With so many purported superfoods and wellness treatments available, a superfood supplier needs to be able to separate those that benefit people compared to those that promise far more than they can deliver.
This brings us to clay eating, a practice that has existed for thousands of years but was brought to the attention of the wider wellness community by the particularly spirited support of actress Shailene Woodley.
Whilst the immediate reaction of many people was to dismiss it as pica, there has long been a historical basis behind eating clay, with certain types of clay such as kaolin commonly used to help treat stomach upsets.
To understand the debate and discussion, and whether it is worth adding clay to your detox routine, here is what you need to know.
- Where Did It Come From?
Clay eating is part of a wider concept known as geophagia or eating the earth, where people eat soil, dirt or clay to help soothe the stomach and strengthen the digestive system.
There are many clay-eating cultures including in Cameroon, Gabon, Haiti and Indonesia, to the point that they are often found in markets and amongst street vendors as a snack or light meal.
Ms Woodley herself found out about it from a chat with an African taxi driver who let her know that pregnant women eat it during pregnancy to stave off the effects of nausea and morning sickness.
- What Are The Benefits?
Clay, typically in the form of kaolin or white clay, has some microbiological effects, protecting the stomach from a range of toxins and pathogens, and because clay and soil contain a wide range of vital minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium.
The former was brought into sharp relief due to a series of deaths related to the weedkiller paraquat, a herbicide so poisonous it was banned in the UK in 2007.
Paraquat can quickly cause serious, potentially fatal liver, kidney and lung damage, but clay and dirt deactivate the effects of the weedkiller highlighting the potential for the binding effect of clay to work to absorb toxins.
- Why You Should Be Careful With Clay
The most obvious consideration to make is to ensure that the clay you eat is treated, either through traditional baking as is done with ampo or by buying from trusted suppliers. This avoids the risk of contamination with parasites that can sometimes.
However, few people who eat clay will just scoop it from the ground, so that is not a common concern.
There are some concerns surrounding zinc toxicity if you eat zinc-rich clay on a regular basis, but conversely, clay’s ability to remove metals and toxins can also potentially remove metals vital to the body’s healthy function such as iron.
Another concern, one that is shared by the use of activated charcoal is that it can interfere with the activation and absorption of other medications such as antibiotics and heart medication, so if you are on prescription medication it is important to consult your doctor before starting a course of clay eating.