4 things you need to know about activated charcoal

With the re-emergence of Activated Charcoal in both media and social media lately, you would be forgiven to thinking that this is some miracle addition to our food supply. Claims range from removing toxins, reducing cholesterol, reducing gas/bloating and preventing hangovers. So lets take a look at our top 4 things you need to know about the ‘magic’ of Activated Charcoal (Check out the video here!)

#1. What is activated charcoal?

Created by heating wood or coconut shells to high temperatures and then oxidising. The fine carbon particles remaining have many small chambers that give it an enormous surface area that can absorb various chemicals. For this reason, it is often used as a filtering agent for water treatment or gas masks.

In the body, it enters the gastrointestinal tract but is not absorbed by the body. This makes it useful in situations of poisoning and trying to limit the harm while poisons may still be in the gastrointestinal tract prior to being absorbed. It is also why you should NEVER take activated charcoal with any medications taken orally.

#2. Let's 'clear the air' on detoxes

We are continually subject to both natural and synthetic toxins daily. Even the natural toxins can be dangerous in large doses, so our bodies have developed a pretty neat system to cope with and clear these toxins. Together the skin, lymphatic system, gastrointestinal system, kidneys, and most importantly the liver,  forms a sophisticated detoxifying process – with no juices needed!

As for the claims around lowering cholesterol, so far research studies are not supporting this claim.

The most important question: does it prevent hangovers? Apparently not unfortunately and research has failed in supporting this. If it did, I am pretty sure it would be on every supermarket shelf already!

#3. It isn't all just about good looks and 'Instagramable' photos - there is a downer.

The amount of charcoal used in breads, juices and any other foods to make them ‘super’ is quite small and mainly for looks and marketing value. So ingesting these products should be well-tolerated for most and few side effects.

HOWEVER, there is one point you need to know:

Activated charcoal does not discriminate when it comes to the healthy chemicals in food vs. unwanted chemicals in the digestive system. With this, activated charcoal appears to bond with a range of water-soluble vitamins (such as C, niacin, B6, thiamine and biotin) - making the foods and drinks you consume LESS nutritious. Oops!!

#4. The real use of Activated Charcoal

As charcoal is not absorbed by the body, its claims to remove all chemical toxins from within the body is really an impossibility. So what is it useful for?

Considering I can buy 'Black Lemonade' for $9 per 300mL {Let me repeat. NINE DOLLARS for 300mL}, it most certainly has one incredible talent:
Emptying the bank account on unsuspecting victims that can be forgiven for falling for the word 'detox'.
It really is just expensive filtered water with a touch of charcoal & lemon, usually served in a fancy looking bottle with spectacular marketing. 

So before having a dose of activated charcoal, or any other expensive super-food, just take a moment to ask yourself:

Am I having this because a health influencer/’guru’ has recommended it? Or am I having it because I simply enjoy it?

Alicia Edge


Alicia is the head Advanced Sports Dietitian at Compeat Nutrition. She is also a mum and triathlete, so advice extends beyond the basics and is instead focused on providing effective and achievable nutrition for both training and racing.

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