The above article is a most excellent general reference for the
chemistry of healing clays, although we ask the reader to remember
that the in-vivo ( in the body ) data in the article applies only
to the response of clay action caused by direct contact of clays
and the environment, which is by far the least important benefit
of pelotherapy / healing clay therapy.
When viewing the data about internal consumption of bentonite, keep
in mind that the practice of natural medicine recognizes a far wider
action with far less clay consumed than the information in this article
presents. It is not so much the binding of mycotoxins ( or any other "digested" substance
) in the digestive system that one is after by utilizing clay internally
for cleansing, healing, and general health purposes. Rather, it is
the catalyst action of small amounts of clay, which begins at the
moment the clay touches the tongue.
Upon consumption, clay begins to restore the natural biological
terrain of the entire digestive and elimination system, including
adjusting the pH level; our experience with clay water reveals a
greater PH level than the article suggests, ranging from 9 - 10 (from tests with a natural desert bentonite) . As a part of this
process, the body's own ability to maintain a proper bacterial balance
is restored (a normalization of bacterial counts results from the
near-uniform reduction of bacterial populations), and thus quality
clay use can positively affect the body's ability to digest food
substances due to improved efficiency of the digestive system.
In particular, the effect that clay used internally has on the stimulation
of the liver is often completely overlooked. Many scientific researchers
stop at the realization that clays used internally are (at first!) inert and not adsorbed by the liver. However, in reality the clay
stimulates the liver directly invoking a healing response that is
easily observable with careful observation of long term use of small
amounts of clay with those with chronic liver conditions.
Many of these effects remain largely unexplained but widely recognized.
It is a good idea to remember that the healthiest peoples in the
world consumed clay particles on a daily basis for their entire lives,
generation upon generation, either through a clay-rich water source
or through natural/cultural utilization of clays as a part of a normal
Aluminum in Edible Clays
One of the more common concerns about the use of clays internally is the aluminum content in clay. As outlined above, the aluminum in illite and smectite is complexed; it is a part of the alumino-silicate crystal, which is a very stable molecule. As such, it is completely inert in the human body. There are no normal or abnormal conditions in the human body that would cause the aluminum, bound to silica and oxygen, to "break free".
Numerous individuals have undergone heavy metal testing after having used traditional edible clay for years, and in some cases, decades (the author included). It is abundantly clear that the use of clays assists the body in the removal of aluminum.
To be clear, in order for aluminum to be an issue for human or animal health (numerous animal studies have been done studying safety issues), it must be bioavailable. In order to be bioavailable, it must be in an uncomplexed form or interchangeable form (unstable molecule in reference to localized environmental conditions allowing reactivity) and it must be in a water or fat soluble state.
The crystalline structure of clay particles prevents the absorption of aluminum, which is one reason why smectites have always maintained an "un argued" GRAS status in the U.S.
Heavy Metals in Traditional Edible Clays
There are two types of metals associated with clays:
1. The metals in the earth at the time of a clay's formation.
2. Metals that clay may come in contact with after the clay's formation.
Trace amounts of arsenic and lead, for example, are commonly found in traditional edible clays. These metals are are not nascent, and do not become bioavailable in the body; they are simply removed from the body along with the clay particles.
Clays, however, that have been contaminated with heavy metals post-deposit, such as from the environment, may pose a potential risk for heavy metal adsorption.
A simple geological study of any given clay deposit is usually enough to establish the quality of the deposit for human use.
In our study of traditional-use clays (clays with a long history of use by indigenous cultures), it should be noted that extremely dangerous or volatile elements are never found in edible clays in sufficient quantities to pose a health risk, such as mercury and cadmium. Clay deposits with elevated levels of elements such as mercury and cadmium do exist, but they are not utilized for human/animal use.
Furthermore, strict analytical studies done in France have perpetually demonstrated that even high grade sea clays (from an ancient sea bed) have less than 0.5 mg/L of water soluble levels of each heavy metal tested. These metals simply remain a part of the clay as it exits the body.
There is no evidence to suggest that traditional use clays (clays which have been consumed by humans for 3-4+ generations) increase the metal burden of human or animal bodies. All studies that have been done demonstrate a reduction in the body-bio burden of harmful metals and an improvement in nutrient uptake.
However, it is possible that clay, POST deposit, could have come in contact with environmental conditions that result in undesirable metal contamination from air, water, soil, or industrial contamination.
Natural Radiation in Clays
Clays from all countries contain natural radiation. Raymond Dextreit, the famed French naturopath known for his mastery of clay therapeutics and herbology (author of Earth Cures) noted that the vital energy contained in clay resulted from a minute amount of naturally occurring radioactive Isotopes.
This is not to be confused with clays contaminated with nuclear waste. The radiation adsorbed by clay naturally is the Gamma radiation from the Earth.
Natural Naphtha in Clays
Raymond Dextriet (author of "Our Earth, Our Cure", famed French naturopath and "The Grandfather" of clay therapy, was the first to note that it is not uncommon for therapeutic clays to contain naphtha; after all, a good clay is harvested from a subterranean vein. If a clay is not "cleaned" via water-washing, chances are there that one can smell/taste a petroleum smell emitting from the clay.
Raymond Dextret believed that the naphtha naturally found in clay enhanced its therapeutic properties. While some people not familiar with clay become alarmed at this fact, there is no cause for concern. This isn't highly concentrated refined gasoline, it is trace amounts of a gas absorbed by clay. Exposure is not "naphtha poisoning".
If individuals are concerned by the smell: Simply mix clay well in water several times, and allow to sit overnight. Once clay is hydrated, the naphtha outgasses from the clay.
PLEASE NOTE: This is far different from clay that has been exposed to refined gasoline and contaminated. Clay that has been contaminated with gasoline will cause moderate skin irritation; applying wet clay to the skin for five minutes (do not allow to dry... clay drying on skin itself is a mild irritant) and then rinsed off will result in a burning sensation of the skin and a deep red color.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I be sure that the body doesn't absorb the lead and arsenic in edible clay?
In order for the human body to be negatively affected by these elements:
1. The elements must exist in a form that the body can absorb. This means that they need to be a) fat soluble, b) water soluble, or c) in a nascent form, AND small enough or in an active enough form to be absorbed through the intestinal tract. Most of the metals found in clay are fused into the aluminum silicate structure of the clay particles. The rest are bound by the clay, because that is exactly what clay does and is scientifically used for.
2. The clay particles would have to be degraded in some manner, such as extreme heat (in the thousands of degrees), or a very powerful acid (much more powerful than stomach acid).
Although no extensive human studies have been done on using edible clays (although animal studies have been done), our work thusfar has demonstrated a reduced metal burden on the body through long term of clay. This work has been done by doing heavy metal challenge tests before and after detox protocols, including test cases of individuals with elevated mercury levels due to exposure from amalgams (with amalgams still in-mouth and removed).
While these isolated studies are not scientifically significant from a statistical standpoint (no controls used and not enough of a population sample), every such study we've seen simply re-enforces the existing knowledge that clay assist the body in removing harmful substances; it does not increase them.
3. Studies done in France show that clay does not release a significant amount of heavy metals into water. The studies were conducted by first testing an edible clay via 4-acid base testing, and comparing the results with water subjected to the same clay.
4. Perhaps the most important evidence is the overwhelming benefits reported by individuals using quality clays in formal detox protocols. This includes, but is not limited to, "formal" environmental medical doctors such as Dr. Grace Ziem.
Did You Know...?
"What is the evolutionary significance of plant toxins and animal anti-toxin behaviour? From a plant's evolutionary perspective, a seed should be high in nutrients to support germination and seedling growth; the ripe fruit around the seed should also be nutrient-rich and attractive to animals, encouraging them to pluck and eat the fruit and disperse the seed. On the other hand, the seed itself should be repulsive to animal consumers, inducing them to regurgitate or defaecate it, and the unripe fruit should be repulsive, lest animals harvest it before the seed is viable. From an animal's evolutionary perspective, an ability to defeat the plant's toxin defences would enable it to obtain the nutrients in the seed as well as those in the ripe fruit, and to outcompete other animal consumers by harvesting the fruit while it is unripe and still unpalatable to them.
"Any textbook of animal biology describes the resulting evolutionary arms race, in which plants evolve increasingly potent toxins (such as strychnine and quinine), and animals evolve increasingly potent means of detoxification. While enzymatic detoxification has previously received the most attention, the work of Gilardi et al.10 and the wide distribution of geophagy among animal herbivores suggest an additional important means of detoxification by adsorption on ingested soil minerals."
- Jared M. Diamond, Department of Physiology, University of California Medical School, Los Angeles
Read more about indigenous habits and instinctual use of edible clay minerals in our bentonite articles section.