Carbon and hydrogen concentrations and isotopic compositions were measured in 19 samples from altered oceanic crust cored in ODP/IODP Hole 1256D through lavas, dikes down to the gabbroic rocks. Bulk water content varies from 0.32 to 2.14 wt% with δD values from −64‰ to −25‰. All samples are enriched in water relative to fresh basalts. The δD values are interpreted in terms of mixing between magmatic water and another source that can be either secondary hydrous minerals and/or H contained in organic compounds such as hydrocarbons. Total CO2, extracted by step-heating technique, ranges between 564 and 2823 ppm with δ13C values from −14.9‰ to −26.6‰. As for water, these altered samples are enriched in carbon relative to fresh basalts. The carbon isotope compositions are interpreted in terms of a mixing between two components: (1) a carbonate with δ13C = −4.5‰ and (2) an organic compound with δ13C = −26.6‰. A mixing model calculation indicates that, for most samples (17 of 19), more than 75% of the total C occurs as organic compounds while carbonates represent less than 25%. This result is also supported by independent estimates of carbonate content from CO2 yield after H3PO4 attack. A comparison between the carbon concentration in our samples, seawater DIC (Dissolved Inorganic Carbon) and DOC (Dissolved Organic Carbon), and hydrothermal fluids suggests that CO2 degassed from magmatic reservoirs is the main source of organic C addition to the crust during the alteration process. A reduction step of dissolved CO2 is thus required, and can be either biologically mediated or not. Abiotic processes are necessary for the deeper part of the crust (>1000 mbsf) because alteration temperatures are greater than any hyperthermophilic living organism (i.e. T > 110 °C). Even if not required, we cannot rule out the contribution of microbial activity in the low-temperature alteration zones. We propose a two-step model for carbon cycling during crustal alteration: (1) when “fresh” oceanic crust forms at or close to ridge axis, alteration starts with hot hydrothermal fluids enriched in magmatic CO2, leading to the formation of organic compounds during Fischer–Tropsch-type reactions; (2) when the crust moves away from the ridge axis, these interactions with hot hydrothermal fluids decrease and are replaced by seawater interactions with carbonate precipitation in fractures. Taking into account this organic carbon, we estimate C isotope composition of mean altered oceanic crust at ∼ −4.7‰, similar to the δ13C of the C degassed from the mantle at ridge axis, and discuss the global carbon budget. The total flux of C stored in the altered oceanic crust, as carbonate and organic compound, is 2.9 ± 0.4 × 1012 molC/yr.