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.
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 adsorb 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.
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.
(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 places like Amazon, or Vitacost.
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. With the brand I used, 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 (affiliate) 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.
Recipes that may come in handy when down with the stomach flu: