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Medicinal properties of clay in modern research

Antibacterial properties

Iron-rich smectite and illite clay (Montmorillonite/Bentonite type of clay) is effective in killing bacteria in vitro.[16] Authors report that the clay mineral,

"...exhibits bactericidal activity against E. coli, ESBL [Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamases] E. coli, S. enterica serovar Typhimurium, P. aeruginosa, and M. marinum, and significantly reduces growth of S. aureus, PRSA, MRSA, and nonpathogenic M. smegmatis approximately 1,000-fold compared to cultures grown without added mineral products."[17]

Another study of more than 20 different clay samples from around the world, including the bentonite-type clays, achieved promising results against MRSA superbug infections and disease.[18]

Falkinham et al. studied the antibiotic and antimicrobial activity of red clays from the Kingdom of Jordan (Jordan's Red Soil). The authors conclude that the antibiotic activity of Jordan's red clays is likely due to the proliferation of antibiotic-producing bacteria, that is induced by the clay.[19]

Trace minerals

Clays contain massive amounts of trace minerals, necessary for good health. (For example, it is common to see as many as 75 different trace minerals in Montmorillonite clays.)[20] This may explain many of the healing properties of clay. Specific trace minerals that various clays possess vary very widely. Also, the amount of any particular trace mineral in any specific clay varies a lot among clays from different locations. For example, the amount of iron in various bentonite clays can vary from well below 1%, and up to 10%

Internal use

According to one hypothesis,

"In the stomach, the negative electrical charges of tiny clay particles attract positively charged toxins from stomach fluids. This clumping prevents very small particles, such as toxic molecules, from passing through the walls of the intestines and entering the bloodstream."[27]

The author notes further that, together with the clay, the toxins are then eliminated harmlessly out of the body through the kidneys, despite not entering the bloodstream, or through the bowel.

There are many over the counter remedies for internal use that contain clay. The examples are the tablets such as Kaopectate (Upjohn), Rheaban (Leeming Div., Pfizer), and Diar-Aid (Thompson Medical Co.). The labels on all of these showed the active ingredient to be Attapulgite, each tablet containing 600 (or 750 mg) of this component along with inert materials or adjuvants.[28]

Numerous medicines also use Kaolinite clay, which has long been a traditional remedy to soothe an upset stomach. Also, Kaolin is or has been used as the active substance in liquid anti-diarrhea medicines such as Kaomagma. Such medicines were changed away from aluminium substances due to a scare over Alzheimer's disease, but have since changed back to compounds containing aluminium as they are most effective.[citation needed]


Clays have proven to be effective against the Candida albicans infections. This is a type of a fungus (or yeast), which is a causal agent of opportunistic oral and genital infections. This type of infection, known as Candidiasis, also may enter the bloodstream, and become a systemic Candida infection.

In 1971, the influence of bentonite clay on the growth of Candida lipolytica has been studied by Maignan and Pareilleux. A clearly unfavorable effect of bentonite on Candida lipolytica growth in vitro was observed [29]

Later on, the same authors have concluded that,

"The respiration of Candida lipolytica on n-tetradecane is decreased in the presence of bentonite."[30]

According to a 2009 study by Ghiaci et al. published in Applied Clay Science, bentonite clay acts very strongly against Candida:

"The modified bentonite with monolayer surfactant (BMS), was the best support, for immobilization."[31]

[edit] Heavy metal chelation

Chelation therapy is the use of chelating agents to detoxify poisonous metal agents such as mercury, arsenic, and lead by converting them to a chemically inert form that can be excreted without further interaction with the body, to treat cases of severe heavy metal poisoning. It is also used as a dangerous,[32] scientifically unsupported treatment for heart disease and autism.[33][34]

Clay has proven to be a very effective chelating agent.[citation needed]

Oyanedel-Craver and Smith have studied sorption of four heavy metals (Pb, Cd, Zn and Hg) to 3 kinds of bentonite clay. The overall conclusion of the study was that the organoclays studied have considerable capacity for heavy metal sorption.[35]

Irritable bowel syndrome

"[B]eidellitic montmorillonite is efficient for C-IBS patients (suffering from constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome)..."[36]


Aflatoxins are naturally occurring mycotoxins that are produced by many species of Aspergillus, a fungus. Aflatoxins are toxic and among the most carcinogenic substances known. They cause Aflatoxicosis, which can afflict both animals and humans.

Bentonite clay has proven to show a very strong protective effect against Aflatoxicosis.

"The addition of bentonite or HSCAS [hydrated sodium calcium aluminosilicate] to the AF-contaminated diet diminished most of the deleterious effects of the aflatoxin. Pathological examinations of liver and kidney proved that both bentonite and HSCAS were hepatonephroprotective agents against aflatoxicosis."[37]


"The addition of sodium bentonite was significantly effective in ameliorating the negative effect of aflatoxicosis on the percentage and mean of phagocytosis."[38]

Use during pregnancy

Pregnant women in many indigenous and traditional cultures very commonly consume clay, especially to reduce nausea. Since clays contain a very large amount of trace minerals of all sorts, this most likely contributes to the development of a healthy fetus.

Scientific analyses of clays selected by pregnant women in Nigeria show that eating as little as 500 mg (about the equivalent of two Tylenol capsules) per day can satisfy nearly 80 percent of a pregnant woman's calcium needs.[39]

Use by the NASA Space Program

A mountain of clay -- Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. The white bands represent pure bentonite clay.


The effects of weightlessness on human body were studied by NASA back in the 1960s. Experiments demonstrated that weightlessness leads to a rapid bone depletion, so various remedies were sought to counter that. A number of pharmaceutical companies were asked to develop calcium supplements, but apparently none of them were as effective as clay. The special clay that was used in this case was Terramin, a reddish clay found in California. Dr. Benjamin Ershoff of the California Polytechnic Institute demonstrated that the consumption of clay counters the effects of weightlessness. He reported that "the calcium in clay ...is absorbed more efficiently ... [clay] contains some factor or factors other than calcium which promotes improved calcium utilization and/or bone formation." He added, "Little or no benefit was noted when calcium alone was added to the diet."[39]

Common medicinal clays

  • Bentonite-type clay has been used to treat infections, indigestion, and other medical problems by both applying wet clay topically to the skin as a poultice, and by ingesting it. Bentonite has been prescribed as a bulk laxative, and it is also used as a base for many dermatologic formulas.[40] Dermatologically, it is used as part of a treatment for pruritis.[41] Also, bentonite can be used as a therapeutic face pack for the treatment of acne/oily skin. Clearasil, an acne cream, uses bentonite as an agent to absorb excess sebum, clearing pores.
  • Montmorillonite is the main constituent of bentonite.
  • Attapulgite or palygorskite is a very absorbent clay, somewhat similar to bentonite. When used in medicine, it physically binds to acids and toxic substances in the stomach and digestive tract. For this reason, it has been used in several anti-diarrheal medications.
  • Kaolin is not as absorbent as most clays used medicinally (it has a low shrink-swell capacity). Also, it has a low cation exchange capacity. This clay is also known as 'white cosmetic clay'. Clay, in the form of kaolin, is still a common ingredient in western medicines such as Rolaids and Maalox, as well as in cosmetics.
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