Occasionally, our stomachs feel under the weather. Maybe you’ve overeaten at lunch, getting a tummy bloat. Or, you may have eaten contaminated food and visited the bathroom more frequently than you’d like.
As uncomfortable as minor stomach problems are, they don’t always need a trip to the doctor's office. In fact, the cure for an upset stomach may already be sitting on your kitchen counter — activated charcoal.
In this post, we’ll focus on how activated charcoal can help treat a mild upset stomach.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
In emergency rooms, activated charcoal is usually the first-line treatment for poisoning and drug overdoses. That said, it’s also useful for relieving minor stomach woes in the comfort of your home.
Activated charcoal is formed when carbon is heated to extremely high temperatures. The activation process reduces its pore size, amplifies its surface area, and multiples binding sites — all of which make it more porous than regular charcoal.
The increased porosity allows activated charcoal to bind to atoms, molecules, and ions within your body in a process called adsorption.
In cases of gastrointestinal decontamination — think stomach bugs and food poisonings — activated charcoal relies on its adsorptive powers to rid your body of unwanted toxins.
Activated charcoal is commonly available in powders and tablets. You may purchase it over-the-counter or with a doctor’s prescription.
Fun fact: A teaspoon of activated charcoal powder has more surface area than an entire football field!
What Causes an Upset Stomach?
There could be several reasons why your stomach feels uncomfortable.
Three of the most common causes of an upset stomach include:
- Overeating and indigestion: Large meals overtax your digestive system and expand your stomach. This pushes against other vital organs, creating abdominal discomfort.
- Stomach flu: A viral intestinal infection. You may get it from contaminated food sources or someone who is infected with it.
- Food poisoning: Unhygienic food handling causes bacteria, viruses, and parasites to enter your digestive system when you consume said food.
Other chronic conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also incite uncomfortable digestive symptoms such as bloating and gas. If your upset stomach has been going on for some time now, consult your doctor to rule out potential medical issues.
How Activated Charcoal Helps With Mild Stomach Problems
Remember when we talked about adsorption? Thanks to this unique ability, activated charcoal is capable of stopping mild stomach problems in their tracks.
Scientific literature explains that, upon contact, activated charcoal adsorbs toxins in the digestive tract. This creates an activated charcoal/toxin complex to prevent your body from absorbing unwanted substances.
The activated charcoal/toxin complex then travels through your digestive system and passes out as waste products. Now, your tummy problems are a thing of the past.
Let’s dive into the specific stomach problems that activated charcoal can help treat.
Bloating and Gas
Too much belching and farting is an indication of stomach bloating and excess gas. Not only is it embarrassing, but it’s also quite uncomfortable.
Fret not, as research shows activated charcoal may help eliminate excess gas from the gastrointestinal tract and alleviate flatulence (passing wind). A 1986 study in The American Journal of Gastroenterology indicates activated charcoal has long been revered for its bloat-reducing abilities. In this study, activated charcoal significantly decreased bloating and cramps (due to stomach gas) in participants.
Given that activated charcoal is useful against bloating, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to employ it against indigestion.
In fact, scientists discovered the triple threat of simethicone, activated charcoal, and magnesium oxide combination significantly downplayed “post-prandial fullness, epigastric pain, epigastric burning and abdominal bloating.”
In other words, don’t suffer in silence the next time you encounter indigestion. Simply pop a spoonful of activated charcoal powder into your drink to soothe your tummy.
Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning
Stomach flu (or gastroenteritis) and food poisoning are two of the most common digestive ailments.
You may experience:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps and pain
- Low fever
But, you can put a stop to the debilitating effects of stomach flu with activated charcoal powder. According to one study, 10 mg of activated charcoal completely adsorb E. coli (a common trigger of stomach bugs and food poisoning).
Another study also found out activated charcoal expelled Salmonella (the culprit behind most food poisonings). While the study used chickens as test subjects, the discovery highlighted promising results for humans.
How Much Activated Charcoal Should I Take?
Now that you’re all caught up on activated charcoal’s health benefits, it’s time to stock up on this potent home remedy.
For optimal results, research suggests consuming a 10:1 ratio of activated charcoal to the toxin.
Activated charcoal powder is most effective when consumed within an hour of stomach problems. It’s still beneficial if given up to four hours from the time of discomfort.
When Should You Not Use Activated Charcoal?
For acute cases of stomach upsets, self-administered activated charcoal may be ineffective in resolving severe symptoms. It’s best to consult a healthcare professional instead.
Also, activated charcoal is ineffective against:
In cases where you’ve accidentally ingested one of the above substances, seek medical assistance immediately.
If you are pregnant or have an underlying medical condition (e.g., liver and kidney diseases), refrain from using activated charcoal.
Can Activated Charcoal Treat Alcohol Poisoning?
Unfortunately, no. The reason being, activated charcoal does not adsorb alcohol, so it can’t treat alcohol poisoning. Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Human & Experimental Toxicology showed that activated charcoal has no significant impact on plasma alcohol concentrations.
If you suspect alcohol poisoning, call for an ambulance immediately. Do not attempt self-treatment as alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening condition that requires urgent medical assistance.
Is It Safe To Take Activated Charcoal?
Unlike charcoal briquettes (used for cooking), activated charcoal is of food-grade quality and safe for human consumption.
Your body doesn’t absorb activated charcoal. Instead, this compound stays within the gastrointestinal tract without changing its form. Eventually, it passes out of your body, along with the toxins that were present in your digestive system.
Possible Side Effects of Activated Charcoal Powder
Activated charcoal powder is meant as a short-term treatment for an stomach upset. You may experience temporary side effects such as:
- Black stools
Note: Avoid taking activated charcoal with other medicines as it may adsorb the drugs and render them ineffective. It’s best to consume activated charcoal at least two hours before or after medication. For peace of mind, check with your doctor on when to take it.
Bid Your Stomach Problems Goodbye
In essence, activated charcoal helps with the occasional upset stomach. If you’re keen to test its effectiveness (or stock up), why not try Zen Principle’s Activated Charcoal Powders?
Our Hardwood Activated Charcoal Powder is certified food-grade and sourced only from Eastern American hardwood trees, an all-natural and renewable resource. If you prefer coconut-derived sources, check out our Coconut Activated Charcoal Powder, which originates from 100% tropical coconuts.
All our powders are finely milled and 100% pure for a potent digestive cleanse. Add them to your diet to bid your stomach problems goodbye!
P.S. If you'd like to learn more about the versatility of activated charcoal powder, check out our in-depth guide on How to Use Activated Charcoal Powder.