One of the latest trends to hit the wellness world is activated charcoal, which has been marketed as a treatment for everything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms such as bloating, to teeth whitening. But can activated charcoal help manage IBS symptoms?
First of all, what is activated charcoal?
You might be familiar with charcoal when it’s leftover from a fire or even in an artist’s kit. Activated charcoal is a fine black powder made from bone char, processed at very high temperatures to change its internal structure. This reduces the size of its pores and increases its surface area, making it more porous than regular charcoal.
Activated charcoal is extremely absorbent allowing it to bind to molecules, ions or atoms from a dissolved substance. Due to its powerful toxin-clearing properties, activated charcoal is used in emergency rooms to treat poisonings through overdoses.
Can activated charcoal help manage IBS symptoms?
Unfortunately, activated charcoal cannot help with IBS symptoms. At this point in time, there is no valid scientific evidence that supports this theory.
In reality, by the time the charcoal reaches the large intestines (where IBS symptoms such as gas are produced) it has actually reached its absorption capacity. This means it cannot absorb any other molecules.
Even worse, due to its absorbent properties, the activated charcoal may have actually absorbed beneficial micronutrients such as calcium.
What may help those with IBS symptoms such as bloating?
As frustrating as it may be for someone with IBS, there is no real, quick solution. However, research shows IBS symptoms improve in 3 out of 4 people who follow a low FODMAP diet. It’s been found to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life, with benefits seen within 2 to 6 weeks of starting a low FODMAP diet!
But it can be hard to know where to start.
The FODMAP Challenge is an online course, designed by Accredited Practising Dietitians, to help determine which foods are triggers for your IBS and which ones can be safely reintroduced into your diet.
Here are some additional strategies that can be used to help manage IBS flare-ups.
1. Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil helps to relax muscles found in the stomach and digestive tract, relieving symptoms including flatulence, altered bowel habits, nausea and bloating.
Research shows that the most effective way of relieving symptoms with peppermint oil is by consuming enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules (containing 33%-50% methanol) with meals. However, it is not recommended to consistently follow this practice for more than 8 weeks as the long term safety of this practice is still unknown.
Other forms of peppermint which can help relieve symptoms include teas, minced leaves in cooking, aromatherapy, inhaled oils and flavouring agents.
2. Reduce intake of gut irritants
Removing these types of trigger foods from your diet has been shown to help effectively manage IBS for many people.
3. Manage your stress and anxiety
IBS sufferers tend to have extremely sensitive guts, which don’t respond well to stress.
Try out some strategies that will allow you to unwind, and feel a bit more relaxed. Whether it be yoga, meditation or even going for light walks or bike rides. Ensure you also prioritise sleep – aiming for about 7-8 hours a night – as a lack of sleep can actually worsen IBS symptoms.
Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms that we consume specifically for health benefits and they’re a promising additional treatment option for those with IBS.
Studies suggest that gut microbiota may influence symptoms for those with IBS. Therefore by improving the gut microbiota –with the help of probiotics – you can in turn reduce IBS symptoms such as abdominal discomfort and flatulence!
Probiotics can be found naturally in certain foods such as yoghurt and through supplementation. Read more here.
By Renee Borg, find me on Instagram.