Will a Slab O'Clay Keep The Doctor Away?
February 26, 2007 12:47 AM   Subscribe

Why would someone ingest powdered clay? Is this harmful, or are there some nutritional benefits?

I was picking up some of this powdered bentonite clay (for it's use as a facial) at a local health food store. The sales clerk started giving me tips on mixing it with protein drinks, which sort of shocked me. I hadn't thought of drinking the stuff before, and the suggestion of ingesting the stuff reminded me of studies I'd read about pica, an eating disorder. She assured me that lots of customers used bentonite as a mineral supplement. There are apparently capsule forms of the stuff, but somehow the powdered form in a drink mix seems really questionable to me. Wouldn't this really mess with your digestion? Just using the powdered clay as a facial, it seems to be very, shall we say, absorbant. Does anyone have any experience with this sort of thing?
posted by maryh to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have no experience with such things, and there may indeed by some benefits (some animals do consume clay), but it may also be pseudohippienewagebullshit intended to "absorb toxins."

And wikipedia confirms my bs-detox theory.
posted by beerbajay at 12:56 AM on February 26, 2007

I think the only thing it's going to absorb is your precious bodily fluids. Traumatic pooping follows.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 1:06 AM on February 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

West Africans eat white clay for some certain problems. Women in the village also rub it on their faces for certain skin problems. An old and common remedy.
posted by markesh at 1:10 AM on February 26, 2007

I'm aware of small amounts of clay used for very loose stools or diahrrea but it was a local healer, (no medical qualifications) where I grew up. Having said that I don't recall any of her "patients" dying.
posted by Wilder at 1:17 AM on February 26, 2007

The primary ingredient in Kaopectate* was kaolinite, a mineral found in white clay. I was told by a geography prof in Oklahoma that "eating clay" was a common Native American remedy for upset stomach. The wikipedia link for kaolinite lists several uses — it's even in some toothpastes.

*similar to Pepto Bismol
posted by Brittanie at 1:20 AM on February 26, 2007

Bit off-topic but read it recently. From a memoir of of life in famine-stricken post-Great-Leap China:
They told us that in circumstances like this all we could eat was 'Guanyin clay.' It helped a bit; eating it made you feel like you weren't quite so desperately hungry. But it was only dirt, after all, so it didn't give you any nourishment, and it didn't make you feel any less anxious; you were still as weak as ever. And it might have been easy to gobble down, but let me tell you it was a bastard to shit out.
The footnote for Guanyin clays explains:
Guanyin tu 观音土, also known as 'Guanyin powder' or Guanyin fen, was a type of white clay eaten by peasants to stave off the pangs of hunger. As it was indigestible, eating it often resulted in death.
posted by Abiezer at 1:34 AM on February 26, 2007

So, if environmental engineers use bentonite clay to immobilize heavy metals, why can't we?
posted by chudder at 1:38 AM on February 26, 2007

Response by poster: Okay, I should have mentioned that the sales clerk was recommending 1-2 teaspoons of powdered clay to each protein drink, two or three times a day. And this was as a mineral supplement or detox, not as a cure for diahrreah. I suppose if you were drinking a lot of fluids this might not be too binding, but are there really any detox/mineral benefits to eating that amount of clay? Abiezer's comment makes me wonder if it's also being used as an appetite suppressant. (This store seems to attract a lot of body builders, now that I think about it.)
posted by maryh at 2:07 AM on February 26, 2007

Geophagy is more common in Georgia than you might think, especially from Vidalia south through the white dirt country. Sub-surface kaolin deposits in that area have been tapped for years not only as a source of high grade pottery and china clays, but for the powerful dietary attraction they have for some women, expecially pregnant women.
posted by paulsc at 2:20 AM on February 26, 2007

Even Oprah Winfrey has discussed eating "clay dirt" on her show. It's common in parts of the world.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:51 AM on February 26, 2007

Eating dirt can help with micronutrient deficiencies; it's common among poor people with semi-inadequate diets around the world, including in the US. Like the quote from China suggests, it doesn't help with caloric deficiencies, nor with lacking protein. But it can help compensate for a diet lacking variety (such as eating mostly processed cornmeal, yams, or white rice).

Eaten is small amounts it shouldn't do you any harm (assuming that it is fairly clean dirt, as compared to dirt from where someone's dog shits), but in large amounts it will stop you up pretty good.

If your overall diet is varied, with lots of nutrient-rich foods, you don't need the dirt in your drink. If you eat like some hippies I used to know did, all rice and junk food and marijuana brownies, a couple tablespoons of dirt might not be a bad idea once in a while, or you could be all modern and take a vitamin pill now and then.
posted by Forktine at 4:25 AM on February 26, 2007

Koapectate got its name from the fact it used to contain kaolin and pectin. Now it's something out of apples and doesn't work as well, but when it had clay in it, it was pretty famous for doing the job. (There's pectin in apples, but I think the pharmacist said it was something different from apples now than it used to be.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:39 AM on February 26, 2007

Kao/Koa (that's the Hawaiian verson.) Sigh. More caffeine.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:48 AM on February 26, 2007

I've seen this, and researched it a little. People eat this stuff to supposedly remove shit that sits in your bowel forever. When you eat it you soon thereafter shit out basically a turd made of clay that looks really long and gross. The idea is the clay is helping you poop out material that collects in your bowel, but in fact it just solidifies there it's self and looks disgusting.
posted by shanevsevil at 6:02 AM on February 26, 2007

Best answer: Attapulgite, a clay, is an old over-the-counter drug used for diarrhea. It works in the same way as several other anti-diarrheals work: that is, it absorbs water from your large intestine and changes what would have been a watery diarrhea into bulky feces.

Because it absorbs water well, it is also used for cat boxes.

I imagine it would bind some ionic toxins such as heavy metals. In reality, we have either very low chronic exposure to heavy metals such that it wouldn't be worth your while to take clay so regularly to treat them or you have a high enough exposure that you should be doing something more serious to treat them.

So, add clay to your protein shake? No. Just a fad. Use it occasionally for diarrhea? Okay. Not as powerful as loperamide, but then you don't always need something powerful.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:52 AM on February 26, 2007

Best answer: There are traditional uses for clay in local areas around the world. In some parts of East Africa, clay is eaten with very bitter (toxic alkaloid-containing) plants to attenuate the toxic effects. Similarly, clay is eaten with potatoes grown at very high altitude in Peru. These potatoes have been selected for their ability to be cultivated in very difficult conditions, and are bitter (toxic alkaloid-containing). Non-human primates can often be observed eating termite mounds.

In these local human traditions, there are specific food-and-clay pairings recommended. Red clay with this potato, yellow clay with that one. Scientifically, the clay adsorbs (as opposed to absorbs) minerals and certain chemicals, meaning that they are collected on the outside (not inside) of clay particles.

No, I don’t dismiss the entire thing as hokum. However, I think that you need to be very sure what toxin it is you are removing and to use a particular grade and quantity of clay to remove that toxin, balancing out the harmful effects of the clay. Because clay does have harmful effects: it constipates, and it adsorbs essential minerals as well as toxic ones.

In a modern, urban diet I’m more worried about lack of variety than toxins. Significant phytotoxins are pretty much bred out of plants these days, making clay adsorption more harm than benefit for people not exposed to particular heavy metals. You know all those nutraceuticals that are in the news these days? Clay-eating cultures get too much of them, but most of us urban-dwellers get too few.
posted by kika at 7:23 AM on February 26, 2007

If you're eating clay to remedy a nutritional deficiency, the behavior is called pica.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:00 AM on February 26, 2007

Best answer: Bentonite in a solution is a common natural detox formula. I've been using Sonne's #7 Detoxificant for years, and the company has been around sine 1946. (http://www.sonnes.com/products_line_7.html)

Theire website gives this "History of Use"

"Bentonite is not a new product. Primitive tribes of various continents have been using volcanic ash for centuries for various conditions of ill health. Primitives used to carry with them a ball of bentonite clay, which they would mix with water. They would dip their food into it before eating to prevent "sick stomach". Liquid bentonite was used for centuries in China for summer diarrhea and cholera. In 1712, Father Deutrecolle, a Jesuit Missionary, described the clay works in China and mentioned that the clay (bentonite) was used for diarrhea. The use of bentonite as an adjunct to medications during the Balkan war of 1910 helped to reduce the mortality from cholera among the soldiers from 60% to 3%, and also proved valuable in the 1919 cholera epidemic in China. In India, bentonite was found useful for acute bacterial food poisoning encountered by the British Army. For over 50 years, we have made this ancient secret available for modern man. Imagine, a natural clay that can draw pesticides, clean and disinfect wounds, support immune function, and make food and water safe for consumption - without side effects!"

There's also a scientific explanation at the link.
posted by ljshapiro at 10:05 AM on February 26, 2007

Now it's something out of apples
Well, mostly apples.

<4 7;pratchett>
posted by scrump at 3:32 PM on February 28, 2007

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