What does charcoal do in smoothies?

Charcoal has become a popular additive for smoothies and other foods and drinks. Also known as activated charcoal or activated carbon, this ingredient has some potential benefits as well as some important safety considerations. Here’s a quick overview of what charcoal is, what it does in smoothies, its potential health benefits, and safety precautions to take when using it.

What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is a fine, black powder made from materials like coconut shells, bone char, olive pits, peat, petroleum coke, coal, sawdust, or other substances. The charcoal is “activated” by processing it at very high temperatures. This creates a material with a very high surface area and a strong negative electrical charge. These special properties allow activated charcoal to bind to and remove certain toxins, drugs, chemicals, or gases.

How does charcoal work in smoothies?

When added to smoothies, the activated charcoal binds to some of the free floating toxins, chemicals, or gases in the gastrointestinal tract. This prevents the absorption of these substances into the bloodstream, allowing the body to eliminate them. The charcoal passes through the digestive system without being absorbed into the body. It can take on a black color during this process but turns stools grey or black when eliminated.

Potential benefits of charcoal in smoothies

Here are some of the ways activated charcoal may provide benefits when added to smoothies:

May reduce bloating and gas

Charcoal can bind to the gases that contribute to bloating and flatulence like hydrogen and methane. This may help reduce symptoms for some people. However, it won’t eliminate bloating and gas completely.

May relieve diarrhea or upset stomach

By binding to toxins and chemicals, activated charcoal may alleviate diarrhea and other symptoms caused by stomach bugs or food poisoning. It may also help relieve nausea.

May reduce hangovers

Some early research shows that activated charcoal may help the body clear out alcohol more quickly, reducing hangover severity. Adding it to a smoothie the morning after drinking may help relieve headaches, nausea, and fatigue.

May lower cholesterol

Some studies indicate activated charcoal may reduce LDL (bad) and total cholesterol levels, possibly by binding to cholesterol-containing bile acids in the GI tract. More research is still needed.

May whiten teeth

Charcoal is a common ingredient in natural tooth whitening products. It is very mildly abrasive, helping scrub stains off teeth. It may also bind to plaque and chemicals that cause discoloration. Using it sparingly in smoothies and swishing the drink around your mouth could provide mild whitening benefits over time.

Safety considerations with charcoal in smoothies

While activated charcoal has some potential uses, there are also important safety considerations to keep in mind:

Risk of toxin and nutrient absorption

While binding to undesirable substances, charcoal can also prevent the absorption of important nutrients and minerals in foods and drinks. Regular use can lead to nutritional deficiencies over time.

Medication interactions

Charcoal absorbs most pharmaceutical drugs, rendering them ineffective if taken at the same time. It’s crucial to take medications and supplements at least 2 hours before or after charcoal.

Intestinal blockages

Because activated charcoal can swell up to 2-3 times its original volume, there is a small risk of intestinal obstruction with frequent large doses. This primarily affects people with chronic constipation or bowel obstruction disorders.

Black stools and teeth staining

Charcoal can temporarily turn stools black, which can be concerning but is a harmless side effect. It can also stain teeth grey if swished or used too frequently. These effects go away once charcoal use stops.

Unknown long-term safety

There is not enough research to know the long-term safety of activated charcoal use. Until more studies are done, it’s best used occasionally rather than daily.

How much charcoal should you use in smoothies?

If you’d like to try activated charcoal in smoothies, it’s best to start with very small amounts:

– 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon is usually plenty for occasional use
– Take at least 2 hours away from medications, vitamins, or supplements
– Increase water intake when using to stay hydrated
– Don’t use daily or long-term without consulting your doctor
– Use for only 1-2 weeks at a time with breaks in between

Are there any side effects?

Activated charcoal is considered safe for adults in small doses. However potential side effects can include:

– Black stools
– Grey teeth staining
– Intestinal blockage with repeated large doses
– Nutrient depletion with frequent use
– Medication interference

If you experience severe side effects, stop use immediately and talk to your doctor. Make sure to stay hydrated and avoid choking hazard with dry charcoal powder.

Should you drink a smoothie with charcoal every day?

Daily smoothies with activated charcoal are not recommended. Using it 1-2 times per week is safer for a couple reasons:

Nutrient and medication interference

Frequent charcoal use can prevent your body from absorbing essential vitamins, minerals, and medications. Taking a break from it allows your body to get nutrients it needs.

Unknown long-term safety

Research has not established the long-term safety of activated charcoal yet when used daily. Until more is known, occasional use is recommended.

Intestinal blockage risk

With daily use, accumulated charcoal could potentially lead to gastrointestinal obstruction over time. It’s best to use it only periodically.

Teeth staining

Swishing charcoal around your mouth daily can cause grey teeth staining over time. Limiting use helps avoid this cosmetic effect.

What are signs of charcoal overdose?

Using too much activated charcoal can cause adverse effects like:

– Black stools
– Vomiting
– Diarrhea
– Constipation
– Intestinal obstruction
– Colicky pain
– Electrolyte abnormalities
– Nutrient depletion

Signs of severe charcoal overdose include:

Significant vomiting or diarrhea

This can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. It may require hospital care to recover.

Bowel obstruction

Large overdoses can obstruct the intestines. This requires emergency surgery in severe cases.

Slow or irregular heartbeat

Charcoal overdose may cause abnormal heart rhythms from electrolyte disturbances. This requires immediate medical treatment.

Muscle twitches or seizures

These neurological symptoms can result from chemical imbalances from excessive charcoal use. Urgent care is needed.

Respiratory distress

Inhaling dry charcoal powder can irritate the lungs. Severe inhalation overdoses cause breathing problems requiring medical treatment.

If you experience any severe symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately. An overdose can become life-threatening without prompt treatment.

What ingredients make charcoal work better in smoothies?

Certain ingredients can help maximize the effects of activated charcoal in smoothies:

Acidic ingredients

Acids help activate the charcoal, allowing it to absorb toxins better. Adding lemon juice, citric acid, vinegar, or vitamin C may improve efficacy.

High fiber ingredients

Soluble fiber like psyllium or fruit pectins can bind to charcoal in the intestines, helping eliminate it and the toxins it has absorbed.


Ginger has antinausea effects that can complement charcoal’s properties. This can alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms.

Chia seeds

Chia seeds become gel-like in liquid, which can help push charcoal through the digestive tract to encourage bowel movements.


Like chia seeds, flax seeds have a gelling effect to support healthy elimination of charcoal when taken in smoothies.

What foods and drinks should you avoid when taking charcoal?

It’s important to separate intake of activated charcoal from certain substances by 2 hours:


Charcoal binds to most drugs, making them less effective. Take medicines 2 hours before or after charcoal.


Vitamins, minerals, and other supplements should be taken at least 2 hours apart from charcoal as well.


Drinking alcohol with charcoal may increase the amount of alcohol absorbed in the blood rather than excreted. Avoid mixing them.


Caffeine should be consumed outside a 2-hour window from taking charcoal. Caffeine may also make some side effects like diarrhea worse.

High fat foods

High fat meals may increase absorption of toxins that charcoal draws out. It’s better to take charcoal separately from fatty foods.

Dairy products

Milk, cheese, cream and other dairy can bind to charcoal, preventing absorption of toxins and reducing its effectiveness.

What are some smoothie recipes with charcoal?

Here are a few delicious smoothie options using activated charcoal:

Detox Green Charcoal Smoothie

– 1 cup coconut water
– 1 banana
– 1/2 cup spinach
– 1/4 cup parsley
– 1 tbsp chia seeds
– 1/2 tsp spirulina
– 1/4 tsp activated charcoal

Charcoal Acai Smoothie

– 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
– 1 packet frozen acai puree
– 1/2 banana
– 1 tbsp almond butter
– 1/2 tsp activated charcoal

Sweet Charcoal Berry Smoothie

– 1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
– 1/2 cup frozen mixed berries
– 1 tsp honey or maple syrup
– 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/4 tsp activated charcoal

Tropical Charcoal Smoothie

– 1/2 cup coconut water
– 1/2 cup pineapple chunks
– 1/4 cup mango chunks
– 1 lime, juiced
– 1 tbsp shredded coconut
– 1/4 tsp activated charcoal

Should you drink charcoal smoothies long-term?

Long-term daily use of charcoal smoothies is not recommended. Activated charcoal is intended for occasional, short term use only for a few reasons:

Nutrient deficiencies

Regular charcoal use can deplete levels of essential vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes over time. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Medication interference

Taking charcoal smoothies frequently interferes with absorption of many medications for chronic health conditions. This can make the medications less effective.

Uncertainty about effects

There has not been enough research about the long-term safety and side effects of consuming charcoal smoothies regularly.

Intestinal problems

Daily use of charcoal long-term may potentially increase the risk of intestinal obstruction over time in sensitive individuals.

Occasional use of charcoal smoothies 1-2 times per week is likely safe for most healthy adults. But daily use over months or years cannot be recommended at this time until more research is available.

Can you drink charcoal smoothies while pregnant?

Charcoal smoothies are likely unsafe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Here’s why pregnant women should avoid activated charcoal:

Absorbs nutrients

Charcoal can prevent absorption of important nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc and folic acid that are crucial during pregnancy. Deficiencies in these nutrients can harm mother and baby.

Medication interference

Charcoal binds medicines used prenatally like thyroid medications, antidepressants or drugs for chronic conditions. This could make medications less effective.

Unknown safety

There has not been research establishing the safety of charcoal in pregnancy. Until more is known, it is best avoided.

Intestinal blockage risk

The high doses used in pregnancy to manage poisoning could potentially cause intestinal obstructions in susceptible women.

Of course, activated charcoal can be used in pregnancy in emergency situations to treat poisoning under medical supervision. But consuming it regularly in smoothies while pregnant or nursing is not recommended at this time.

Can you give charcoal smoothies to kids?

Giving activated charcoal smoothies to children under 12 years is typically not recommended. Here’s why charcoal drinks should be avoided for kids:

Choking hazard

Dry charcoal powder poses a choking risk to small children. Children should never consume it dry or unsupervised.

Masks intestinal issues

Charcoal stools can look similar to black, tarry stools indicating intestinal bleeding. This could mask underlying medical issues in kids.

Nutritional deficiencies

Children need adequate nutrition to support growth and development. Charcoal can impede nutrient absorption long-term.

Unknown effects on development

There has not been sufficient research about charcoal’s effects on growth and development in children. Effects are unknown.

Of course charcoal can be used for acute poisoning in kids under medical guidance. But regular use in smoothies should be avoided until a child is at least 12 years old and more research is available demonstrating its safety.

Can charcoal smoothies help with weight loss?

There is no evidence that activated charcoal promotes weight loss. Here are some important points:

No impact on calorie burning

Charcoal does not increase metabolism or fat burning. It does not contribute any calories but does not burn additional calories either.

May reduce absorption of nutrients

Charcoal could potentially interfere with nutrient absorption from healthy foods that support weight loss.

No effect on appetite or cravings

Charcoal alone does not suppress appetite or food cravings. Weight loss still requires diet and exercise.

No change in body processes

Charcoal does not alter hormones, muscle mass, fat storage or other bodily processes related to weight regulation.

Not a weight loss ingredient

No major health or nutrition organizations recognize activated charcoal as an evidence-based weight loss supplement.

While charcoal has some health benefits, there is currently no research showing it contributes to weight loss. A healthy diet and active lifestyle are still the foundations for losing weight.

Is it safe to drink a charcoal smoothie every day?

Drinking charcoal smoothies daily is generally not recommended. Occasional use 1-2 times per week is likely safe for most healthy adults. But regular daily use should be avoided for a few reasons:

Nutrient deficiencies

Daily charcoal use can deplete the body of essential vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes over time. This may lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Medication interference

Activated charcoal interacts with many medications for chronic conditions when taken daily. This can reduce medication efficacy.

Bowel obstruction risk

With repeated daily use, accumulated charcoal in the intestines may potentially cause blockages over time in sensitive people.

Unknown long-term effects

There has not been adequate research on the long-term safety and side effects of consuming charcoal smoothies every day.

Teeth staining

Swishing charcoal smoothies over the teeth daily can promote greyish staining of tooth enamel.

While the occasional charcoal smoothie is likely fine, daily use cannot currently be recommended due to potential risks. Further research is needed on regular use.


Activated charcoal can provide some benefits when used occasionally in smoothies. It may help reduce bloating, alleviate diarrhea, prevent hangovers, and promote mild teeth whitening. However, charcoal also poses some safety concerns, especially with frequent long-term use. It is important to use small doses, avoid combining it with certain foods and medications, and limit intake to 1-2 times per week at most. Pregnant women, children, and people with intestinal issues should avoid charcoal smoothies unless approved by a doctor. While activated charcoal is a popular health trend, more research is still needed to establish its efficacy and safety with regular, daily use. For now, occasional charcoal smoothies can be safely enjoyed by most healthy adults when precautions are taken.

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