Is Activated Charcoal Actually Good for You?

Is the detox of all detoxes really a detox that you want?

This mouthful is exactly what you need to ponder when using activated charcoal. The compound — which is used in hospitals when people overdose on certain drugs — has risen to popularity. It became a hot nutritional fad in the LA restaurant scene a few years ago, and it’s picked up momentum ever since. 

Some claim it’s the ultimate detox. Others say it will improve general health. And, even the beauty industry has joined in, as it’s commonly touted as an effective “teeth-whitener.”

In this episode of That’s Healthy, Right?, we’ll look at the clinical uses of activated charcoal, the negative side effects of long-term use, and a study that proves all you’re doing for your teeth is brushing them with the stuff from the grill.

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Is Activated Charcoal Healthy for You? — Born Fitness

Activated charcoal for acute overdose: a reappraisal — British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology

Oral activated charcoal in the treatment of intoxications. Role of single and repeated doses — Medical Toxicology and Adverse Drug Experience

Whitening toothpaste containing activated charcoal, blue covarine, hydrogen peroxide or microbeads: which one is the most effective? — Journal of Applied Oral Science

Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices: A literature review — Journal of the American Dental Association 

Position paper: Single-dose activated charcoal — Clinical Toxicology

Activated Charcoal for Acute Poisoning: One Toxicologist’s Journey — Journal of Medical Toxicology 

New York City Department Of Health Bans Black Foods That Contain Activated Charcoal

 — Tech Times

The Hype Machine: Do Detoxes Really Work? — Born Fitness


Adam Bornstein: I usually like to keep my personal life separate from the podcast, but something happened at home recently that I think has a lot of value for many of you. 

And that is for one of my jobs, I occasionally have to go on television and my wife was suggesting that I whiten my teeth. I tried not to be offended.

I brush my teeth twice per day. I floss. I have never had a cavity. Probably by saying this, I’m now going to get one, but never had a cavity in my life.

But apparently my teeth aren’t white enough for television, and as a byproduct, she recommended that I use some of her activated charcoal toothpaste, which I didn’t even know that she had.

And I asked her, “Why would I do that?” And she was like, “Because charcoal is proven to whiten teeth.” And in my wife’s mocking way, she was like, “It’s proven to whiten your teeth. I was like, “No, seriously, it doesn’t work.”

She didn’t believe me and it inspired me to record this episode because activated charcoal is something that really started popping up in a lot of restaurants when I was living in LA. I saw it enough that I had to see if there’s anything behind it.

If you’re not familiar, activated charcoal is just charcoal, what you would think that has gone a chemical process, where you add things like oxygen, you heat it up and it changes the surface area so that it can bind to other substances.

The claims for activated charcoal and why it was featured in all these foofy, healthy restaurants is that it works as a natural detoxifier. It’s supposed to help detox your body and work as an anti-aging ingredient and — even as my wife so believed — remove stains from your teeth.

A lot of the evidence or so-called evidence stems from the use of activated charcoal in emergency rooms, which does happen relatively frequently. But what most people don’t realize is even though it’s used frequently, it’s not necessarily used effectively.

You’ve had more than 50 published studies that have examined the use of activated charcoal in the emergency room because people will use it within an hour of any type of drug overdose. They tried again to get it to bind to those toxins and remove it from the body, which it might do. 

But the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology says that it should not be used routinely because they’re actually not certain that it works or it works all the time. On top of that, there are a lot of negative side effects such as nausea or vomiting.

This is where the transference to everyday use even becomes funnier, that despite a lot of people talking about how this is used as a detoxifier in the emergency room, the amount used in the emergency room is about 100 to 200 times more than you would find in the typical 250 milligrams supplement.

So even if it would hypothetically work, which I’m going to explain a little more, it doesn’t, the amount doesn’t even touch what you need. More importantly, when it comes to looking at the efficacy of this as a detox agent, there just isn’t any research to support it across the board.

You have things like a study on the teeth issue. The whitening of teeth was a study in 2017, reviewed 118 different studies, I couldn’t believe there were 118 studies on this, that couldn’t support either the safety or the efficacy of charcoal-based toothpaste.

And then two years later in 2019, some scientists decide to go next level, really challenged this theory. They stained cow, goat, and sheep’s teeth with black tea and then they found that activated charcoal was not as effective as other whitening agents.

So if you want to whiten your teeth, the best bet is still going to be something like hydrogen peroxide or microbeads.

The big takeaway here, while the amount of activated charcoal offered in most products is so little that it should be neutral, you might actually have some negative side effects and your best bet, in this case, is that you probably want to stay away from activated charcoal because it’s not going to do anything that it promises to do and it might have some negative side effects.

Just got to make sure that my wife listens to this episode so that she can leave me alone about my teeth.