The healing power of clay has been appreciated since ancient times, when people in various cultures ate it to deal with gastrointestinal disorders and used it externally for numerous ailments and cosmetic purposes. These traditions continue today.
Types of Medicinal Clay
First of all, it’s important to understand what medicinal or healing clay is, and it turns out it’s not so cut and dried. The most common medicinal clay is bentonite, aka montmorillonite clay. Bentonite clay is made up of volcanic ash, and the largest known source is located in Wyoming. However, bentonite clay is also mined in Greece, Sardinia, China, Australia, and France, among other locations.
Several types of bentonite are available, including green sodium bentonite, red calcium bentonite, and green calcium bentonite. Sodium clays are for external while calcium clays are for internal use. Bentonite is listed in the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and on the Food and Drug Administration’s GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list. Since bentonite can be mined from a wide variety of places, the clay composition varies. Another commonly used healing clay is illite, aka French green clay, which can be consumed as well as used externally.
Health Benefits of Clay
Basically, clay provides health benefits because it absorbs and binds to toxins, heavy metals, bacteria, and other potentially harmful substances.
In recent years, there’s been a growing interest in the healing power of clay, which has prompted scientific scrutiny concerning advantages and possible contamination and side effects. That said, here are some of the health benefits of clay.
Kills bacteria. Numerous studies have shown that certain clays have an ability to kill bacteria. One such clay is French green clay, which was reported in Clays and Clay Minerals to heal Buruli ulcer, a flesh-eating infection caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans. An Arizona State University study found that bentonite clay has broad spectrum antibacterial abilities, as it was effective in killing Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, and other disease-causing bacteria. A subsequent study at the same university expanded on the research, and the team reported that a blue-colored clay from Oregon proved to be highly effective against many different bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The experts pointed out that only certain clays can kill bacteria; specifically “those containing soluble reduced metals and expandable clay materials that absorb cations,” such as Fe2+ (iron) and Al3+ (aluminum). Therefore, it’s recommended you consult a knowledgeable professional before using clay to fight bacteria. If research continues to provide positive results, clay could end up being an inexpensive way to fight common bacterial infections on a broad scale.
Nutritional supplement. Clay is a rich source of minerals, including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, silica, and sodium. Dr. Josh Axe recommends taking 1 teaspoon daily (mix in water), not only for the minerals but because clay reduces acidity and alkalizes the body.
Digestive problems. Whether you want to relieve digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, leaky gut, or indigestion, or support better digestive health, clay is the way. Simply take one teaspoon of clay mixed with water daily, according to Dr. Josh Axe. Take the clay right before going to bed or when you first get up in the morning. If you decide to take it during the day, do it between meals. Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also may experience some relief after using bentonite clay. A French study found that the clay was effective in people with constipation-dominant IBS.
Morning sickness. During the first trimester of pregnancy, morning sickness may be eased by taking 1/2 teaspoon of bentonite clay in water. Always check with your doctor or other medical professional before taking clay during pregnancy.
Skin blemishes and irritation. Mix bentonite clay and water to form a medium paste and apply to blemishes, insect bites, psoriasis, eczema, or sunburn. Relieves itching and dryness. Leave the clay on until it dries, then wash it off.
Bites, burns, and cuts. For more serious skin conditions, make a poultice by placing a thick layer of clay on the affected area and topping it wet gauze or cloth. Wrap the area and leave the poultice on for 2 hours. Reapply and change the clay and gauze every 2 hours until you notice an improvement.
Mouth rinse. A mixture of bentonite and water (1/2 tsp clay in 4 oz water), shaken well, can be used as an oral rinse to help whiten and remineralize your teeth as well as remove any toxins.
Clay baths. If it seems counterintuitive to add dirt to your bath water, you may change your mind when you learn about clay baths. Clays have a negative charge that bonds with the positive charge found in many toxins. When clay makes contact with a chemical or toxin, it absorbs the bad guys. Thus clay baths are great for a general detox and frequent use to help remove additional toxic substances. It also softens your skin! Add 1/4 cup clay to warm/hot bath water. Do it at home and avoid the high prices charged by high-end spas!
Internal cleansing. The negative charge kicks in when the clay comes into contact with water or other liquids and then binds to any toxins (which are typically positively charged) in the fluid. This allows the bound substances to remain together until they leave the body. Mix one to two teaspoons of bentonite clay in 8 ounces of water, shake well, and enjoy daily, preferably on an empty stomach before breakfast. This clay cocktail can help with detox as well as digestion.
Facial mask and body treatment. French green clay is especially valued for beauty treatments and is used by spas and salons around the world. If you want to exfoliate and tone your skin, tighten pores, remove impurities, and reduce inflammation, a facial mask using French green clay is for you. Bentonite clays are great as well. Go a little crazy and do a full-body treatment! To make a clay facial mask, combine clay with a small amount of water, rub it on your face, leave it on for 20 minutes, then rinse off with warm water. Clay can help remove toxins from makeup and body lotions that damage and age the skin.
Possible Environmental Lead Contamination
We are surrounded by lead; it’s in everything from the air to both fresh and salt water, the soil, some foods, and our homes. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) virtually all of the lead in the environment is bound to copper, silver, zinc, or other elements. This is important because this “marriage” of lead with another material prevents lead from building up in the body.
Unbound lead can cause significant health consequences, while bound lead is a different creature. If you ingest bound lead, it leaves the body still attached to its companion because the bond is too strong for the human body to break. Free lead, however, can play havoc with your health.
Now we get to the clay. The minute amounts of lead found in clay is bound. If you are concerned about the amount of lead in a source of healing clay, look for products that reveal lead content, such as: Earth’s Living Clay (bentonite clay), which contains greater than 0.001%, and Redmond Clay (bentonite), about 0.001%. Not all healing clays reveal lead counts.
Side Effects of Healing Clay
Ingesting 200 mg or more daily of clay may lead to nutritional deficiencies (e.g., iron, magnesium, zinc) because the clay binds with these minerals. There is also the possibility of constipation when consuming clay, so be sure to drink lots of water and to keep consumption well below 200 mg. Some people who use clay for detox report symptoms such as headache, joint stiffness, and muscle pain as toxins are released from their body. Therefore, it is best to consume only small amounts of clay or to seek guidance from a knowledgeable health professional.
Although the FDA has rated medicinal clay as GRAS, you should avoid inhaling it or getting it near your eyes.
Dr. Josh Axe. Benefits of bentonite clay
Environmental Protection Agency. Learn about lead
Environmental Protection Agency. Reported findings of low levels of lead in some food products commonly consumed by children
Food and Drug Administration. GRAS substances
Morrison KD et al. Unearthing the antibacterial mechanism of medicinal clay: a geochemical approach to combating antibiotic resistance. Scientific Reports 2016 Jan 8 (online) 6(19043)
Redmond Trading. Is lead safe in any amount?
Dr. Sircus. Edible clay benefits
Wellness Mama.com. Benefits of bentonite clay
Williams LB, Haydel SE. Evaluation of the medicinal use of clay minerals as antibacterial agents. International Geology Review 2010 Jul 1; 52(7/8): 745-70