Does Activated Charcoal Detoxify?

Aug 24, 2016 | Food and Nutrition | 0 comments

The Dirt:

Activated charcoal is believed to be a detoxifier! But how much of this is factual and how much is strategic marketing? Is activated charcoal actually something we should be incorporating in our daily diet regime? Here is what we found out…

Let’s be honest with ourselves, if a product promotes “cleansing” or “eliminates toxins” our interests are perked. There are numerous “quick fixes” targeting hopeful dieters, and we all have fallen victim to these marketing ploys at one time or another. Whether they are packaged as juices, supplements, or food, “quick fixes” are never going to fix a problem created by unhealthy eating habits.

Whether they are packaged as juices, supplements, or food, “quick fixes” are never going to fix a problem created by unhealthy eating habits.

Unhealthy eating is one issue, the fear created by absorbing toxins is another. To that end, do we even truly understand what a toxin is? These days, terms like “toxin” or “antioxidant” are thrown around so frequently that they often lose their meaning. We know that toxins are harmful, but they can enter your body through many different channels.

Toxins are everywhere and can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed. Certain behaviors like overeating, indulging in processed foods, lack of exercise, poor diet, and excess alcohol prevent your body from working efficiently to remove toxins.

Of course, we are realists and it can be hard to to avoid temptation! Because of this, Americans often rely on crash diets to solve bad long term habits. This is where we often go wrong! Juice cleanses, for example, have taken on a life of their own. The cold-pressed juice industry is currently estimated at 100 million dollars! But, as we have reviewed on D2D, your body already has the tools to naturally detoxify.

Activated charcoal is one of the newest quick fixes that claims to target the toxins in your body. Why activated charcoal, you ask? We were wondering the same thing.

But, before we discuss activated charcoal, we must clarify that this is not the charcoal that comes out of your grill! While the substances are similar, activated charcoal is created for medicinal purposes through a controlled heating process. Performed in a lab, heat and gas are applied to charcoal to make it increasingly porous. These pores are what allow the charcoal to capture hazardous substances.

Activated charcoal is used medicinally, administered by a medical professional, to remove poison, chemicals, or drug overdoses from your body. Because activated charcoal is very porous, it is able to trap chemicals and prevent their absorption in the body. This process is called adsorption because the chemical binds to the surface of the charcoal. Typically, when activated charcoal is administered in the hospital, the objective is to get the patient in question to vomit with the help of the charcoal. In this case, the charcoal is able to take out more of the chemical with its millions of tiny pores.

When administered medically, charcoal is effective at helping eliminate harmful substances inside your body. However, the idea of using charcoal as a healthy drink to target toxins is not very feasible. Yes, activated charcoal is able to trap substances, but there is no way for the charcoal molecules to differentiate between beneficial substances inside your body and harmful ones!Therefore, when you consume activated charcoal you risk eliminating essential minerals and vitamins from your body.

While activated charcoal is believed to help your skin health, digestive system, and alleviate gas and bloating, the science behind the activated charcoal does not exist.

In an interview with Time Magazine, Dr. Kent Olson, medical director of the San Francisco Poison Control System and clinical professor of medicine and pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco discussed the medicinal uses of activated charcoal. “‘The problem with charcoal is that it’s non-specific. It’ll bind to anything it finds adsorbable,’ Olson says. ‘That could include toxins as well as nutrients.’ In fact, you don’t actually want to get rid of all your body’s impurities, he says. ‘Remember that might include vitamins and amino acids and other things you actually need in your diet.’” (Dr. Kent Olson for Time Magazine, 2016)


Recently, companies like Goop, Juice Generation, andShape Magazine have touted the benefits of activated charcoal. In fact, Juice Generation has even created a new line of activated charcoal juice products that are said to target the toxins in your body. These juices are now the company’s best selling products. According to the label, they are able to take a traditional green juice to the next level. And while the products certainly will not hurt you, they do highlight a common disconnect between seller and consumer.

Unfortunately, these labels do not mention the large lack of research behind this detoxifying phenomenon. In the past 30 years, only 159 human studies have been performed pertaining to activated charcoal. only In a 2015 meta-analysis of these studies, Dr. Thomas Pirelli PhD, of Harvard University, examines the results of research pertaining to the use of activated charcoal. The majority of this research pertains to the medicinal application of activated charcoal, as that is where the substance is most effective. For example, there are only two reported human studies pertaining to the claim that activated charcoal helps intestinal gas. One study stated that the activated charcoal did improve gas and bloating while the other did not.  Unfortunately, the research is not available. Moreover, there are only approximately five studies per year pertaining to activated charcoal.

Most simply put, extensive research just doesn’t exist. Not to mention, our understanding of activated charcoal’s composition suggests the substance can eliminate equal parts of nutrients to toxins. So, while there may be teeny tiny chance that activated charcoal might help a severe hangover or temporarily reduce internal gas, it is not something you need to incorporate into your everyday routine.

The Bottom Line:

Activated charcoal is an adsorbent and porous substance, which cannot distinguish between harmful toxins and beneficial nutrients.  At D2D, we believe in a well-rounded diet that also incorporates enough sleep and exercise. No need to invest in this “quick fix”. 


“ACTIVATED CHARCOAL: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings – WebMD.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Axe, Josh, PhD. “Top 10 Activated Charcoal Uses & Benefits.” Dr. Axe. N.p., 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Eber, Hailey. “Drinking Charcoal: The Latest Crazy Cleansing Trend.” New York Post. N.p., 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

MacVean, Mary. “Juicing Trend Still Going Strong in 2015.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 19 Jan. 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Oaklander, Mandy. “Charcoal Juice Is Now A Thing.”Time. Time, 06 Mar. 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Pirelli, Thomas, PhD. “The Truth About Activated Charcoal: 159 Studies Reviewed.” Healthy but Smart. N.p., 19 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.