Have you heard about activated charcoal for food allergies?
Yes, it's a thing!
In our efforts to reduce toxins in our lives, we might use natural personal care products, natural home products, and natural remedies instead of medications as much as possible. Other natural options are essential oils, saline spray, and other alternative methods of healing like these natural allergy remedies. Today let's talk about a Natural Remedy for Food Allergies that might surprise you.
In 1831, the distinguished Professor Touery stood in front of his colleagues at the French Academy of Medicine and drank a dose of strychnine that was several times the amount considered lethal.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, Professor Touery did not have any ill intentions, nor did anyone else wish him harm.
So why was he drinking poison?
He drank poison in order to demonstrate to his colleagues the powerful effect activated charcoal has in binding toxins and removing them from the body.
The professor survived his demonstration unharmed.
Activated Charcoal - An Ancient Remedy
Activated charcoal (sometimes abbreviated as “AC”) has been used for thousands of years by cultures around the world:
- Both the ancient Egyptians and Hindus were known to have used it.
- Native Americans used it mixed with water as a stomach remedy.
- In Victorian England, charcoal biscuits were sold as an antidote to flatulence.
- And many “old wives” will tell you that burnt toast (virtually the same thing) offers excellent relief for an upset stomach.
Today, activated charcoal is available very inexpensively at most pharmacies and in other places that sell natural supplements.
Uses for Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is highly adsorbent (not to be confused with absorbent), which means that other substances bind to its surface.
Because of its power of adsorption, activated charcoal is commonly used in hospitals as a remedy for those who have ingested a poison of some kind.
In addition to being used in cases of poisoning, activated charcoal has been documented as treatment for:
- stomach bugs (binds the bacteria causing the illness)
- infant jaundice
- indigestion and heartburn
- tooth pain, and
- stinging bug bites
- It can also be used to whiten teeth because it pulls stain-causing elements from the tooth enamel.
Using Activated Charcoal for Food Allergies
One lesser known use for activated charcoal, which I recently discovered, is helping to deal with reactions from food allergies. The AC binds offending proteins in food that the body can’t break down, such as gluten, dairy, egg, peanut, soy, and other allergens. When the protein is bound to the activated charcoal, it is whisked out of the digestive tract rather than remaining in the body and causing discomfort, therefore reducing or alleviating food allergy symptoms.
This treatment works best in people who have primarily digestive symptoms when reacting to a food allergen (i.e. upset stomach, bloating, gas, diarrhea, etc.), and it should not be relied on as a remedy in individuals who have anaphylactic allergies (although some research shows that using activated charcoal in addition to epinephrine immediately upon ingestion of an allergen could help lessen the severity of anaphylactic reactions).
If an individual suffers from food allergies and accidentally eats a food to which he or she is allergic, it is best to take activated charcoal as soon as it is known that allergen has been ingested, whether symptoms have appeared or not.
The treatment is more effective the sooner it is administered after an offending food is eaten. That way, fewer proteins enter the bloodstream before they can be bound to the activated charcoal.
Of course, it is not always immediately possible to know when you have eaten something that you are allergic to, but taking AC as soon as symptoms start to occur will help to alleviate many, if not all, of the symptoms.
Scientific Evidence About Activated Charcoal and Food Allergies
There is ample anecdotal evidence testifying to the effectiveness of activated charcoal in dealing with accidentally ingested food allergy triggers, especially for people who are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease and have inadvertently eaten gluten.
Scientific research on the subject is still in early stages, but so far studies attest to activated charcoal’s effectiveness for allergens other than gluten, as well. One such study was published in the Journal for Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Researchers for the study mixed peanut (a common allergen) protein and activated charcoal in test tubes and swallowed it. They then used various measurement techniques to determine how well the charcoal bound the peanut protein, making it unavailable to the body.
“The data presented herein show that AC removes both IgE-binding and IgG-binding peanut proteins from solution rapidly at both neutral and acidic pH. These data suggest that administration of AC may be useful as an adjunct to slow or to prevent further absorption of peanut protein from the gastrointestinal tract after accidental ingestion by individuals with peanut allergy.” (Source)
Although activated charcoal is effective in reducing or eliminating symptoms from eating foods that might cause allergic reactions under normal circumstances, the treatment should not be used as a way to cheat on a restricted diet in order to eat offending allergens. The AC cannot stop all of the proteins in a food from entering into the body.
Some will still enter the blood stream, causing the immune system to over-react, triggering inflammation, and exacerbating leaky gut issues. Anyone with food allergies should make all efforts to avoid the foods they are allergic to, but, as we are all human, activated charcoal can be helpful for the occasional instance where a mistake is made and an allergen is accidentally ingested.
My Family’s Experience with Activated Charcoal for Food Allergies
My own son has had food allergies since he was an infant, mainly to gluten, dairy, eggs, and some nuts. Before we figured out that he had allergies, we spent months watching him squirm, cry, and scrunch up his legs in obvious distress.
As many of you probably know, it is a horrible feeling to see your child in pain and not be able to do anything about it. Nothing we tried worked and we couldn’t find any doctors who could help us. He was actually misdiagnosed as having acid reflux. Thankfully we were able to take things into our own hands and figure out the root of the problem.
Since we discovered my son’s food allergies, we have had very few incidents of stomach pain and other digestive discomforts, but occasionally, especially when eating food not prepared at home, he accidentally ingests one of his trigger allergens and has a bad night.
The first time that I thought to try activated charcoal for food allergies was after he had unknowingly eaten dairy. We put him to bed, but he woke up several times within the first two hours of sleep. I could tell he was uncomfortable, and he kept telling us his stomach was “hot.”
Of course, I wanted to do something to help ease his pain, so I tried giving him a blend of herbal tea formulated to calm his stomach.
It didn’t help.
While wracking my brain for another option, I saw activated charcoal in our kitchen. I knew that it was often used for stomachaches and that it wouldn’t hurt him to try it, even if it didn’t alleviate his symptoms.
I emptied 1 ½ capsules of the AC into the water and put it in a sippy cup so my son couldn’t see the black color (I was afraid he wouldn’t drink it if he saw it). He drank the water quickly without protest and fell back asleep. He slept soundly for six hours and then woke up saying his stomach was hot again. I gave him more of the activated charcoal and water, and he slept the rest of the night, waking up without symptoms in the morning. Every other time that my son has accidentally eaten dairy or another of his food allergens, he has woken up two to three times per hour throughout the night. Sometimes the discomfort from his symptoms has been so great that he hasn’t been able to sleep at all. I was shocked at how well the activated charcoal had worked to alleviate his symptoms and help all of us get a good night’s sleep.
(Note: There is some research that says that taking activated charcoal with dairy will actually make it less effective, but we have successfully used it to treat the symptoms of a dairy allergy.)
Activated Charcoal for Food Allergies Dosage
There is a wide variety in the recommended dosage of activated charcoal for non-poison related use, most likely because the amount of charcoal needed to be effective varies from person to person.
A general guideline is to take 500 to 1040 mg of activated charcoal with water up to 4 times daily, as needed.
Adults can start by taking two to three capsules and repeat as needed until symptoms subside. For small children it would be wise to start with a smaller amount, such as ½ or 1 capsule of activated charcoal, adding more gradually as needed.
Contraindications and Side Effects
- Activated charcoal can cause constipation and dehydration, so it should always be taken with plenty of water.
- Because of its adsorptive nature, AC binds everything, not just toxins, so it shouldn’t be taken regularly or long term.
- If used too often, it could cause nutrient deficiencies.
- Activated charcoal will interfere with absorption of prescription and over-the-counter medications into the body, so it should always be taken separately (wait three to four hours in between using AC and taking medication), and a doctor should be consulted before using activated charcoal in the case of being on long-term prescription medication.
- Finally, activated charcoal will often turn stools black, but this is due only to its own black color and is no cause for concern.
- Of course, as with anything, if you feel "off" while taking activated charcoal, contact your physician. Some have apparently reported feeling nausea and vomiting.
Activated charcoal is one of the safest and most cost-effective remedies to keep around the house. If you or a family member suffers from food allergies or sensitivities, it could very easily be the difference between hours of pain and discomfort or a regular day.
Please note: Neither Adrienne nor Erin are doctors and we don't pretend to be so. Please consult with your physician before changing your diet, supplement, or exercise protocol. Thanks!
Do you have food allergies?
Have you ever used activated charcoal for food allergies or any other use?
Erin Ter Beest lives and blogs in Alto, Wisconsin. She takes care of her son, Sawyer, while dabbling in traditional foods, alternative health, raising chickens and milk goats, and building a small, sustainable house with her husband, Casey. More of Erin’s thoughts on all things food, nutrition, farm, and home can be found at her website, Natural Wonderer.