Home Health: The Benefits And Risks Of Charcoal Supplements

Charcoal is an important part of your home first aid kit. However, there are important reasons not to self-medicate with charcoal.

Charcoal, also called "activated charcoal," is very different from the product in your home barbecue.Even when charcoal is advised in a medical emergency, you should never ingest commercial barbecue charcoal.

For emergency use in poisoning cases, charcoal is generally in pure powdered form, or suspended in a liquid.Your pharmacist probably keeps this behind the counter or in the first aid section, not with vitamins and food supplements.The powdered form is the fastest acting, but it can be very abrasive on the throat and upper digestive tract.

By contrast, as a food supplement for specific digestive disorders, charcoal comes in small, readily digested tablets or capsules.

Some claim that charcoal is helpful for chronic flatulence, but that evidence is still anecdotal.Charcoal's primary medical use is to absorb toxins in the stomach and intestines.

Unfortunately, charcoal can also absorb nutrients and weaken the effects of other food supplements and medications.It should never be taken without the approval of your doctor or health care professional.


Charcoal is most important in a home first aid kit.If a family member is poisoned, he or she may be advised to take charcoal immediately.The charcoal powder can begin to absorb toxins while the patient travels to a clinic or emergency room.

If the patient is experiencing severe stomach pains or diarrhea, or has recently traveled outside the country (and may have contracted a stomach virus), tell your doctor or the poison control hotline.They may advise against charcoal.

Charcoal tablets or capsules are generally not used for emergency treatment of suspected poisonings.They may not break down quickly enough to absorb significant amounts of the poison.When stocking your home first aid kit, be certain to buy the powder or liquid form instead.


As a food supplement, some physicians believe that charcoal absorbs gas or neutralizes gas-producing food combinations.Usually, your health care professional will recommend charcoal tablets or capsules.If you take charcoal for this purpose, it is vital to take no more than the recommended dosage, and take it with a full glass of water.

Water is necessary with each dose of charcoal, and distilled water is recommended since it is generally free of toxins.Other liquids are not a substitute for water, and some--such as milk and all dairy products--can counter charcoal's benefits.

If your doctor recommends charcoal, you should remind him if you are taking other medications, have frequent or intermittent diarrhea, are prone to food allergies, or if you are pregnant, breast feeding, or trying to become pregnant.In some cases, charcoal can aggravate intestinal distress such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome; ask your doctor how to avoid this.And, if you have a stomach virus or infection, charcoal should not be taken.

Your health care professional will also need to know if you take other vitamins, minerals, herbal products, or non-prescription drugs.Charcoal can interact with them, or require higher doses of these other products.In many cases, you will be advised to wait two hours after ingesting other medications or supplements, before taking charcoal.

Tell your doctor if you experience any side effects from charcoal.The most common ones are diarrhea and vomiting, stomach pain, black stools, and constipation.

Charcoal is a useful addition to your first aid kit, and may be helpful for some digestive disorders.However, you should discuss this carefully with your doctor or a health care professional before taking charcoal in any form or amount.

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