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What Is Activated Charcoal Dietary Supplement Used for?

By Roger Thorne J.D.

Activated charcoal manufacturers sometimes claim that charcoal dietary supplements can aid in capturing unwanted materials in the digestive system, removing "toxins" or other such compounds from the body. While activated charcoal is widely used in emergency rooms and other healthcare facilities, as well as in commercial filtration products, charcoal supplements aren't medications and aren't intended to be used as such.

Actiated Charcoal

Activated charcoal, sometimes known as activated charcoal or activated coal, is a form of the carbon element that contains an incredible number of pores and openings that gives the substance a very large surface area. Since many harmful and noxious chemical substances stick to carbon, activated carbon is often found in filters to absorb unwanted particulate matter, such as in aquariums or water filtration systems.

Activated Charcoal Use

In medical treatment situations, healthcare personnel sometimes use activated charcoal to treat people who have ingested certain types of poisons. Activated charcoal prevents the body from ingesting some forms of poison, though it's ineffective in treating alkali-based poisons, such as lye, strong acids, petroleum- based products such as cleaning fluid, gasoline or paint thinner, or alcohols, according to the Mayo Clinic. Activated charcoal medicine comes in various forms, including liquid, tablet, capsule, powder and granule.

Supplement Use

Activated charcoal supplements are dietary supplements, meaning they aren't medications and you don't need a prescription to purchase or use them. Manufacturers claim that activated charcoal supplements serve such purposes as antidotes for drugs or poisons, general detoxification, anti-aging, reducing cholesterol and other similar claims. As a dietary supplement, these claims do not have to be approve by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Thus, you should regard them with caution.


The Mayo Clinic recommends that before taking any activated charcoal dietary supplement you should contact your physician, especially if you're taking medication. Activated charcoal can absorb medication and reduce its effectiveness. In addition, since dietary supplements do not need approval or testing, the quality of the charcoal may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and even between batches, making the effectiveness of different supplements vary.

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