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Black magic

Red Seal’s naturopath Julie Fergusson breaks down the benefits of activated charcoal, both a figurative and literal lifesaver in many cases. 

Words Julie Fergusson, naturopath of Red Seal

You’ve probably seen the videos sweeping the internet… guys and girls peeling black masks off their faces revealing smooth and supple skin, or rigorously scrubbing black powder into their teeth, to reveal perfect pearly whites after a quick rinse.

What’s this black, magic ingredient? 

It’s activated charcoal. What you may not know about this amazing substance is that it has another incredible benefit, which seems to have flown under the radar among all the mask peeling and teeth-brushing hype. 

Activated charcoal has actually been used since the 1800s for its benefits in assisting with intestinal upsets and absorbing toxins. This black substance is so effective, hospitals have it in their emergency rooms to treat poison victims. It helps save many thousands of people every year. 

Taken in capsule or tablet form, activated charcoal basically acts like a molecular sponge in the gut. It attracts toxins or bacteria similar to a magnet. It is not absorbed by the body and carries out toxins or chemicals found in your stomach or intestines, via the bowel. 

It comes from burning natural substances such as coconut shells. Once burned, the shells are ground into a powder format and made into capsules or tablets (or powder for teeth or face masks). The reason it is ‘activated’ is because it is a form of carbon processed to have lots of small pores, which increase the available surface area for optimal absorption. 

When to use it? 

  • A pantry staple. Keep in the pantry for times that you, your children or even your animals have a stomach upset such as bloating, flatulence or loose bowels. 
  • The ultimate travel companion. Heading somewhere known for poorer hygiene standards than our western stomachs can handle? You absolutely must take activated charcoal with you. In fact I carry activated charcoal when I travel anywhere. Nobody likes a holiday being ruined by travel bugs.
  • Food intolerances. Useful if you are intolerant (not allergic) to any foods and feel you have accidently ingested this food. 

In all cases take 2-5 capsules and then 2 capsules every 2 hours if required. Do not exceed a total daily dosage of 15 capsules.

So, there you have it – another incredible use for an incredible substance. I would highly recommend popping some in your shopping basket next time you see it and keeping it in the pantry, and if you
are travelling overseas, absolutely pack some in the toilet bag. I know from experience it’s saved many a trip to Bali from sure disaster!

Some other very important things to know

If you have ingested poison or ingested a food you are severely allergic to, charcoal may help but you must also seek medical assistance immediately. If you are ill, it is very important to monitor how you are feeling and to contact a doctor if vomiting or diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours. Keep in mind that activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption of other medications so if you are taking the pill it would be recommended to use other protection for a few days. If you are on other medications consult with a medical professional before taking charcoal. 


Always read the label and take as directed. Supplementary to a balanced diet. Endeavour Consumer Health, Auckland. TAPS PP9959

For more from Julie and Red Seal, visit redseal.co.nz

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