A Bloating Remedy? My Experience With Activated Charcoal
Last updated: October 2021
Activated charcoal is used for so many things. My family swears that it helps to treat food poisoning. The internet tells me that I can use it for whitening my teeth. But most importantly, it’s supposed to help with bloating and other digestive troubles!
Now, I am neither a scientist nor a doctor, so I’m not going to attempt to explain the how and why of activated charcoal as a bloating remedy. There’s a ton of information on that online. What I will be talking about, however, is my personal experience with activated charcoal. Can it really help relieve IBS symptoms?
To take or not to take: that is the question
I’ve used a couple of different remedies to try to relieve my IBS symptoms: Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, Iberogast… but activated charcoal has one advantage: it’s not actually medication. I always worry when I have to take medication too often (which I do anyway because I also suffer from frequent headaches next to IBS), and I like that activated charcoal is a more natural alternative.
It has one problem though: it tends to absorb anything you take with it. If I were to take activated charcoal, but then decided that I needed an Imodium or Ibuprofen for said headaches, it probably wouldn’t work. I’ve read that you need to wait at least 2 hours before taking any other medication, so this sometimes is an issue.
Now, let’s talk about the effects activated charcoal has on my digestive system. I’ve mostly taken it for bloating so far, and I must say that it does work. But it’s certainly not a miracle. Depending on how bad my bloating is, I sometimes have to take it two or three times before it gets significantly better. Which is fine, really, since I haven’t found anything else that helps at all.
Usually, about 30 minutes after having swallowed a capsule, I start to feel the discomfort decrease. I then wait to see how much it decreases and possibly take another capsule two or three hours later. (Again, I’m not an expert! But the activated charcoal I have says to take up to 3 capsules a day…)
It’s rare for me to not see any results at all, and sometimes I even go from miserable to fine thanks to those little black pills. I feel like they help my body digest, and then I can go to the bathroom to eliminate all those foods that made me miserable.
A preventative measure? Not so much
When I ordered my activated charcoal capsules online, a couple of reviews stated that people take them every morning, as a preventative measure. So, I decided to try taking some before big meals (like when we were invited to dinner, or at Christmas).
That did not work. At all. Not only did I not feel any better during or after the meals – I also experienced a huge flare every time I tried. This wasn’t due to the charcoal, I believe, but to the fact that my body can’t handle huge meals. Especially when they are cooked by someone else and may or may not include trigger ingredients that I don’t know about.
Maybe this works for some. But as an IBS sufferer, activated charcoal is certainly not a miracle cure for flares.
Trigger foods absorption
Despite activated charcoal being an absolute flop when it comes to preventing symptoms, it does a decent job at absorbing trigger food after a meal. As I said, it’s not a miracle. It doesn’t end in a flare. But do you know that terrible feeling of an upcoming flare? Weird rumbling inside your stomach, increased discomfort, slight nausea? It sometimes helps me with that.
I often take a capsule whenever I start feeling a bit uneasy, and once in a while, the feeling just subsides. And not only for me! My partner has become sensitive to overly greasy foods lately. Every time he takes a capsule when he feels sick after a meal, activated charcoal helps relieve his symptoms altogether.
So, is activated charcoal a remedy for bloating and other IBS symptoms? In my opinion, it is worth a shot. The way I see it, it may absorb some of the foods that cause symptoms. And that can only make things better.
As for adverse effects, I never noticed any. It certainly doesn’t cause constipation as Imodium does. In fact, I almost feel like it helps pass the food more easily but without diarrhea. For me, it became my go-to remedy for bloating and discomfort. For actual flares, it’s pretty useless though.
Have you ever tried activated charcoal? Did it help you, or not at all?
Which of the following symptoms of IBS do you experience most frequently?