Using Activated Charcoal to Prevent and Treat the Stomach Flu

Our experience using activated charcoal for the stomach bug

I first heard of this natural remedy during high school, yet I never tried it until this last month. A terrible stomach flu has been having a rip-roaring time throughout the U.S. this last month. And it gave us the opportunity to try out activated charcoal. Lucky us. That may sound a little scary, but it’s really a nontoxic, long used, inexpensive remedy that is simple to take, especially in capsule form (here is a brand I recommend from my affiliate Amazon).

We had the misfortune to deal with not one, but two stomach bugs ( stomach bug and stomach flu are layman terms for gastroenteritis) this month. It was an unfortunate reminder that getting behind on a few necessary supplements and immune boosting foods was a bad idea, a very bad idea. But I am definitely impressed with how helpful activated charcoal is.

Now it’s goes without saying that this is just my story and research and I’m not a doctor, and you should, of course, rely on the advice of your health care provider in dealing with any type of illness. But as one family to another, this information was too helpful to keep to myself! (Disclaimer: Because I want to be careful my intentions are understood, let me say again I’m not trying to give out medical advice, but rather sharing information that you could discuss with your health care provider. You can also follow the links provided at the end of the article for medical statements and information on activated charcoal. And if you are dealing with the symptoms of bacterial gastroenteritis, here are some solid medical recommendations. )

Why activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is an excellent adsorption material. It has been used for thousands of years in medicine and continues to be used today – most often in treating ingested overdoses or poisonous materials. It works because it helps absorb the contaminant. Ancient Egyptians used it on wounds, the ancient Hindu used it for purifying water, and Hippocrates and Pliny used it to treat epilepsy, anthrax, and chlorosis. Native Americans used a mixture of charcoal and water to treat upset stomachs.

In an amazing and daring demonstration in 1831, a pharmacist by the name of Touery ingested several times the lethal dose strychnine with equal amounts of activated charcoal. And he survived. I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed. Many hospitals today still use activated charcoal for many types of poisoning and overdoses.

(Disclaimer: Post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting this website!)

Why use activated charcoal to prevent or treat the stomach bug?

But how does it work in treating the stomach bug? The theory is that activated charcoal adsorbs the bacteria responsible for stomach bugs, helping you both prevent and treat it.  Some stomach bugs are caused by viruses (though my understanding is that the bacterial types are more common).  There is less research on whether activated charcoal works for viruses ( though it could be worth a try – it may help treat the symptoms if nothing else). This is also the working theory for why activated charcoal prevents or treats food poisoning  or other sources of bacterial based stomach bugs- it adsorbs the bacteria causing the sickness. When traveling, some consume low doses of activated charcoal to help prevent food poisoning.

Our Experience.

(Note: There are a lot of different ideas on how much activated charcoal you should consume in a day, or at a time. We took the higher recommended amounts. As always, check with your doctor in how much you should use, and see my notes below on dosage recommendations from other medical sites.).

It started with our seven year old starting throwing up. We thought she had accidentally gotten some shrimp (which she is allergic to), so did nothing to prevent the rest of us getting sick. Within 24 hours, my three year old and myself also became violently sick at the same time. I had a bottle of activated charcoal on hand (I use it on my teeth for it’s whitening effect), but was so sick I couldn’t even imagine trying to get any down at first. After a couple hours of being very sick and throwing up every 15-30 minutes, I finally managed to get some capsules down. I still felt terrible for about 24 hours, but I completely stopped throwing up after that point.

My husband started taking some capsules and  he leaves for work the day after, and when he comes home that evening, he is starting to feel sick. I tell him he absolutely must get more charcoal down. He takes more capsules. In the end, he does throw up twice, but after a good night’s sleep is back up on his feet. It didn’t prevent it totally, but let’s just say he experienced only 5% of the illness the rest of us experienced.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and both of the girls come down with yet another stomach bug. This one isn’t as violent, but still no fun. My husband and I took the daily recommended dose when they came down with it. Then one day I could tell I was getting it. My stomach was flip-flopping, I felt incredibly tired and nauseous suddenly, and I knew it was coming soon. I hadn’t taken any yet that day, so I took some and within 2 hours I felt better than ever and I never got it. I was so thankful, as my poor girls really needed me to be well so I could take care of them. Despite my husband being constantly exposed to it, by taking the daily-recommended dose for a couple days, he avoided ever catching it as well.

I am definitely sold on the effectiveness of activated charcoal and plan on keeping this inexpensive natural treatment for the stomach bug and food poisoning on hand.

(See below for how I gave it to my youngest).

Where to buy activated charcoal

You can get it at a lot of places that carry supplements. Many of my local stores carry it, for example.  Online, you can buy it at Amazon here, and Vitacost. Make sure you buy one without Sorbitol.

Don’t mix with…

Some recommend that you don’t mix it with chocolate syrup, ice cream, sorbets, etc., as they could prevent it from working as well.

Common activated charcoal dosage recommendations

Just a reminder, if using in the case of poisoning, you absolutely should be working with a medical team, as there are contradictions and risks, and much higher amounts are needed to be effective.

For adults: However, for something like the stomach bug, diarrhea, or food poisoning, one common recommendation for adults is to take 520-975 mg at a time, and up to 5 grams per day. If taking capsules, such as from this brand, that would mean 2-3 capsules at time and up to 17 capsules a day. Many recommend when actively sick to take two capsules every hour or so, until you’ve gotten to the max for the day.  (For comparison, in poisoning cases, doctors will use up to 50-100 grams of charcoal for adults, and 10-25 grams for children. At these higher amounts, very rarely there will be issues with GI blockages, which is yet another reason you should never, ever self-treat poisonings).

For children: I wasn’t able to find concrete recommendations for how much to give children. I did find that it’s not recommended for children under the age of three, but not much more info. So I was really conservative when giving it to my three year old with this last stomach bug (I would have given some to my oldest if we had it on hand when she came down with it – we were away from home when she got it). I just opened one capsule, and sprinkled it in a full cup of ice water, which she slowly drank throughout two days. She was refusing to drink it for a long time until I figured out that she liked it with ice, not room temperature water (she could taste the “grittiness” of the charcoal when it was room temperature, so she was just drinking plain water and kombucha before that point). But once I got her drinking this very low dose (I don’t think she even ever finished one capsules worth) she did stop throwing up, and starting improving rapidly. I also found that she wouldn’t drink it if she saw the color of the water. Putting it in a children’s Kleen Kanteen Sippy cured that problem.

Activated Charcoal Contradictions

You shouldn’t take this as a supplement long term, as it could be absorbing vitamins and minerals from your diet, leaving you deficient.
Some people report constipation with higher doses, or long term use.
If you are on any type of medication, you should absolutely consult your doctor before taking activated charcoal, as it will adsorb medications.
Don’t give it with ipecac, as activated charcoal will absorb it.
I give supplements (such a probiotics) a couple hours apart from activated charcoal, for the same reason.

To read more medical information on this subject, go here.  For more research check out this, this, and this.

Recipes that may come in handy when down with the stomach flu: 

 

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Comments

  1. says

    I love activated charcoal! It’s great for detoxing. However, I’ve been told not take any food or supplements two hours before and after taking it (almost impossible!).

  2. Deborah Cornett says

    Thanks for the post! Stomach bugs are my worst nightmare so I really feel for you!
    I have a question about how long you can keep activated charcoal around…how long is the shelf-life on the one you buy? If it is pretty long, I’ll order some now and make sure to have it handy! Thanks too for the specific amount recommendations. That is VERY helpful.

  3. Mom of 3 says

    Hi, found your article on Pinterest and was eager to read it, since my family has used Charcoal for stomach bugs and poisonings for years and years! I really do agree that it’s an amazing remedy. I did have a stomach bug once that did not respond to it, but I think I might have taken it a bit too late. But there were several times when I’d take it preventatively and didn’t get the bug! One thought though, concerning the dosage. On the onset of symptoms, we usually take as many as 6-8 pills at a time. Then wait a few hours and see. The higher dosage in the beginning seems to work well. I also agree that one shouldn’t take charcoal on the regular daily basis for a long period of time. I’ve heard that it could be used as a detox, but never really researched it. If you do use it for several days, one side affect could be constipation. One definitely has to be careful when taking it (and talk to your doctor before trying it), but it’s a great natural remedy, that has been used for ages.

    • says

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I agree that taking a higher amount right at first seems to really help prevent it. I guess it’s kind of a “at your own risk” recommendation since the companies who produce it only recommend taking 2 at a time.

    • Jeanine Pate says

      Great info on charcoal. We always have it on hand & have used it for any upset stomach since we don’t know when it starts whether it’s a bug or food poisoning and it is such a blessing to have on hand when you need it. I did want to add that you may want to research the difference between aBsorb and aDsorb. When reading about charcoal i have always read that they adsorb the poisons not absorb. Just FYI !
      Jeanine

      • says

        Jeanine,

        Thanks so much for the comment! I looked it up, and I believe you are right, activated charcoal is an adsorbent, not an absorbent material. I just assumed it was “absorbent” because I’ve heard that term used a lot more, and it was actually the term used on my activated charcoal jar! I’ll update this post to reflect that. :-)

  4. says

    I needed to hear this, the stomach flu is rip-roaring through our house right now, my husband and daughter have it and I currently am feeling so freaking lousy and miserable so the last thing I want is our 3-year-old son to get it!

  5. says

    Sometimes it’s very hard to read the “tone” behind an online conversation, one here was clearly full of misunderstandings. Since I felt it added too many misunderstandings and confusion to the subject (on my side of the conversation as well), I thought it would be simpler to remove it, rather than try to re-clarify the whole conversation, which was needed. Please know that you are always welcome to leave comments with dissenting views here, although I do reserve the right remove comments and conversations that clearly aren’t benefiting anyone here. And yes, I will remove my own comments if I feel they aren’t helpful in the end, because I make judgement mistakes as well. My apologies for my part in going down a rabbit trail. :-) Next time I’ll just say, “Thanks for the comment!” ;-)

  6. michele says

    We had a terrible incident with my then almost 2 year old ingesting several of my heart meds. Found out the hard way that child proof caps aren’t child proof! At the ped urgent care they mixed hot chocolate mix with water & charcoal in order to get him to drink it down quickly. Thought I would share because it might be a n easy way to get little kids to take it preventive measure.

  7. Sarah says

    Hi! Anything that makes my kiddos barf or have the runs is my mortal enemy, and activated charcoal has been one of my big guns. Another one that’s awesome is Bentonite clay or French Green Clay (use both, love!). Green clay can even adsorb radiation! Whenever anyone feels a tummy upset coming on, I give a tsp of the clay in a half cup of applesauce, and it sucks all the yuck out of the tummy and carries it inert out. Pretty much the same warnings apply, don’t take too soon before/after supplements, drink lots of water, large amounts can cause constipation so keep the applesauce coming, etc We’ve been taking clay for tummy bugs for two years now and we’ve never had a bad experience. :) It’s nice to add to the arsenal ;)

  8. robinakagoatmom says

    In my list of 10 medical necessities for the deserted island Activated charcoal would be near the top. Been using on people and animals for over 25 years. I’m an RN and I have never caught the many bugs that have run around the places I’ve worked. If I have to eat questionable food out I will just take a capsule or 2 as soon as I return home. I’ve had one GI illness, lasted 6 hours in the past 40 years. Works topically for bites takes out the redness and swelling. Saved a Border Collie that was poisoned with unknown chemical and the Vet recommended Euthanasia , she lived another 5 years. Use it for diarrhea in my goats along with other supportive care.

  9. Jenn Lee says

    Thank you for this valuable information! I plan to get some to have on hand. You never know when a stomach bug is going to hit! I have a question though, do you know anything about if it is safe for use during pregnancy or not? I am currently 13 weeks pregnant and, while I feel comfortable giving it to my hubby, I would worry about taking it myself. Thanks again for the great info!

  10. says

    Activated charcoal (both in the loose powder form and capsule form) are a mainstay at my house. Hangover cures for my husband or his friends who stayed up late drinking? Check.

    Food poisoning? Check.

    I most recently used it last weekend when I ate out. That night before bed I got nauseous and knew that I was going to throw up if I didn’t do something. So, I somehow was able to swallow 3 activated charcoal pills. I laid down and didn’t move for 30 minutes. Otherwise I think I would have heaved. I hate throwing up!! So as soon as I felt better (good enough to fall asleep) I went to bed.

    No issues the next day.

    Now I don’t know the difference between food poisoning and the stomach bug, but I think they are caused by bacteria. Food borne (food poisoning) or airborne/contact (stomach bug).

    I am a believer in activated charcoal and always have it around. I use it as an ingredient for makeup (eye liner or mascara). I use it to whiten my teeth. I use it for stomach ailments.

    Even my husband sneaks it to brush his teeth with. hah!

  11. Rochelle says

    My 2 year old woke up today throwing up. I started taking some activated charcoal as a preventative. Should I be giving some to my 7 & 9 year old as a preventative? If so, how much? And for how many days do you take some as a preventative? Thanks!

  12. Rochelle says

    My 2 year old woke up sick this morning. I started taking some AC as a preventative. How much should I give my 7 & 9 year old as a preventative and for how long should we take them to hopefully prevent the stomach flu? Thanks so much!

  13. Jana says

    I’m a firm believer in activated charcoal, and we keep it on hand at all times in our house. I can personally attest to how well it works for stomach bugs and food poisoning as well. I first learned about it when several years ago our then 16-year-old son came down with what we thought at first was a bad stomach “flu,” but later found out was a serious case of salmonella poisoning (we’re still uncertain where he might have picked it up since we are a WAPF/Paleo whole foods natural living family). I discovered activated charcoal toward the end of his illness, after he’d already suffered through the worst of it and was just starting to slowly get better, and I started giving him the dose that was recommended on a particular website I found, which was 6 capsules with a full glass of water, with follow-up doses of 2 capsules every few hours until a clear improvement was being seen. Almost immediately he started to feel so much better right after taking the first dose. I was so thankful since he’d had such a rough time until that point (broke my heart, poor guy). As far as I can recall, I kept giving him the follow-up doses for a few days after that, but it was that first larger dose that really helped soak up the remaining poison in his system (that’s not a very scientific way to put it, but that’s basically how it works). I only wish I had discovered it sooner!

    Now, whenever any of us feels like we might be coming down with anything stomach-related (not often, thankfully), we immediately take activated charcoal, and consequently we’ve never gone on to get anything worse than just feeling unwell for a few hours. If the sick feeling is mild, I give 3 capsules (standard 280 mg. capsules) with a glass of water, or if the feeling is severe, I go straight away to the full 6 capsules, making sure a full glass of water is taken at the same time. This always, always prevents it from going into anything worse. It is important though to try to catch the illness before it goes into vomiting; otherwise, as you mentioned, it can be hard to get it to stay down long enough to work.

    I think every home should have this inexpensive, highly effective, natural remedy on hand at all times! Thanks for sharing your experiences with it. :-)

  14. Emilie says

    Although I appreciate natural remedies, this seems a little unsubstantiated for me. First, most stomach bugs are caused by viruses: in particular rotavirus and norovirus. Other viruses can cause stomach bugs, as well as bacteria (most are food borne). Our family’s most recent experiences were almost identical to your family’s, the difference–we didn’t take activated charcoal. Some family members were more ill than others, some vomited, some got diarrhea. No one had symptoms for more than 24 hours and the most severe symptoms lasted fewer than 8 hours. Many, many friends and acquaintances had a similar bug and their timelines were nearly identical. I don’t have a problem with people trying things like activated charcoal, but I think the most important principles are the basics–proper hand washing, home cleaning and food handling. And. . .numerous studies show that organic products do not have lower numbers of bacteria than conventionally grown products (in particular dairy and meat). ***Organic products do, however, have lower numbers of antibiotic resistant bacteria.*** That means that even WAPF/organic/paleo folks still need to follow safe food handling procedures.

    • says

      Thanks for the comment, Emilie. I probably didn’t give a clear enough account of the timeline of our story, which ended up taking more twists and turns later that month…ending only when activated charcoal was reintroduced. Also, I would just like to clarify that I am in no way attempting to discount the importance of hand washing, proper food handling etc. I am sorry if that was unclear. Message to everyone, YES! I recommend all of those things!

    • Jana says

      Just to clarify, we do absolutely follow extremely safe food handling procedures in our house at ALL times. I am a germaphobe, and am meticulous about careful handling of raw meat, taking care to never cross-contaminate and disinfecting everything straight away after (I also have different boards that I use only for meat, and, they go into the dishwasher as well). We’re fairly certain our son got sick from something he ate when he was not at home; we just never discovered which thing it was that made him sick. In any case, the activated charcoal was a lifesaver for us, and it continues to be an important tool in our natural arsenal. I don’t think Kimi was at all suggesting that proper food handling and hand washing aren’t important measures that should always be taken! Sometimes people still get sick, even if they are taking the utmost care, and I’m just glad to know there is a natural remedy out there that works well.

  15. Marisa says

    Wow, this is a great post! Thank you for your detailed description of what happened in your family. I especially liked reading all the other testimonials.

    I am a true believer in it. It started when I was nursing, and I’d get a little nauseated in the evenings (types of food upset my stomach at the time), so I’d take a few doses of Colic Calm, which has the charcoal in it. After a few instances of that, I bought a bottle of charcoal caps. Then when I was pregnant and on bed rest, my husband came home with the bug. I threw up twice and started getting contractions (not good!), so I tried two capsules of the charcoal. I felt so much better, and my husband kept vomiting (not taking the caps). That was the beginning of my trust in the stuff!

    I am often pregnant or nursing, and I have taken it many, many times (with the understanding of how it works in the system). It has saved my husband and I from the effects of the stomach virus that our family gets once a year. I have learned to take it asap and a large dose at first. I always mix it with raw honey for my children, and I take the capsules while sipping an apple cider vinegar drink. I keep adding a small dose every hour or so afterwards until they or I feel better. I have used it on my two year old–I figured if the ingredient is in Colic Calm for babies, my two year old can have a dose. I have also used the charcoal for any other stomach issues. On the rare occasion that my children eat a food that they are intolerant of or eat processed food and react, I give them a small dose to help with alleviating the side effects. I carry a bottle wherever I go!

    Now I’m thankful to read that we can use it to prevent catching it–I never knew that!

  16. shaunna says

    I use this stuff for everything. Definitely at first sign of stomach flu but also right before I eat sushi. And certain other types of restaurants . I put it in my bath water once a month. I mix it in my facial scrub and make a mask out of it. I’m prone to ear infections ,or used to be, but when I start to get the first sign of ear trouble I irrigate my ear with a charcoal / water mixture. And problem averted. I haven’t taken antibiotics for 5 years now. It was at least 6 times a year for many years from the ear thing. It’s so inexpensive and has changed my life.

  17. pearlwhite says

    Has anyone else had this experience?

    After a stomach flu made its way through our family, I had three near bouts with it that I managed to stave off with activated charcoal.

    I think that because I actually haven’t defeated the virus, the bug keeps rearing its head. Roughly every week since the virus hit our household, I will get really woozy, as though something’s coming on. Then I’ll take the charcoal to hold it at bay, and it works, but then the wooziness comes back a few days later.

    My husband says I should just let it happen since I am our household’s lone survivor of this bug. But when is a good time for a stomach flu?

    Anyone else?

  18. says

    No I haven’t had that happen. Perhaps go off the charcoal and take some garlic caps or other immune boosting supplements.
    Love this post
    Had to go get some. Hate stomach bugs!

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