Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team
TLDR: Yes. Activated charcoal can inhibit the effectiveness of your hormonal birth control pills.
Activated charcoal has become a popular trend among foodies, appearing in aesthetically pleasing photos of ice cream and sandwiches; it has since expanded to other products like facemasks and teeth whiteners. Activated charcoal is safe to consume in small doses and may boast some benefits such as aiding digestion, reducing gas and bloating, and absorbing toxins from your body.
But did you know that eating large amounts of activated charcoal could put you at risk of pregnancy if you’re on the birth control pill?
How Activated Charcoal Works
Activated charcoal is a detoxifier that “[traps] chemicals and prevents their absorption,” WebMD notes. Its texture and negative charge attracts positively-charged molecules, and when ingested, prevents their uptake into the bloodstream. Emergency room doctors sometimes give patients activated charcoal orally when the patient has overdosed on drugs.
While this can be great in some cases (e.g. to save someone’s life), reports have stated that the black-hued substance can also reduce the effectiveness of prescription medicines, including birth control pills. So, activated charcoal works best for medical overdoses but NOT for your everyday food and drugs.
It’s a good detoxifier for many drugs so it is often prescribed or administered to prevent toxic poisoning. The Mayo Clinic suggests calling a poison control center BEFORE taking activated charcoal to see if it is necessary; for example, if someone has overdosed on an acid or alkali (lye), activated charcoal is NOT recommended. Plus, the Mayo Clinic states, “activated charcoal has not been shown to be effective in relieving diarrhea and intestinal gas.”
Activated Charcoal & Birth Control
So now you may see why a compound that inactivates the medications in your stomach could compromise your birth control. There are many drugs with effects that can be jeopardized by activated charcoal consumption. This means that, even for birth control pills, the charcoal is likely to absorb the drugs so they may become ineffective, thus putting you at risk of pregnancy.
Yikes! To reduce your risk, Eater recommends waiting at least two hours between consuming activated charcoal and taking your prescription medicine. But, for those taking hormonal contraceptive pills, it’s probably best to avoid the ingredient altogether. (Remember, activated charcoal won’t affect you if you use the implant, the ring, the shot, or the IUD).
One 2001 study tried to find out if ovulation — which involves an egg popping out of the ovary, thus putting a woman at risk of pregnancy, — occurred in women taking both birth control pills and activated charcoal. While the researchers did not find a correlation, how much activated charcoal one eats does relate to how much the drug is removed from one’s system.
There are a myriad of other detoxifying ingredients that can pick up the slack if you’re looking to switch out activated charcoal — lemon, ginger, and apple cider vinegar are great ways to cleanse and balance the body. If you’re set on ingesting activated charcoal, waiting a few hours after taking your birth control pill and decreasing your intake should be fine but, as always, check with your doctor first to find out about the specific health risks to your body.
So, go whiten your teeth, clear your acne, or take a bite of that pizza infused with activated charcoal — as long as it’s in moderation.
Alternatives to the Birth Control Pill
If you’re an avid fan of eating activated charcoal, consider the contraceptive vaginal rings, the Patch (Xulane, Twirla), the IUDs, or the implant. The ring or patch can be a safer bet for preventing pregnancy than the pill — and you’re in luck because Pandia Health’s doctors can prescribe both!
In addition, if you find yourself constantly running out of your birth control at the last minute and want to #SkiptheTrip to the pharmacy (gotta save time for a little activated charcoal facemask self-care night!), sign up now to get your birth control delivered for FREE with Pandia Health! If you live in AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, MI, NV, TX, WA, or WY, one of our expert doctors can prescribe you any birth control you want — all you need is access to the internet and a mailbox, and Pandia will take care of the rest for you.
Disclaimer: The above information is for general informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor/primary care provider before starting or changing treatment.