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. This is one of the inexpensive activated charcoals we tried out from Amazon with good results.
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.
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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Once I was in Europe and caught a stomach bug. Guess what the pharmacist recommended? Activated Charcoal!
While some of this information is potentially helpful, such as recommended dosages and ideas of how to give it to a child, MUCH of this information is very inaccurate from a medical perspective, especially when based on actual peer-reviewed medical studies.
GI VIRUSES are far, far, far more common than GI bacterial infection. Rotovirus and norovirus are 2 of the main GI VIRUSES responsible for “stomach bug” and what most people refer to as “food poisoning.”
Also, most GI viruses resolve of the most severe symptoms in 12-24 hours. The virus causes the stomach and/or intestines to violently contract, causing vomiting and/or diarrhea, as the body’s attempt to flush the virus out. That being said, it is hard to actually verify that “we got better in less than 24 hours!” really has anything at all to do with any supplement or medication taken, as this is the same time frame many of these viral illnesses run their course.
Furthermore, it is not uncommon for members of the same household to have differing symptoms and/or course of the same viral illness. Because none of our bodies are 100% identical, therefore none of our immune systems are 100% identical. It is common for adults to get over many illnesses faster or with fewer symptoms, simply because we are older. Most people don’t make it to adulthood without encountering a stomach virus or many, so we have antibodies built up. Viruses do mutate and change, so we still get sick, but the existing antibodies help to make it a less severe course.
Just want to point out some medically accurate facts, in case anyone is into that sort of thing…..
I actually agree with many of your points, and don’t see them as in conflict with much of my post. When my sister was in medical school, she was taught that often “24 hour flus” were actually food poisoning, so she was taught the opposite. However, it’s very possible that now researchers have new information that has flipped what she was taught then (that was a little over a decade ago – and research is always on going!).
I do agree that it can be very hard to really know if a virus just ran its course or if a medication or supplement helped. I think often we are just letting things take their natural course. Personally, I get very sick from GI illnesses of all kind. When we had the norovirus run through the family, charcoal didn’t heal me in 24 hours. It did appear to help me cope with the very bad symptoms that always hit me far worse than the rest of my family. This is completely just anecdotal. It’s helped me manage symptoms many times, not always though. It’s enough for me to feel like I’d be stupid not to use charcoal when something hits me, but I’m certainly not presenting my experience as medical research or fact. 🙂
Food poison actually causes a very violent reaction and often doesn’t stop until the entire stomach and intestine are empty and then can continue with bile vomit after that. Food poisoning is often more severe and leads to more hospital visits due to dehydration and begging for relief from the constant stomach pain that can last longer than the normal 12-24 hours typical viral bugs would last. Luckily they are far less common than viral bugs.
I’m glad the professional said something. Because these results are not impressive to me at all. If you said the vomiting was one time and never returned after using.the activated charcoal, I would find that much more likely to be a treatment that works. But for you to continue to vomit the normal amount of time the virus would take to run its course anyway really isn’t much of a testament.
What professional? I didn’t see anyone verify credentials?
I had food poisoning twice from the same food item. Let me elaborate. I love kimchi. I usually just eat the plain kind but my son bought some with shrimp- you know where this is going. Apparently it had gone bad. Had violent cramps vomiting, things coming out from both ends. LAsted 2 days. AT this point I didn’t think it was the kimchi so after a week I decided to have some more from the same jar. Yup! As soon as I started feeling nauseous I took a shit ton (don’t try this at home people) but a triple dose of what the dose was on the bottle. Well let me tell you within an hour I felt better- cramps went away completely, and within two hours nausea was gone- I did have some diarrhea. But no cramps at all!
So I guess in my case the activated charcoal saved me from two days of agony.
So since it’s “hard to verify,” based on the limited extent of your knowledge, one shouldn’t try at all? You should know there are many unpatentable options available that self funded pharma research has little interest in exploring. Perhaps it would do you well to look into European studies. Or just let those be who wish to try anecdotally solid alternatives.
Jane you sadly remind me of all the horrible doctors I’ve gone to for help and have only either made me worse or told me I’m fine. You are not reading your homework, aka medical journals. I only started healing when I stopped going to allopathic docs for my then-chronic condition. Part of my treatment included charcoal and I too have used it for stomach bugs and it has worked well. Stop harming people and read your journals. Get trained properly by the Functional Medicine Institute.
Oregano oil is also very helpful when dealing with the stomach flu.
I have some kind of bug in my stomach..I just took a tablespoon of activated charcoal in water and I feel better already. i swear by it. My chicken got very sick with a stomach thing and i thought she might die…then i thought, hey why not give her activated charcoal…she got better right away…I think it saved her life…I love natural remedies…ginger, garlic and activated charcoal…cannot live without them. thanks for sharing your experience.
I had never heard of using this until recently. In April, my three year old got sick. Vommiting for three days, and then diarrhea off and on for ten days. It was so violent he had to go back into diapers after months of being potty trained because it was so sudden. I tried a bit of immodium, per the doc’s recommendation, and it helped for a few hours, but I did not want to give much of it. And I was worried about hydration. A friend recommended activated charcoal. I gave him one capsule in apple sauce three times a day for two days. A few hours after the first dose he stopped having diarrhea. It is now my go to for tummy upsets.
I’m not n Thailand with my 8 yr old. She’s been violently sick for a few hours now. Actually picking up now but still very pale. I started the dose of AC first 2 capsules then will give 1/hr. is it ok to give dioralyte at the same time. Also she wants a banana, will that be cool? I thank you so much for any help you can give. Cheers Scott
Thank you for sharing your experiences with this wonderful , natural , simple little substance! Activated charcoal has been my go-to for all types of stomach upsets in my family . I actually first learned about it from my mom , an accomplished oncologist specializing in the innovative/experimental programs at the University of Illinois . Then years later ,,a very dear cardiologist friend reminded me of it’s amazing benefits again! Thankfully, because at the time my young daughters had been experiencing flu like stomach symptoms.
All I can say is personally ,It has saved myself , my husband and our (now adult) children – in my opinion – from varying degrees of vomiting and diarrhea- more times than I can count ! My cardiologist friend also travels yearly to impoverished areas in South America , Africa, etc. , in the Doctors without Borders program ,and he never ever travels without it , according to him. He utilizes a small dose daily , while there ,as a preventative and treats his patients with it if need be. Of course, I am not a doctor , so I am just relaying my experiences and how I discovered it .
Activated charcoal seems to be working on my stomach problem…no more, non stop, diarihea…taking 800 mg, 3-4 times a day….drinking lots of water, with electrolyte added….so far, so good. Thank you for the original article…and many useful replies…
Oy. The word is “aBsorbs”, not “adsorbs”. The first time I was forgiving and overlooked it, the second time, I thought “really?”, but the third time was too much.
I originally wrote it with “absorbs”, but a kind reader let me know that “adsorbs” is the correct word. I looked it up, and they were right.
The author is right. ABsorption and ADsorption are two entirely different chemical processes and in this case, ADsorption is the appropriate process.
So much for your arrogance. Check the dictionary it is correct to write ADSORB.
Wow. You’re so quick to point the finger.
What you mean is “absorbs” is the only word you’d ever heard of, and things cease to exist beyond your knowledge of them.
I had IBS and nausea after bowel and I drink act.charcoal and it’s really help.
Activated charcoal is great for GE, poisoning, etc but reading your story a stomach virus/bacteria etc is NOT spread like a common cold. It’s hygienic. Washing hands properly after toilet use and before preparing/serving/eating food; cooking meat properly, washing vegetables and fruits; wiping down contact surfaces to stop the spread, and most important never touch ones face/lips after touching objects (such as restaurant menus, door knobs/bars) in public because there are many people who don’t wash hands after using the toilet, and although restaurants wipe down a table doesn’t mean it’s clean. You would be surprised to see how filthy a table is after cleaning it with a wet wipe.
I have a sibling who doesn’t follow hygienic practices. She, her husband, and children always complained of some sort of “stomach bug” constantly. One day while visiting her family (my family lives west coast, her’s east coast where I’m from), I noticed that there was no soap in bathroom to wash hands. I asked why, she said the boys waste it. So there one realson for the GE. Wiping ass, and then have fecal matter on hands and then touching light switch, door knobs, tv remote, refrigerator door, kitchen utensil and plates, etc. And then I found others, parents playing with dog and cat, touching same objects as the boys and then eat without washing hands.
My sister knew my wife’s and my medical background, so I explained to her why the frequency of their GE problems. The next time we visited, she had soap in the bathrooms, but they still ate with unwashed hands. The GE frequencies was less, but still could have been prevented.
Jane is correct. Charcoal is useful for sure, but yes, most stomach bugs are viral (the ratio is vast, and this is well known, established fact). Most also resolve in 24 hours. So to say that the charcoal cured you because you were better in 24 hours is just taking away from what charcoal can actually do.
My little girl is throwing up again after having a 5 day long virus just 2 weeks ago! I’m wanting to try activated charcoal, but I need to know how much to use? Anyone have experience giving activated charcoal to their toddler and if so, did you use the capsule and break it open or powder version?
“Contraindications” rather than “contradictions”
Late to the party, and with more “personal experience only (but it all could be coincidental)”
Taking activated charcoal internally was something I hadn’t heard of until recently. I’m into natural remedies, so I figured I’d do a little research then decided to pick some up. We’ve had it less than a week and already have had a chance to test it out.
3:30 am: My seven year old woke me up to tell me he was having a lot of abdominal pain, had diarrhea three times since he went to bed, and his eyes hurt (his code for “fever”). Sure enough, he had a low grade fever, and his guts were gurgling. I don’t typically give the kids fever reducers unless the fever is high, or the kid is miserable. I didn’t want to just send his back to bed without doing something for him, so I mixed up a little AC and water in a dosing cup and had him chase that with more water.
6:45 am: He felt great, wasn’t in any pain and his fever was practically gone.
Next time we suspect a stomach bug, we’re definitely going to test out the AC again.
Food poisoning also does not only come as vomiting and diarrhea only. I had food poisoning for several months. After going to a regular MD calling it a virus, I went to a natural practitioner someone recommended. By that time I was losing my hair in clumps because my thyroid wasn’t working properly. I was incredibly run down having dizzy spells. My dr. informed me I had botulism. I had to clean my system out and be put on a natural thyroid supplement. i was fine after that. He informed me that he sees patients all the time with food poisoning and they are like that for a while and can’t even hardly get out of bed and they don’t even know what the underlying issue is. My dr. always will tell me at the start of symptoms to always keep a bottle of activated charcoal on hand. I have opened it up and given it to my children also when they get sick. It certainly helps.
I very much appreciate the anecdotal advice!! I also appreciate the fact that you repeatedly said that this was simply your experience and that you were not a doctor and we should rely on the advice of our health care provider. Therefore, I was very annoyed at the rude comments people made regarding the validity of your article. Geez, you even put your disclaimer in bold type while saying multiple times that this was YOUR experience and that you weren’t speaking for the medical community! So thank you VERY MUCH for exactly what I was looking for: people’s own personal experiences with activated charcoal, not to mention a recommended dosage. Due to your honesty, I am becoming a follower of your blog 😃.