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I was presented with an "interesting" alternative form of medicine today: clay. As in, the consumption of it.

10 Good Reasons To Eat Clay!

  • To assist your body in the removal of toxic substances in the digestive system such as bacterial food poisoning, organic and inorganic toxicity.
  • To cleanse your colon and promote proper bacterial balance in the intestines.
  • To begin the process of detoxification of the liver and to stimulate your liver function.
  • To assist your body in the removal of heavy metals and recovery from chemical and radiation therapies.
  • To detoxify throughout your entire body for better metabolism and weight control.
  • To reduce free radical damage; thus anti-aging.
  • To improve your immune systems function and cellular respiration.
  • To increase the bio-availability/assimilation of calcium.
  • To help moderate acids in your body due to a high PH compound.
  • To provide your body with a full spectrum of natural bio-available colloidal trace minerals.

The explanation goes roughly like this: the clay is apparently negatively charged, and when consumed bonds with positively charged "toxins" in the body. This Wikipedia article quotes, I assume, from the source of this idea (although, it isn't referenced).

Is there any scientific or medicinal basis for this? And if not, how much of the claims, if any, are true? (e.g. is clay actually negatively charged normally?)

  • My mother said she actually ate clay after giving birth to me. I think that this is very "WTF" and that she was crazy for doing that. – Victor Stafusa Sep 16 '12 at 18:25
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    @Victor: I have heard multiple times of pregnant women "craving" clay, or some form of earth. Whether or not that means anything, I cannot say. – voithos Sep 16 '12 at 18:33
  • ...Also, it is slightly basic, so the pH-claim is true for stomach acid. It contains K⁺, Mg²⁺ and Ca²⁺ which may be released by the stomach acid (but there are lots of other more digestible sources for these minerals like potatoes, (mineral) or sometimes just tap water etc.)... So there is some truth behind those legends, that made it a proper (and working) medicine before more specific medication and better food hygiene were available. – anonymized Oct 14 '12 at 21:30
  • ... sorry, Part 1 now: Have a look at the Wiki page about medicinal clay. The main thing seems to be that is is very fine grained material, and can adsorb lots of things. E.g. toxins from spoiled food. Which used to lead to nausea and diarrea before better food hygiene was available. Neither were antibiotics against the wrong kind of bacteria in the food. I think it used to be a "valid" medicine, probably as competitor to charcoal. However, as there is now better medicine, and you should not use it internally for gastro-intestinal trouble as it can adsorb medication with serious consequences. – anonymized Oct 14 '12 at 21:38
  • ... part 3: It is slightly basic, so the pH-claim is true in a way: it will neutralize stomach acid. So does baking soda. It is also true that it contains lots of minerals, and due to the fine particle structure it makes sense to assume they can partially be dissolved by the stomach acid. However, the problem with Ca²⁺ uptake is usually the vitamin D, not the Ca²⁺ (see MCM's answer; drinking water in many regions contains more than enough Ca²⁺). For K⁺, I'd recommend any kind of vegetable. Mg²⁺ is (if not covered by normal food) easily accessible in the form of mineral water. – anonymized Oct 14 '12 at 21:44
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"Toxins" in the context of homeopathy/alternative medicine aren't real and are not harbored in the body. Therefore any "cure" is just as fake. Your colon does not accumulate detritus or poisons, and any blockage or accumulation is pathological.

Chelating agents are used to bind heavy metals in vivo before they are excreted, and I'm not aware of any mechanism involving the common components of clay which would act in a similar fashion - though ingesting clay would certainly introduce heavy metals into your system if the clay contained them.

If you are DEFICIENT in Zinc, consumption of Zinc can increase immune system effectiveness if it is part of the clay.

Vitamin D promotes Calcium absorption. However, the clay may contain Calcium - introducing more to your overall intake.

Clay does not enter your blood, where acidosis would take place. Positively charged ions might help if they found their way into the bloodstream (Calcium, Sodium, Potassium) if the clay contained them.

From an article from the Royal Society of Medicine on Geophagia (eating dirt):

Fine red clay is often preferred. In particular, geophagia is observed during pregnancy or as a feature of iron-deficiency anaemia. Where poverty and famine are implicated, earth may serve as an appetite suppressant and filler; similarly, geophagia has been observed in anorexia nervosa. However, geophagia is often observed in the absence of hunger, and environmental and cultural contexts of the habit have been emphasized. Finally, geophagia is encountered in people with learning disability, particularly in the context of long-term institutionalization; in this regard, geophagia and other forms of pica are associated with a high rate of complications and substantial morbidity and mortality.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Please make sure that all of your assertions are well based on references. Most of them seem to be mere opinion. – Sklivvz Sep 16 '12 at 8:45
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    No, they aren't, and sources are not an "if I find them" optional thing. They are compulsory. – Sklivvz Sep 16 '12 at 15:36
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    Then it will simply be easier to avoid those claims, as it's pretty much a Gish-gallop at the beginning whilst I answered his question directly at the end of my post. – MCM Sep 16 '12 at 16:34
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    @MCM: 1) The question mentions "toxic substances", not "toxins", and also provides specific (real) examples. I'm not sure why you think attacking the term "toxins" is even appropriate. 2) Homeopathy is hardly the only form of alternative medicine. 3) I'm aware of the technical definition of "toxin" as produced by a living organism. But that doesn't really change the nature of the question--it only points out its sloppy terminology. Addressing that terminology is fine in an answer, but better not done with an opinion piece – Flimzy Mar 27 '14 at 17:36
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    .. and finally: 4) Fluoride is a neurotoxin--calling it therefore a "toxin" seems quite acceptable, at least for non-biologists. Again, address the sloppy terminology if you wish, but please do so with facts, not opinions. – Flimzy Mar 27 '14 at 17:37

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