Activated charcoal is the new “it” ingredient that you see in everything from toothpaste to skin care to beverages.

But what is activated charcoal and why should you be drinking it?

Activated charcoal is a type of porous charcoal that’s processed (or “activated”) at very high temperatures. This type of charcoal can be made from bone char, coconut shells, or coal, to name a few.

Potential benefits

  1. preventing gas and bloating
  2. treating diarrhea
  3. lowering cholesterol levels

Since activated charcoal is porous and negatively charged, there are suggestions that it may help to trap toxins and chemicals in the stomach before the body has a chance to absorb them. This is why charcoal drinks are commonly used for detoxes and emergency treatments like drug overdoses. In fact, activated charcoal has been a poison antidote since the 1800s.

It’s important to note that charcoal can interfere with the body’s absorption process. Charcoal shouldn’t be consumed every day or less than 90 minutes before or after nutrient-dense meals, prescription medications, or vitamins.

That said, if you do intend to take activated charcoal, it’s been linked to a number of health benefits.

In one small older study that looked at participants from America and India, activated charcoal was found to reduce bloating and abdominal cramps associated with gas.

It’s also been linked to treating diarrhea (though it was noted in one study that further research is necessary), promoting kidney function, and lowering cholesterol levels, as seen in another older study.

However, many of these studies date back to the 1980s. More recent research is needed to verify these benefits.

Pay attention to activated charcoal dosing. A very small amount, less than 1/4 teaspoon, goes a long way. Activated charcoal — either as part of the recipe noted below or 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon mixed with one cup of water — should not be consumed more than every other day.

Activated Charcoal Lemonade

Star Ingredient: Activated charcoal

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 tsp. food-grade activated charcoal
  • 4 cups cold filtered water
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 2–4 tbsp. honey, agave, or maple syrup

Directions

  1. Stir the charcoal, water, lemon juice, and sweetener of choice together in a pitcher until combined.
  2. Serve over ice.
  3. This recipe can be kept in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Vomiting is a reported side effect when too much charcoal is consumed. Make sure not to drink charcoal too close to taking medications or eating fruits and vegetables, as this may interfere with the absorption process. Do not ingest activated charcoal every day.

Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Her blog focuses on real food for a balanced life, seasonal recipes, and approachable health advice. When she’s not in the kitchen, Tiffany enjoys yoga, hiking, traveling, organic gardening, and hanging out with her corgi, Cocoa. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.