Activated Charcoal – The New Cure for Digestion Woes?

If you’ve been to a grocery store lately, odds are you’ve seen an ashy-colored drink that is made with activated charcoal. No, it’s not the same kind you’ll find on your grill. This kind of charcoal is typically made from coconut shells, peat, wood, or coal. Dubbed the new detox miracle, charcoal has been claimed to have a myriad of benefits, especially for the digestive system. Those who drink charcoal say that it improves their digestion, reduces bloating, and removes “everyday toxins”. But is any of this true?

Activated charcoal has been used in emergency departments for years to help treat overdoses or acute poisonings due to its adsorptive properties and porous texture, which allows it to bind molecules and prevent the body from using them. Many research studies validate the use of charcoal in these emergency situations, and it continues to be a standard treatment in ED’s across the country. But since charcoal has popped up in the trendy world of juicing, there is currently a lack of significant research in showing the efficacy of the perceived benefits in a healthy population.

However, one study did find that charcoal may be beneficial in reducing symptoms of indigestion. A study published in Clinics and Research in Hepatology and Gastroenterology involved 276 participants ages 18-49 that had a history of dyspepsia, or indigestion. This placebo-controlled trial provided the participants with a supplement containing activated charcoal (“simethicone”) for one month. In comparison to the placebo, the charcoal supplement significantly reduced bloating, feelings of fullness, pain, and burning post-meal. This study is promising for those plagued with dyspepsia, but more research is warranted to fully discover any benefits of charcoal in a healthy population.

Want to try it for yourself? Check out a supplement here. As with any supplement, check with your physician or dietitian if you have any health conditions or are taking medications, as charcoal may decrease absorption of medicine and can cause nausea, vomiting, and/or constipation if taken incorrectly.

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