Clearing up the Confusion about Activated Charcoal

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By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

September 13, 2017

  • Is activated charcoal all it’s cracked up to be?
  • Why activated doesn’t work as a detoxifier
  • How to turn on your body’s internal detox system

Health crazes come and go. Some of them are good ideas. Others, not so much.

For example, this year activated charcoal is all the rage. Look it up online and you’ll find it touted as a weight loss aid, energy booster, hangover cure, tooth whitener and detoxifier.

It sounds great. And if I didn’t know better, even I would want to hop onto this bandwagon. But you can’t always believe what you read. This is especially true of internet myths that spread faster than lightening – and never go away.

Activated charcoal is one of these widespread legends.

The use of this compound as a detoxifier likely comes from its use as a first line of treatment at poison control centers around the world. It’s what emergency rooms use on patients who ingest poisons or overdose on certain drugs.

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But does this mean it will pull heavy metals and other toxins from your body, make you healthier or get rid of those excess pounds?

Why Activated Charcoal Doesn’t Work as a Detoxifier

Activated charcoal binds with certain compounds in the gastrointestinal tract and clears them out of the body before they can be absorbed. This is what makes it such a miracle cure when it comes to poisonings and drug overdoses.

These same binding properties are also what make it a really bad idea to take activated charcoal on a regular basis.

First, keep in mind that activated charcoal only removes substances from the digestive tract. It never enters the bloodstream. So it does nothing to clear toxic chemicals from the rest of your body.

Second, activated charcoal doesn’t discriminate between toxins and nutrients. It binds to both. This means it not only stops your body from absorbing toxic chemicals. It also acts like a sponge to remove life-giving vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from your digestive tract… pulling them out of your body before you’re able to absorb them.

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Third, activated charcoal binds with medications. This reduces their effectiveness and could be dangerous to your health.

At the same time, there is no well-controlled scientific evidence that this black compound can help with any additional health disorders. Studies are even mixed on whether it can help reduce gas, which is one of its most common uses.

And as far as the use of activated charcoal as a tooth whitener is concerned, dental experts warn that the long-term effects on tooth enamel are unknown. So it’s a better idea to stick with baking soda.

How to Turn on Your Body’s Internal Detox System

If you really want to clear the toxins out of your body, lose weight, gain more energy and live a healthier life, there’s a very simple way to do it.

You see, your body has a built-in detox process called “autophagy”. It’s basically an internal cleaning system that clears toxins from your body and recycles damaged cells and mitochondria.

One of the best ways to stimulate this process is to take part in intermittent fasting.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to eat less food or starve yourself. However, you should make the effort to eat healthy foods – organic fruits and veggies, wild-caught fish and clean meats. (These foods aren’t only better for you; they’re also less toxic than processed and altered foods.)

Then, just eat all of your meals within an eight hour time window each day and fast for the other 16 hours. This will trigger autophagy; ridding your cells of waste and helping them work more efficiently.

You can also supplement with resveratrol (50 mg) and pterostilbene (25 mg) daily. These nutrients activate your Sirt1 gene, which plays a role in the regulation of autophagy.

If you’re particularly worried about your heavy metals, have your doctor test for them.

If your burdens are high, you might want to consider chelation therapy. But if you don’t want to spend the time and money on intravenous therapy, it’s easy enough to get an over-the-counter or prescription oral chelation tablet/ suppository; one that contains low dose chelators like EDTA or DMSA. Less strong but still workable is aspartic acid, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, selenium and zinc. And don’t forget the foods and herbs like cilantro, garlic, onions, chlorella and spirulina that can bind to one of the worst of the heavy metal offenders, mercury.


Azpiroz F, et al. Treatment of Excessive Intestinal Gas. Curr Treat Options Gastroenterol. 2004 Aug;7(4):299-305.

Brooks JK, et al. Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices: A literature review. J Am Dent Assoc. 2017 Jun 7. pii: S0002-8177(17)30412-9.

Ou X, et al. SIRT1 positively regulates autophagy and mitochondria function in embryonic stem cells under oxidative stress. Stem Cells. 2014 May;32(5):1183-94.

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