Activated charcoal. What’s it all about?

Activated charcoal has gotten some publicity off and on in recent years, and for good reason: it’s particularly useful in dealing with ingested toxins. It is now common to see this in the supplements aisle at pharmacies and the grocery store. It’s usually sold in capsule form.

Activated charcoal can be used to treat food poisoning; upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting after eating or drinking; bloating with eating and possibly some food sensitivity reactions. It can also be used in cases where a poison or straight-up toxin is ingested, except where the substance is a petroleum product (many cleaning products are) or alcohol (nope, this is not a hangover cure) – although you should certainly seek emergency medical care if this occurs.

Activated charcoal can come in very handy if you have a mischievous dog that gets into chocolate.

Some research suggests that activated charcoal may also be supportive for skin health, support with aging, teeth whitening and gut cleanses. It is also used in water filtration and environmental cleaning, such as with mold growing indoors.

Activated charcoal is comprised of carbon molecules, which are ready to adhere and bind to reactive molecules like toxins. Toxic substances tend to be fairly reactive – hence they can do some damage to your body. The charcoal binds or “adsorbs” to toxins so that they are prevented from wreaking havoc on your insides. The bound charcoal-toxin complex is then excreted in your stool.

On that note, it is important to note that having daily bowel movements is important for using activated charcoal, as the charcoal-toxin complex is excreted in your poop. If you are constipated, dehydrated or don’t have daily bowel movements, do not take activated charcoal. You can also look for an activated charcoal that includes sorbitol, which has laxative properties to help your stool on its way out.

This is important because if you don’t excrete the charcoal-toxin complex, it will still be in your stool, which is sitting in your colon; if it sits there long enough, the toxins can be absorbed back into your body. Add the constipation factor to that and you could have quite the toxic build-up and exacerbated reaction. So: if you’re not having at least one normal bowel movement daily, it’s important to address that (see your naturopath!).

As you might guess, it’s important to drink water and stay hydrated anytime you take activated charcoal. Again, if you have less than one bowel movement daily, get activated charcoal with sorbitol.

Below are some common dosages:

  • Food poisoning with vomiting or diarrhea: 25 grams (adults)

  • Bloating with eating: 500 milligrams (adults)

  • Poisoning in adults: start with 25 grams, up to 100 grams; repeat every 2 hours, as needed

  • Poisoning in children: start with 10 grams, up to 25 grams; repeat as needed

  • Poisoning in pets: 1-3 grams per 1 kilogram of weight

    • 1 kg = approximately 2.2 lbs; a 10 lb dog would be 4.5 kg, which means 4.5-13.5 grams

    • A generalization could be about 10 grams per 10 lbs of animal weight

With any poisoning: call poison control and seek emergency medical care asap.

Even if you’re not sure if you want to use activated charcoal, it’s worth keeping a bottle in your first-aid kit in case you or a loved one ingests something toxic or has severe food poisoning, as a back-up to emergency medical care and the poison-control hotline.

The information provided here is not intended to replace medical advice or to treat or diagnose any medical condition. Please consult your doctor with specific questions and prior to beginning any significant diet or lifestyle changes.