Does Activated Charcoal Help with Gas and Bloating?


One-third of patients, more commonly women, complain of bloating. Bloating is an uncomfortable pressure in the abdomen caused by excess gas.

What causes gas and bloating?

In certain foods, small sugars can quickly move through the gut. The good bacteria that live there ferment the sugars, creating symptoms of gas and bloating. FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) is the acronym used to describe these sugar triggers. Many common foods can be problematic — it’s not one single food trigger that causes the symptoms.

As people eat more food throughout the day, their symptoms increase because of the compound effects of fermenting sugars. Symptoms are controlled by temporarily eliminating these triggers through dietary restrictions, known as the FODMAP diet. Eventually, patients can slowly consume FODMAP foods one by one in limited quantities to determine which foods and in what amounts cause symptoms.

Charcoal for gas and bloating

Limited research studies have looked at short-term solutions for gas and bloating, such as the use of activated charcoal supplements. Activated charcoal is created by heating common charcoal to make it more porous. The extra spaces in the charcoal trap gas molecules, reducing the gas that causes bloating.

Some studies have shown that charcoal, when combined with simethicone, is even more effective at reducing gas and bloating. Simethicone is a medicine that breaks apart gas bubbles, so they are smaller and easier to absorb or pass.

The research into the effectiveness of activated charcoal is limited but promising. It is important to know that activated charcoal use may come with possible side effects, including:

  • Tongue discoloration
  • Black stools
  • Constipation

Are charcoal supplements regulated?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate activated charcoal the way it regulates prescription medicines. Because of this, and the potential for interaction with other foods or drugs, it is best to consult a dietitian before using it.

Registered dietitians from the UCLA Digestive Health and Nutrition Clinic can provide proven strategies to help decrease gas and bloating. They aim to reduce symptoms with the least restrictive means possible. Request an appointment online or by calling 310-206-6279 for the Westwood clinic or 310-582-6240 for the Santa Monica clinic. For your convenience, the clinic now offers telemedicine consults for patients.