How Does Activated Charcoal Work To Support Gut Health?

How Does Activated Charcoal Work To Support Gut Health?

You may have heard about activated charcoal and its uses as a healthcare product, but are not quite sure what it is or what the purpose of it is. It can be used in many ways, from skincare remedies to food recipes.  Here’s an overview of what activated charcoal is, and how it might benefit you.  

What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is not to be confused with the substance that you might have used in art lessons, or that you buy in bags to fire up the barbecue, and you should never attempt to use this type of charcoal as a healthcare product. 

Although all charcoal is essentially a carbon residue that is produced when wood (or other carbon-rich material such as peat or coconut shell) is heated to high temperatures in a low-oxygen environment, there are some key differences.

Activated charcoal is heated to much higher temperatures than regular charcoal, which ensures that the residue is 100 per cent carbon, and does not contain any pieces of unburned material or traces of byproducts such as tar or toxic gases. Furthermore, non-food grade charcoal may have other additives that make it dangerous for human consumption. 

Activated charcoal is fully oxidised, which removes all other components and makes the charcoal ultra-absorbent by creating a vast amount of tiny pores. This makes the substance highly porous, and also gives it the ability to bind with other molecules. 

This is why activated charcoal has traditionally been used as a detoxifying treatment for poisoning or overdoses, because it will trap or absorb the toxic substances and remove them from the body.  

Medical-grade activated charcoal is sold as a finely milled black powder, and is also available in tablet or capsule form. It can also be used externally as a face mask, a soap, and even as a tooth whitening treatment. 

What is activated charcoal used for?

While poisoning and overdose cases should always be immediately treated by a medical professional, the use of activated charcoal today has expanded to treat a range of gastrointestinal issues. 

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Activated charcoal is used by many people to tackle the unpleasant symptoms of IBS, including gas and bloating. The product may be effective at binding with the gases released by food decomposition, helping to absorb and neutralise them. 

In the opinion of the European Food Safety Authority, there is enough evidence to suggest that activated charcoal can reduce the symptoms of excessive gas and bloating. It may also help to ease the symptoms of diarrhoea, due to its highly porous surface that enables it to absorb triggering bacteria or chemicals. 


As previously explained, activated charcoal is a traditional medical remedy for treating poisoning and overdose, because it can bind with toxic substances and flush them out of the body. Today, there is a lot of concern about ultra processed foods that have a large amount of artificial ingredients. 

These can be found in the type of food most of us eat every day, such as cereals, bread, biscuits, ready-made sauces, and other convenience foods. Even fresh meat and fish, and fruit and vegetables may contain traces of environmental pollutants, microplastics, or pesticides. 

Over time, toxins from our diet can build up in the body and put extra strain on the liver and kidneys. They may also cause irritation in the digestive tract, leading to discomfort and intolerances of certain types of food. 

There is some limited research to suggest that activated charcoal can filter out toxins from the body, helping it to function properly and mitigating against the risk of inflammation and discomfort. 

Overall gut health

The health of our gut microbiome is key to overall well being. There is currently a growing body of research to suggest that having a good balance of ‘friendly’ bacteria in our gut helps us to more effectively extract the essential nutrients and vitamins from our food. This has a multitude of benefits, such as stronger immune systems, more energy and a better mood. 

It may be the case that activated charcoal removes the harmful bacteria for the gut and boosts the levels of beneficial bacteria. 

How can you include activated charcoal in your diet?

You can use activated charcoal as a cooking or baking ingredient to make a diverse range of foods such as bread, cakes, ice cream, pizza bases, tea or coffee. There are plenty of activated charcoal recipes available if you are looking for some inspiration. It brings a dramatic dark colour to your food and drinks.

To make a special black magic latte, you’ll need one cup of almond or coconut milk, one teaspoon of activated charcoal, two drops of vanilla extract, and one teaspoon of maple syrup. You can also add half a teaspoon of cacao powder for extra flavour if you wish. This is a raw form of cocoa powder, and it’s packed with antioxidants and minerals. 

Simply blend all the ingredients together and heat them gently on the hob for a few minutes, until you begin to see wisps of steam. Serve immediately. 

Charcoal tortillas are a useful way to provide a healthy alternative to bread, which some people find aggravates IBS. You’ll need 10g of charcoal powder, 225g of self-raising flour, and one tablespoon of vegetable oil. Mix the flour and the charcoal together in a bowl with a pinch of salt, and mix in the oil with 150ml of water to the dry ingredients.

Knead everything together into a soft dough, and split it into pieces of roughly 30g. Roll out each piece of dough into a thin circle, and fry in hot oil for about 30 seconds on each side. 

It should be noted that if you are taking prescribed medications, you should always consult your doctor before taking any activated charcoal supplements, because it may not be compatible.