Activated charcoal has been trending for some time now, and many take it after being glutened, but does it actually work?
Activated charcoal has its time and place, but after gluten exposure isn’t really one of them. It’s useful for binding toxins, but has not been shown to effectively bind gluten protein.
While it won’t remove the gluten you ingested or prevent the autoimmune reaction that follows, it may help to manage symptoms, particularly if you experience diarrhea. That’s because activated charcoal has a constipating effect. The reason you may hear people saying that charcoal “works” is because it’s helping to alleviate some of their diarrhea.
This also means, however, that if you trend towards constipation after being glutened, charcoal will make matters worse!
If you do decide to take activated charcoal, make sure to drink extra fluids and take away from other food and supplements (at least 2-3 hours), as it will bind up good nutrients too! This is the same reason I never recommend people put activated charcoal in their smoothies etc.; it will pretty much mute the nutritional benefits you would get otherwise.
Finally, be very careful and consult with your doctor if you are taking any medications, as charcoal can interfere!
How long does gluten stay in your system?
Another reason activated charcoal has gotten so much hype is that people believe it will help “get the gluten out.” This goes along with another myth, which is that gluten stays in your system for months and months after ingestion. This claim is likely one of those things that gets said so many times on the Internet, it eventually gets taken as truth.
Currently, there is no credible study showing that after you eat gluten it just hangs out in your intestines for months. Gluten moves through and is eliminated like other foods.
However, the AFTERMATH of eating gluten is what can linger long after it’s been eliminated from your body. By aftermath, I mean inflammation. In the case of celiac, this also includes an autoimmune reaction.
It’s different for everyone, but it can take anywhere from weeks to months to clear not the gluten itself, but the reaction that follows.
This means, if you accidentally get glutened, the focus should be on calming the inflammation, not trying to get the gluten out (because after a couple days it’s already made its exit).
My Free Guide to Recovering After Gluten Exposure gives you strategies to calm the inflammation and manage symptoms after an accidental glutening. Pick it up so you have a plan if/when you need it!