Question: What exactly is charcoal water good for? Before doing our research and interviewing nutritionist Kimberly Snyder for this article, we anticipated reporting on health benefits of charcoal water (made with activated charcoal) such as absorbing excess medications like excess Aspirin, helping to reduce cholesterol, and relieving digestive issues. But Snyder, who is the author of multiple books on the topic of detox, cautions to be mindful of activated charcoal intake. She shares, “There is no long-term research around how much is okay to consume daily, weekly, or even monthly.”
When we asked another trusted nutritionist, Dara Godfrey, what the benefits of charcoal water are, she also responded that she’s not the biggest fan of charcoal. Why? Yet certified culinary nutritionist and holistic health coach Neda Varbanova of Healthy With Nedi tells Byrdie that some of charcoal’s health benefits may include detoxifying the body, relieving gas and bloating, whitening teeth, and treating alcohol poisoning in emergency situations.
Why the polarizing responses? Well, for one, the “benefit” of activated charcoal (like absorbing excess medications) isn’t always a good thing. For example, if someone takes medication daily, consuming activated charcoal could prevent the drug from being absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream.
Snyder emphasizes, “It is extremely important to know that you should NEVER take activated charcoal with other medications administered orally (i.e., via the mouth). Think about it,” she says. “As activated charcoal absorbs substances in the stomach and intestines, it will also absorb the chemicals in the medication and therefore decrease the effectiveness of the medication.”
Ahead, we take a look at the supposed health benefits of activated charcoal and investigate which ones are supported and which ones lack any evidence.
Claim: It Relieves Gas and Nausea
Snyder says that charcoal water can help with gas and nausea, but as Thomas Pirelli, Ph.D., taught her, “there is a lack of scientific evidence to support the claims that activated charcoal helps reduce intestinal gases, indigestion, and diarrhea,” she states.
“Because of the lack of enough studies, this brings up questions as to what it does to the microbiome and glut flora.” She explains, “There is wonderful bacteria in the gut, and if it captures general toxins, it might also take nutrients with it.”
Claim: It Removes Excess Various Medications
According to a recent review of research, “There is evidence to suggest that activated charcoal is helpful in removing excess aspirin, antidepressant medications, antiarrhythmic medications, and theophylline from the body if taken within the first two hours of a poisoning or overdose incident,” shares Snyder.
Claim: It Detoxifies the Body
“While it is just now making a comeback, activated charcoal has been used for health purposes since the time of the ancient Egyptians,” Varbanova says. Based on two separate studies, she says, “[Activated charcoal was] used medically for treating some instances of poisoning, activated charcoal relieves toxins from both the digestive and urinary tracts.”
Claim: It Lowers Cholesterol
Snyder shares that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that activated charcoal has any effect on lowering cholesterol for most people. This stance is in agreement with another article, which states to not consume activated charcoal routinely as part of your daily health plan.
Claim: It Whitens Your Teeth
We have to admit the answer to this one surprised us. According to Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association, the claim that charcoal can help whiten teeth is fiction. In fact, it writes, “Using materials that are too abrasive on your teeth can actually make them look more yellow. Enamel is what you’re looking to whiten, but if you’re using a scrub that is too rough, you can actually wear it away. When that happens, the next layer of your tooth can become exposed—a softer, yellow tissue called dentin.”
Claim: It Clears the Skin
Zellner T, Prasa D, Färber E, Hoffmann-Walbeck P, Genser D, Eyer F. The use of activated charcoal to treat intoxications. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2019;116(18):311-317. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2019.0311
Markowiak P, Śliżewska K. Effects of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics on human health. Nutrients. 2017;9(9):1021. doi:10.3390/nu9091021
Healthy But Smart. The truth about activated charcoal benefits: 159 studies reviewed. Updated June 5, 2019.
American Dental Association Mouth Healthy. Natural teeth whitening: fact vs. fiction.