals. But sometimes avoiding crappy food and toxins is easier said than done. Whether you’re forced to eat at a less-than-ideal restaurant or you want to try a deeper detox, charcoal is your ally.

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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] Just 1.5 grams of activated charcoal powder has about the same surface area as a football field!

Why use activated charcoal?

Charcoal pills on table next to water

Charcoal has been used for centuries as a multi-use remedy. Modern-day emergency medical teams have administered activated charcoal to toxic poisoning patients as an emergency measure.[2] It works through a process called “adsorption” (that’s ad, and not ab), which means “to bind to” rather than “to absorb.”

Charcoal is so much more than a trendy new supplement. It systemically supports elimination of everyday toxins from party food, and helps reduce the next-day effects of overindulgence, gas and bloating. It is a part of my mold toxin detox protocols. Keep reading to find out why.

Benefits of activated charcoal

Woman holding intestine cutout over stomach

In the early 19th century, medical journals began publishing research revealing activated charcoal as an antidote for poisons. Current research estimates support these earlier practices of activated charcoal, and also introduce additional benefits to using it. Here are just a few ways that activated charcoal works.

General detoxification

Toxins from low-quality, processed food and environmental pollution sap your energy and contribute to brain fog and digestive issues. Chronic exposure to toxins causes cellular damage, allergic reactions, compromised immunity and rapid aging. Regular use of charcoal can remove unwanted toxins from your body so you can feel better, fast.

Relieves gas and 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]

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 not easy or 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.

Anti-aging

Activated charcoal may have powerful anti-aging properties. Early studies show 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]

Used to treat kidney disease

While it’s been identified for further study, for years, Japanese doctors have been giving people a carbon compound to address the progression of chronic kidney disease.[6]

Supports heart health

Activated charcoal may also lower cholesterol levels. In an initial study, seven patients with high cholesterol who took 8 grams of activated charcoal three times a day showed a 25% reduction in total cholesterol. They also lowered their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 41% and increased their HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 8%.[7]

When to use activated charcoal

Person holding charcoal pill and glass of water

As a biohacker and general health nerd, I quickly realized that if I eat out, I end up eating food saturated with high levels of toxicity. This is even more of a problem when you’re traveling. A commercial flight exposes you to high levels of airborne contaminants.[8] And that’s not even counting the additives from the crappy airplane food. Activated charcoal always saves the day when I overindulge on food or when I’m on long trips.

Take activated charcoal when:

  • You drink or eat out at restaurants
  • You eat processed junk foods
  • You drink bad quality coffee
  • You overindulge on party food and drink
  • You’re traveling, especially air travel (activated charcoal is part of my no-jet-lag protocol)

Activated charcoal isn’t just for isolated situations. Taking it on a daily basis is a great way to help you thrive in an overly toxin-filled environment.

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How to take activated charcoal

Closeup of activated charcoal pills

Everyone responds differently to different doses, so always consult a doctor before using any new supplement.

Charcoal dosage: Take 1,000mg of activated charcoal pilsl to detox. To stay Bulletproof, pay attention to how you feel to make sure everything comes out all right (bad pun intended). If you take too much, your body will let you know. Constipation is a potential side effect of too much activated charcoal. If you get a little bound up, cut back on your dosage. You can also try it in a recipe. Check out these 10 activated charcoal recipes to get started.

When to avoid taking charcoal: Never 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. Be sure to ask your doctor about whether charcoal can interfere with your medications or any health issues.

Drink plenty of water: To avoid constipation, make sure you drink lots of water. If you find that you’re still getting constipated, try reducing your dose, but make sure to keep up your water intake. Learn more about how to read your poop.

And speaking of poop … If you use activated charcoal, it may turn your poop black. This is great because when you see it, it tells you how long food takes to go through your bowel (called transit time). But it can be surprising. Our kids’ preschool called once, concerned that the kids had blood in their stool, which is another thing that causes black poop. I got to tell them about the benefits of consuming charcoal.

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This is an updated version of an article originally published December 2018.