Many people use charcoal pills for gas or to help their stomach stay flat if they feel bloated, but does it really work and, more importantly, is it safe? Find out what the experts say about when you should use them, as well as charcoal tablets side effects.
Activated charcoal pills may help your stomach stay flat if you are having gas or bloating, however more research needs to be conducted. It is proven to be effective in treating diarrhea — and hospitals also use it to manage the effects of poisonings or overdoses.
Activated charcoal tablets are much different than the charcoal used in grilling. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, activated charcoal tablets are made when regular charcoal undergoes a process in which it is heated in the presence of gas. This makes the charcoal very porous, and when ingested it effectively traps toxins and prevent them from absorbing into your bloodstream. Do not ingest regular charcoal, only activated charcoal pills.
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Uses for Activated Charcoal Pills
You will often find activated charcoal pills, such as Nature's Way brand, in the supplement section of stores in a 560 milligram serving with claims that they get rid of gas — but how effective are charcoal pills for gas and bloating? Unfortunately, the research is limited. The only study on using charcoal pills for gas was an older study done in March 1986 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, which showed it was effective in reducing gas and bloating.
What does the newer research show on charcoal pills for gas? An August 2017 study in PLOS One journal looked at people who took 140 milligrams of activated charcoal along with 45 milligrams of simethicone for three times a day and it did show a reduction in gas and bloating, however it didn't look at activated charcoal by itself as a gas reliever, only when used with simethicone.
Although the research on the effectiveness of charcoal tablets on gas and bloating is limited, newer studies show it can significantly help with relief of diarrhea. A January 2018 study in the Current Medical Research and Opinion journal showed that activated charcoal worked well in treating diarrhea, as it attracts toxins from the digestive system and is able to absorb and get rid of them. The charcoal tablets side effects were minimal to none.
Activated Charcoal Treats Poisoning
One of the best uses for activated charcoal is as a highly effective treatment for poisonings. According to the National Capital Poison Center, activated charcoal is used in the emergency room as it keeps swallowed poisons or drugs from being absorbed into the bloodstream. It's mixed in water and given to the patient to drink. Activated charcoal is one of the main ways hospitals will treat poisonings and overdoses because it's effective and has minimal side effects.
Poison Control warns to not treat overdoses at home with activated charcoal pills. The over-the-counter products may not be the same as what they use in the hospital and may not be strong enough to be effective. Also, it is important that a patient is monitored after a poisoning or overdose.
Charcoal Tablets Side Effects
The side effects of taking activated charcoal tablets are minimal, as most people tolerate it well. The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) says that it is likely safe for most adults when it is taken on a short term basis by mouth. Some of the side effects include constipation, as it absorbs everything in your gastrointestinal tract, as well as black stools from the charcoal.
The NLM cautions that rare side effects include blockage of the intestinal tract, regurgitation into the lungs or dehydration. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is likely safe to use on a short-term basis, but check with your doctor. If you have a history of intestinal obstruction, don't use activated charcoal.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Activated Charcoal"
- Nature's Way: "Activated Charcoal Pills"
- American Journal of Gastroenterology: "Efficacy of activated charcoal in reducing intestinal gas: a double-blind clinical trial"
- PLOS One: "Efficacy of antibiotherapy for treating flatus incontinence associated with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: A pilot randomized trial"
- Current Medical Research and Opinion: "Is there a role for charcoal in palliative diarrhea management?"
- Poison Control: "Activated Charcoal An Effective Treatment for Poisonings"