12/27/2022 | By Maria Stewart

A popular new additive in consumer products, activated charcoal, has been used since ancient times to treat ailments and in contemporary medical settings as an antidote to poisoning. Are the over-the-counter products containing the substance offer any benefits, and are they safe?

Activated charcoal, sometimes called activated carbon, is a supplement that is best-known as a possible remedy for poisoning. However, most reputable resources discourage its use after a poisoning incident without medical supervision. It has been added to foods and beverages like nutritional tonics, granola, chocolate, and chewing gum. In foods and beverages, it’s often promoted for digestive wellness, but the evidence is mixed. The substance is also used in water filtration systems and at-home filtered pitchers to remove impurities from drinking water.

Activated charcoal is a specific type of carbon that binds to other substances, which is why it has been used as a remedy for poisoning. This isn’t the same as your barbeque briquets. Although typically derived from wood, activated charcoal is specially manufactured for human consumption. It is processed in a unique way that adds millions of microscopic holes to the granules’ surface. This enhances its ability to bind harmful compounds via increased surface area. Some types also include a sugar alcohol called sorbitol. Sorbitol speeds up laxation and enables quicker passing of harmful substances.

Research in the 1980s showed a possible benefit of activated charcoal for digestive discomfort by reducing flatulence. It is claimed to “detoxify” or “cleanse,” supported by current medical practice using this substance as a poisoning remedy.

Recommended intakes and safety

There is limited clinical evidence for routine intake of activated charcoal. If poisoning is suspected, medical attention should be sought immediately. It’s not recommended to self-administer the substance in a poisoning incident because additional medical care may be necessary, such as monitoring vital signs.

People with constipation may have increased constipation after taking activated charcoal. It can interact with certain prescription medications, noting potential safety concerns with its use.


Supplements containing 250 milligrams of activated charcoal are common. In foods and beverages, the substance is often a component of a specialty salt labeled as “black salt” or “lava salt.” The amount per serving of food or beverage may not be declared on the label

activated charcoal in powder and tablet form


Activated charcoal is known as a therapy for poisoning. However, it should not be considered an “at-home” solution if poisoning occurs. Medical professionals should be engaged if poisoning is suspected. There is little evidence for taking activated charcoal to support digestive wellness. This, coupled with possible drug interactions, warrants consultation with a medical professional first.

Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.

© 2022 Belvoir Media Group. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Read more about nutritional supplements: Maintaining Bone Health – Risk Factors and Supplements

Maria Stewart