Flu season has gotten a very slow start this year. It wasn’t until recently that my state upgraded from Sporadic to Regional, and it’s February. The above average temperatures have kept people out more, meaning less chance of passing germs from family member to family member.
Now that it’s really starting to make its rounds, I guess it’s a good time to investigate another home remedy to the pesky stomach flu. I got this suggestion from someone in my support group, and I’m excited to do some research on something I don’t know much about: activated charcoal pills.
And since I don’t know much about it, I guess it’s perfectly fine that I’m a little skeptical, like many other remedies, that this could work to prevent a stomach bug. Of course, I guess that’s why I’m here, to answer the most important question we all have: but does it work?
My limited knowledge of activated charcoal comes from something that I’m beginning to think is partially untrue. I know that when someone overdoses or takes something that is potentially toxic to their system, people can take activated charcoal to absorb the toxins. However, in my mind, activated charcoal is a supplement that is given to people who have overdosed to help them throw up.
So, you can imagine when I had someone ask me if activated charcoal worked to prevent throwing up and stomach bugs I was stunned. I was like, why would you want to take something that, in turn, could make you throw up?
A quick WebMD search showed me that vomiting is a side effect of activated charcoal, but, in their eyes, only if taken regularly over a long period of time. I had to be sure, and while WebMD may not always be a trusted source for medical research, it was enough to make me wonder if my assumptions about activated charcoal are seriously misguided.
Anything beyond that, though, I am clueless when it comes to activated charcoal. I’m also hesitant because as we’ve already covered in Apple Cider Vinegar and Grape Juice, I think that many bugs, specifically the Norovirus, replicate in the lower intestine so it may not work.
But! Considering that activated charcoal is meant to be absorbed by the body to rid you of toxins, it could mean that activated charcoal could do more for you than the previous remedies.
Now that we’ve concluded I know nothing about activated charcoal, let’s discuss what I’ve found.
According to WebMD, activated charcoal is a dietary supplement that can be used to treat a drug overdose or a poisoning. Essentially, it works as a binding agent and it absorbs the toxin that is doing damage to the body.
Charcoal is different from activated charcoal, as WebMD explains that it becomes “activated” when you combine high temperatures with a “gas or activating agent to expand its surface area.”
Other than treating overdoses or poisonings, it’s also been used (in smaller demographics) to treat cholestasis – a disorder in pregnancy that disrupts the flow of bile, to prevent gas, reduce high cholesterol and prevent a hangover. An important note though is that research is still in it’s preliminary stages and it has not been proven that activated charcoal is a safe and effective way to treat those disorders.
WebMD also let me know that the activated charcoal that is given to treat overdoses and poisonings is actually in liquid form, whereas many people outside of those settings would ingest it in a capsule.
Now, from that I decided to just ask what I had been wondering: Does activated charcoal make you throw up?
This turned up a lot of great articles swearing by the curative properties of activated charcoal for a variety of issues. Other than the standard poisoning and overdoses, it turns out many people do actually use activated charcoal calm nausea and even for food poisoning.
One blog actually tested the theory of using activated charcoal while her family was being ravaged by norovirus. Her conclusion was it did not stop it, but it did help. Of course, her symptoms resided around the same time that it should reguarly. She said within 24 hours she was symptom free after taking charcoal pills.
While many people may exhibit symptoms longer, typically norovirus runs its course in 24 hours, leaving fatigue, an uneasy stomach and tremendous weight loss in its wake in the next few days.
The part that had me curious though was when she said her husband took it and only got sick a few times, which was far less extreme than the rest of the household. She also said they got hit with a second bug, and the authors swears that as she started to feel sick and took some activated charcoal, she managed to evade the second round and stayed healthy.
Lastly, there was this article here that basically laid out all the ways it was being used in a treatment setting. This is where I discovered that it was commonly used with food poisoning and that it’s apparently widely used in ER’s as a remedy for nausea and vomiting.
To me, this method seems more likely to help than previous remedies. It does not appear to me that it would prevent a serious stomach bug like the norovirus, and despite the evidence by a blogger who said it did help I’m still slightly skeptical.
It has been found that people with different blood types have a varying degree of immunity to the norovirus. Maybe immunity is a bad word, but people with different blood types will show varying symptoms, meaning that while some people may contract norovirus and be crippled for days, other people may contract the same virus and only be sick for a few hours. While it is possible the activated charcoal had something to do with the reduced amount of suffering, there could be other factors as well.
However, I do think that activated charcoal, if taken early enough could help prevent normal viral infections, poisonings and overdoses. Viruses have to enter the body and make it to your lower intestine before it can begin to manifest itself. This means, if you begin taking activated charcoal in recommend doses if the virus starts to spread around your home, I think it actually could help adsorb the toxin.
To me, it’s so hard to accept that there is something out there that can magically rid you of a stomach virus, because usually once you start showing symptoms the damage is done. That could be my emetophobia talking, but I do think that’s usually how it goes, especially for highly virulent bugs like norovirus.
The research, though, can’t lie. It does appear that activated charcoal is a very great supplement for treating nausea and mild vomiting in people, as long as the charcoal can be held down and not thrown back up.
Too Long; Didn’t Read?
I think I can give this remedy my blessing – partially. I think that activated charcoal pills can and do help treat nausea and small bouts of vomiting that are caused by something other than a very severe stomach virus. Using in doctor recommended doses, and correctly taking it for short term relief, seems to work.
However, I think its ability to completely prevent or rid you of a virus is unlikely to happen. I don’t think there is enough research to prove that activated charcoal cures a virus, but could it help you manage your symptoms? Sure, if you can stomach the idea of drinking charcoal when you can barely hold down water.
So, what do you think? Can activated charcoal prevent a bug, or do you think it’s a load of homeopathic mumbo jumbo? Also, if you have a nausea or stomach bug remedy you’d like me to look into, I’d be happy to research it and give you my thoughts. Just let me know in the comments below!
Until next time, Internet!
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Lastly, I run an Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up, and it is one struggle I am passionately engaged in. The group is a closed, by request only group to help facilitate sharing and support by all members. It is also private, meaning that the posts you and others make will not show up publicly in your newsfeed.