Mention the word ‘clay’ to people and they are bound to respond in a variety of ways. Apart from very old boxing fans who remember Mohammad Ali’s original name, most people will think of the stuff one makes ceramics and bricks with. 

Keen potters will happily muse on their favourite hobby, while gardeners may be less enamoured with the stuff as its impermeable qualities can hamper drainage. However, what is absolutely sure is that few will think of it as a way of detoxing, either after a big night out or after a persistent period of consuming rich or unhealthy food, as many will have done over Christmas and New Year.

That is where some folk may be in for a surprise. Detox clay powder is clay, but not as you know it. 

The substance is made from bentonite, which is somewhat different from the kind of clay made famous by the likes of Wedgewood and Co. Instead, it is a form of modified volcanic ash, which has been subsequently altered in undersea environments, has lain in the Earth for millions of years and is usually quarried on a large scale, dried out and often powdered.

First identified in the US state of Montana in the 1890s, it is a mixture of this ash with smectite clay. This is usually present in a form known as montmorillonite, but could include  hectorite, saponite, beidelite or nontronite. It often contains other minerals too, such as quartz, feldspar, calcite and gypsum. 

The main quality of this clay in dried powder form is its great capacity to absorb water. It is also significantly alkaline at a PH of 8.5, enabling it to counterbalance acid.

Due to UK trading standards rules, neither this nor any other clay product can be listed as ‘food grade’, but it is a clean, allergen-free substance that many will happily use internally, although of course the way it is used is entirely down to the discretion and responsibility of the user.

Of course, like any clay, bentonite has a wide range of other uses, but many are linked to human consumption. For instance, it is used to purify wastewater (which will then feed back as clean water into the system), and remove impurities from oils and fats used in food, as well as acting as a clarifying agent in products like beer, wine, honey and refined sugar.

It is also used as an animal feed supplement and in various construction and engineering operations where its water-absorbent qualities can be of great use, including Portland cement. 

Bentonite is also used in iron and steel production, paints, papers, fabric softeners, many chemical processes and as a filler in pharmaceutical products. This means, for example, it is often present in face creams and mud packs.

All this may seem a far cry from the stuff one might have made glazed pots with at school, or the mug you drink your morning coffee out of. Yet here it is; a versatile substance that many swear by as a great means of detoxing. 

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