Last modified: October 2, 2019
Last modified: October 2, 2019
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 charcoal for hangovers to see if it actually works.
We’re going to pay particularly close attention to the science behind charcoal and alcohol-based on the latest research.
At the end, we’ll find out whether charcoal is good for hangovers, or whether it’s just another health fad.
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.
adsorption describes the physical property that makes substances stick to it and it shouldn’t be confused with absorption.
And it’s this adsorptive quality that makes activated charcoal so appealing as a detoxifying agent.
In fact, it’s used in emergency departments all over the world to reduce poisoning from an overdose of certain medications such as aspirin and anti-epileptic drugs.
But what about when it comes to alcohol? Does it have the same effect?
Next up, we’ll see what the research says.
Given that charcoal can act as a detoxifying agent with many drugs, a lot of attention as turned to the world of alcohol and hangovers.
Unfortunately, however, there have been several studies that have shown time and time again that alcohol does not adsorb to charcoal.
Studies 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 charcoal. Which is a fundamental problem if it’s being used as a hangover prevention aid.
Hangovers are caused by many different mechanisms, including poor sleep, the toxic effects of alcohol by-products and congeners.
If charcoal was able to adsorb alcohol while it was in your stomach, it would effectively improve all of these factors.
Sadly, as it doesn’t have any effect on alcohol, it’s unlikely to have any effect on hangovers either.
Despite this, many people see benefits from taking charcoal after drinking. Perhaps this could as a result of the placebo effect or adsorption of other compounds in alcohol.
There is one study from the 1970s which showed that activated charcoal can bind to congeners in alcoholic drinks.
Congeners are by-products of the alcohol fermentation process which are well-known to make hangover symptoms worse. Commonly known congeners include tannins, aldehydes and esters.
Charcoal has been shown to have no effect on blood alcohol concentrations and, therefore, 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, theres 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.
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.
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 usual limits
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.
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.
That brings us to the end of our look into activated charcoal for hangovers.
So far, the research suggests it doesn’t work. This is because alcohol does not bing to charcoal and therefore will have no effect on reducing blood alcohol concentrations.
There is some evidence that it may be useful in binding some of the other hangover causing substances in alcohol like congeners.
But it’s important to note that is evidence is weak.
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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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