Geophagy and Bentonite Clay: Health Benefits of an Age-Old Practice

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Something known as Bentonite clay, one of many healing clays used for centuries to detox, is just one more unintentionally ignored substance everyone should know about. While pregnant women and children occasionally get some cravings for dirt or clay (weird, right), no one else gives much thought to utilizing clay to heal. But rather than eating dirt out of your backyard, you can get these benefits from a natural healer – known as bentonite clay.

When referring to pregnant women or others who eat earth in Western society, you’ll sometimes hear the term “pica,” but this term refers to the consumption of any non-food substance. Geophagy, however, is specific to consumption of clay, dirt, mud, and earth in general.

For many cultures, eating earth is not unusual. In some societies, individuals consume clay at relatively high rates (pregnant women in particular). One source puts the rate at 65% in Kenya, where prepared clay products are sold in markets specifically for this purpose.

An extensive scientific review in 2011, published in The Quarterly Review of Biology looked at geophagy and the health effects. They found that most research on the phenomena reported it to protect the body against toxins, parasites, and pathogens. The researchers also discounted the belief that geophagy is a result of hunger in “developing nations,” rather is a nutritional choice.

As reported by The University of Chicago Press:

“The database shows that geophagy is documented most commonly in women in the early stages of pregnancy and in pre-adolescent children. Both categories of people are especially sensitive to parasites and pathogens, according to Young and her colleagues. In addition, geophagy is most common in tropical climates where foodborne microbes are abundant. Finally, the database shows that people often eat earth during episodes of gastrointestinal stress.”

One of the most readily forms of clay or dirt available in western countries is something known as bentonite clay. While a handful of dirt or clay from your yard could contain pesticides and other toxins common in the earth of “developed” nations, bentonite clay, available online and in health food stores, is clean. Well, as clean as dirt can be.

Consuming bentonite clay or even using it topically can provide a wealth of health benefits including: improved digestion, nutrient absorption, heavy metal detoxification, pain and inflammation reduction, and more.

While geophagy is most common among pregnant women and adolescents, the protective nature of consuming earth could be beneficial for all populations.