Activated Charcoal For Hangovers: Does It Work?

Activated Charcoal For Hangovers: Does It Work?

Kathy Caldwell

Is activated charcoal good for hangovers? If you’re asking this question, chances are you’ve heard or seen somewhere that charcoal can prevent a hangover, but you’re not sure if it’s true.

You’re not alone. With so many hangover myths, it’s hard to know what actually works.

Recently, there’s been a massive hype around charcoal and all of its perceived health benefits. These include as a hangover cure, teeth whitening and to prevent stomach bloating to mention only a few.

In this article, we’re going to look specifically at activated charcoal for hangovers to see if it actually works. To so do, we’ll examine research papers to see if there is any evidence for its perceived health benefits.

What is activated charcoal?

When we speak about charcoal for hangovers, we are actually talking about activated charcoal. Although charcoal and activated charcoal are similar, there are some important differences.

Activated charcoal is a lot more porous compared to standard charcoal because it’s been modified (either chemically or physically) to be super adsorptive.

What does this mean?

To put it simply, substances stick to activated charcoal better. Adsorption describes the physical property that makes substances stick to it. And that’s why activated charcoal is so appealing as a detoxifying agent.

In fact, it’s used in emergency departments all over the world to mitigate poisoning from an overdose of certain medications such as aspirin and anti-epileptic drugs.(1)

But what about when it comes to alcohol? Does it have the same effect?

Next up, we’ll see what the research says.

Is activated charcoal good for hangovers?

Given that activated charcoal can act as a detoxifying agent with many drugs, a lot of attention has turned to using it to prevent hangovers. The theory is, if you take activated charcoal during or straight after drinking alcohol, it’ll stick onto it and prevent absorption into your bloodstream.

Unfortunately, however, there have been several studies that have proven that alcohol does not adsorb to charcoal.(2)

Researchers have tried giving alcohol and charcoal in different ways including before, during and after alcohol consumption and found that every time it made no difference to the blood alcohol concentrations.

The reason is, alcohol and similar compounds just don’t stick onto activated charcoal. Clearly, that’s a fundamental problem if it’s being used as a hangover prevention aid.

If charcoal was able to adsorb alcohol while it was in your stomach, it would effectively improve all of these factors. Sadly though, as it doesn’t have any effect on alcohol, it’s unlikely to have any effect on hangovers either.

That said, there is one study from the 1970s which showed that activated charcoal can bind to congeners in alcoholic drinks.(3)

Congeners are natural by-products found in darker colored drinks that are formed during the aging process. They’ve been shown to make hangovers a lot worse. You can read more about this in our article on congeners. Perhaps this could explain why some people see benefit from using activated charcoal for hangovers. However, it’s not been scientifically proven.

There is no evidence to show that activated charcoal is good for hangovers.

When to take activated charcoal for hangovers?

Charcoal is considered ineffective for helping prevent alcohol intoxication and hangovers. However, you may still want to take it for other reasons such as for congeners.

If you’re considering trying charcoal for hangovers, there’s only one way to take it.

Like the way emergency departments use for overdose purposes, charcoal is only useful if consumed within 30 to 60 minutes.

The reason is, charcoal adsorbs toxins while it’s still in your gut. If taken after that substance has been absorbed into your bloodstream, it’s completely useless.

Are there any negatives?

An important thing to mention is that charcoal can be dangerous in some circumstances.

Especially if drinking excessively, there’s a risk that you could vomit up the charcoal and then inhale it through the trachea (tube connecting your mouth to your lungs).

Your body can’t absorb charcoal and therefore if any of it gets into your trachea or lungs, it just sits there.

This can be problematic in different ways as it causes inflammation of the lungs and in serious cases can lead to obstruction and breathing difficulties.(4)

In addition to this, charcoal is generally quite heavy on your stomach. Combine this with the fact that alcohol relaxes the muscles of your stomach and lower esophagus, this can result in reflux symptoms.

Therefore, charcoal could make your hangover symptoms worse if you’ve been vomiting or having reflux the night before. In addition, it won’t sit well with an already delicate stomach in the morning.

Activated charcoal comes with side-effects and should we avoided if you’ve been drinking more than your limits.

Does activated charcoal sober you up?

Sobering up means that your blood alcohol levels are dropping. To put it simply, if you’ve got alcohol in your bloodstream, you aren’t sober.

Activated charcoal is not absorbed by your body. Therefore, it will have absolutely no effect when it comes to sobering you up.

These dangerous health claims are often told to you by others without any scientific backing. It’s something commonly attributed to activated charcoal and other things such as caffeine which doesn’t sober you up.

Anything else to consider?

Hangovers are a sign from your body that you’ve been drinking too much for your body to handle. Taking activated charcoal in order to prevent hangovers is the wrong approach.

When it comes to hangovers, taking preventative steps is always better than looking for an elusive cure.

Drinking within your limits, keeping well hydrated and eating a meal before going out can make a big difference in preventing the worst hangovers.

Activated charcoal for hangover – Final verdict

That brings us to the end of our look into activated charcoal for hangovers.

So far, the research suggests that activated charcoal doesn’t help hangovers. This is because alcohol does not bind to charcoal and, therefore, will have no effect on reducing blood alcohol concentrations.

Despite this, you’ll find that lots of people report that activated charcoal helps them with their hangovers. Perhaps this could be explained by the placebo effect.

There is some evidence that it may be useful in binding to congeners in alcohol. However, it’s important to note that evidence is limited and needs more research.

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This product does not prevent intoxication or protect against alcohol related damage that may be caused by excessive or long term drinking. AfterDrink is not a Hangover cure. The only way to reliably prevent a hangover is to drink in moderation and within recommended limits. Hangovers are usually caused by drinking too much in a short period of time. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking any prescribed medication or have any medical conditions including food allergies, it is best to consult your doctor before taking food supplements.

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