Friday, May 21, 2010

Native American Healing Clay

My friend from work recently called in sick for three days. The reason...he was ill from eating a teaspoon of dirt. Yeah, that's right, he purposely ate dirt! Well, clay to be exact. You know, the kind of clay that you find in some regions when you are digging a hole in the…uhhhh…dirt. After becoming ill, he called the woman that sold the clay and explained the reaction his body had to the substance. After explaining that he had a high fever and diarrhea, the woman exclaimed, “Isn’t that just wonderful!!”


Don’t worry, he was just as confused. I mean “wonderful” isn’t exactly the word of choice when you are shitting clay every 10 minutes. Apparently the woman believed that the sick feeling was the result of his body emitting toxins. Either that, or this is just what she tells people after they get sick from eating the dirt she sold them.

Now, the whole toxin thing wasn’t exactly a ball way out in left field, since the reason he ate the clay in the first place was to cleanse his body of toxins. What exactly a “toxin” is, and whether the body effectively discharges toxins via the liver and kidney, is another conversation. This conversation is about my experience with eating clay. Yes, I actually ate clay after my friend got sick doing so. No, I’m not too smart.

Photo of the dirt in question

Before eating dirt, the first thing I wanted to know was whether it was safe. My first piece of information was that this clay is called bentonite. This was a good sign, given that many people, including myself, have used bentonite in winemaking. Bentonite attaches to molecules that make a wine undesirably hazy. Once attached, the particles become heavy and sink to the bottom, where they are left behind when siphoning wine to another container.

It turns out that bentonite is believed to work very similarly in your body. The clay expands as it become saturated, and absorbs/attaches to molecules in your intestinal tract. Lastly, your body excretes the bentonite along with the absorbed molecules. But what exactly bentonite absorbs, and whether these materials are toxins that the body is unable to process through the kidney and liver, is something that you won’t find in most of the marketing materials for "healing clay". Why is this?

Unfortunately for alternative medicine, most claims are anecdotal at best and are not based on good scientific principles. Science would describe exactly what was being removed from the body and how. Science would also explain why these removed molecules are bad for your body. And lastly, science would share this research in peer reviewed journals so that others could critique each assumption and conclusion. Alternative medicine takes a different approach. They usually cite ancient cultures that used the substance for hundreds of years, implying that there must be wisdom in the practice. Unfortunately, last time I tried the rain dance it didn’t work…

Jokes aside, there is a bit of science that would suggest health benefits to eating clay. For example, during the early 20th century, soldiers in the German and Austrian armies used a type of clay called kaolin to combat cholera and dysentery1. More recently, Arizona State University professors Shelley Haydel and Lynda Williams have shown that some types of clay are able to kill certain undesirable strains of bacteria that cause skin disease and food poisoning. Their research involves the gathering of clays from around the world, testing each clay’s ability to kill or reduce the growth of harmful bacteria, and determining why some clay is more effective than others2. I’m sure pharmaceutical companies are lying in wait for the day when they isolate the compounds responsible for killing harmful bacteria.

In the meantime, good hygiene would likely be a better solution than eating a dirt sample in a nicely packaged “healing clay” container. Dirt can sometimes contain harmful minerals like arsenic and mercury. That and the fact that alternative medicines are not regulated by the FDA, it’s probably a good idea to go with a bacteria fighting method that requires a little more regulation on the sales and distribution side…like hand soap for example.

Oh, and my experience with eating healing clay every day for two weeks? Tastes like dirt. Gave me an upset stomach. And I used the restroom a few more times than normal. Perhaps I'm now "toxin" free though...

Works Cited
1. Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume64, Issues 18-26, page 1991


  1. I hear that you need to either add salt and pepper to the dirt or put a slice of cheese on it for it to work best. Might just be a rumour though.

    Of course, if your friend showed up at work after his three day "sickness" with a tan, something else might be going on.

  2. I love that you tried it. That totally rocks.

  3. Wow this is quite the post. To be honest, I believe a lot of the so called hippy dippy trippy stuff. But my stomach is upset 95% of the time as it is, I don't think I'll be adding dirt/clay to it anytime soon. ;)

    Btw, thanks for the comment on my blog and the congrats on my marathon! To be honest, I have no idea where the sprint at the end came from. I'd imagine I had some sort of reserve stored up after my terrible slow last 3 miles. ;)

  4. I don't think I'd be brave enough to try it. I'd rather just exercise and try to eat somewhat healthily and hope I sweat out the toxins :D Yeah no scientific basis there either but.... just as good as dirt eating in my opinion!