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Alternatives to Activated Charcoal

Posted 6 years ago by Jo

Activated (or medicinal) Charcoal is used in supplemental form as a remedy for bloating and flatulence, and is available over the counter from pharmacies and health food stores. It is a highly absorbent fine black powder, with the ability to absorb digestive gases and help to reduce bloating. It is available in powder, liquid or tablet form, of which the tablets are most commonly used to relieve digestive problems.

Charcoal Tablets

Activated Charcoal is one natural option available to help reduce bloating 

Excess build-up of gas in the stomach can lead to digestive discomfort such as indigestion, acid reflux and a swollen tummy. 

Activated Charcoal is supported by a Health Claim from the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) following the results of three human studies which consistently showed its effect on decreasing the amount of intestinal gas accumulation in populations in both the USA and India. Anecdotal evidence for the beneficial effects can be conflicting, it is not something that works for everyone, but there are many who find it an effective remedy for the relief of bloating and flatulence.  

There are however some people who are not able to take it, such as pregnant or nursing women, or those on certain prescription medications as the charcoal may effect the way in which they work. If this is the case, you may like to look into other natural alternatives for bloating. Although side effects associated with Activated Charcoal are unusual, some people may experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea, or constipation.

Below we explore some natural alternatives that you may like try instead. 

1. Probiotics

Probiotics can be helpful in reducing symptoms of bloating. Probiotic bacteria work in a different way to Activated Charcoal by helping to increase the levels of friendly bacteria in the digestive system, with the effect of improving digestion. There is an increasing evidence base to support the use of certain strains of bacteria to relieve bloating and OptiBac Probiotics 'One week flat' is designed specifically with those sufferers in mind. You may like to read more about probiotics here

For a flat stomach

OptiBac Probiotics 'One week flat' contains bacteria strains trialled to be effective in reducing bloating

2. Herbs for digestion 

There are a number of herbs that have a soothing effect on the digestive system, helping to improve the way we digest our food resulting in reduced bloating and discomfort. Again, they work differently to Activated Charcoal by targeted different elements of digestive discomfort for example having either a calming or soothing effect on the digestive tract. Traditionally herbs such as peppermint, fennel and lemon balm have all been used for their carminative and digestive supporting properties. They are delicious taken as teas. You can read more about herbs for bloating here

Mint Tea

Herbal mint tea may help to improve digestion 

3. Digestive bitters

Digestive bitters are foods which possess properties that help to stimulate the release of bile which then helps to improve digestion, with the benefit of reducing bloating. Rather than absorbing gas as Charcoal does, digestive bitters work to stimulate digestion, therefore reducing discomfort and swelling. Examples of digestive bitters include foods such as artichoke, rocket and endive, as well as aloe vera and herbal preparations such as Centaurium.

Herbal Bitters

Digestive bitters help to stimulate bile production to relieve bloating 

4. Avoid trigger foods

There are certain foods that may act as a trigger, and if you are sensitive to them, it is advisable to avoid them where possible and introduce alternatives. Dairy and wheat are two examples of food that may cause digestive discomfort. A lactose intolerance (a sensitivity to the sugar in milk) often occurs due to a lack of the enzyme lactase, so it is wise to opt for dairy-free alternatives such as almond or oat milk in place of cow's milk. Taking a probiotic supplement may also be helpful in improving the digestion of dairy food, as well as other trigger foods. You can read more about food intolerances and bloating here

We hope this provides a helpful guide to the potential benefits of Activated Charocal, as well as possible alternatives you may like to try to help reduce your bloating. To read about more natural remedies click here

Have you tried Activated Charcoal, and how did you find it? Please add your comments below. 


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References: Hall RG Jr, Thompson H, Strother A. Effects of orally administered activated charcoal on intestinal gas. Am J Gastroenterol. 1981;75:192-196. 

Potter T, Ellis C, Levitt M. Activated charcoal: in vivo and in vitro studies of effect on gas formation. Gastroenterology. 1985;88:620-624.

Nutrition Research (Elsevier) Volume 28, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 1-5 "Probiotic food supplement reduces stress-induced gastrointestinal symptoms in volunteers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial" Authors: L. Diop, S. Guillou, H. Durand

Goso Y, Ogata Y, Ishihara K, Hotta K. Effects of traditional herbal medicine on gastric acid. Biochem Physiol 1996;113C:17–21

Westphal J, Hörning M, Leonhardt K. Phytotherapy in functional upper abdominal complaints. Results of a clinical study with a preparation of several plants. Phytomedicine 1996;2:285–91.

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