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Eat My Dirt - by Denise R. Fuller
Clients can slather mud and eat it, too…

The next time someone tells you to “eat dirt,” thank them, because you will be doing your body good.  Eating earth is universal. You may have eaten dirt and you may not have even known it?  Yummy?  Known scientifically as geophagy, eating dirt is pretty common.  Many have tasted a little “refined” dirt when they’ve reached for antacids such as Keopectate, Rolaids, Mylanta or Maalox.  In essence, diarrhea and acid-stomach upsets are keeping alive a now culturally concealed taste for dirt.  In these antacids, the active ingredients – clays (kaolin) or certain earths (calcium carbonate) – have been isolated from the earth mass, but that slippery, earthy feel still stays in the mouth.

Why we eat dirt
People around the world eat clay, or dirt, for a variety of reasons.  Commonly, it is a traditional cultural activity that takes place during pregnancy, religious ceremonies, or as a remedy for disease.  Most people who eat dirt live in Central Africa and the Southern United States.  While it is a cultural practice, it also fills a physiological need for nutrients.

In Africa, pregnant and lactating women who eat clay are able to satisfy the very different nutritional needs of their bodies.  Often, the clay comes from flavored clay tables and is sold at the market in a variety of sizes and with differing mineral content.  After purchase, the clays are stored in a belt-like cloth around the waist and eaten as desired and often without water.  The “cravings” in pregnancy for a varied nutritional intake (during pregnancy, the body requires 20 percent more nutrients and 50 percent more during lactation) are solved with geophagy.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that children in the United States consume, on average, 200 to 800 mg of dirt per day.

For thousands of years, cultures all over the world have used pelotherapy.  Pelotherapy is the use of clay in therapeutic treatments.  The Native Americans called bentonite, “Ee-Wah-Kee,” meaning “the mud that heals.”  Many tribes ate clay to heal stomach inflammations and ulcers.  The Aborigines used Gondwana clay, indigenous to Australia, in their rituals and also for medicine.  Even in the Old Testament of the Bible, reference is made to the use of clay.  Doctors of antiquity realized clay’s antiseptic powers, and they found such properties useful in healing.  The Romans used clay for treating fractures.  Well-known naturopaths, Kneipp, Huhn, Just, and Felke, used clay with their natural medicine.  Clay was also used in France in the World War I against dysentery.  In Switzerland and Germany, doctors used clay to treat tuberculosis.  Patients were treated with a very hot clay paste applied to the thorax area, overnight.

Clay is a natural way for detoxification and healing treatments.  There’s also French green clay, which, like bentonite clay, has been used as an internal detoxification supplement for hundreds of years to remove toxic metals and chemical residues, bacteria, and blood toxins with virtually no side effects of constipation, diarrhea, or stomach cramping, and is also known to remove radiation, arsenic, lead, mercury, and aluminum, amid other toxic metals, in less than six weeks, say some reports.

Detoxing the body
It’s said that after the meltdown of the Chernobyl Soviet nuclear power plant in 1986, the Soviet Union put French green clay in chocolate bars and dispensed them freely to the masses to remove radiation the people may have been exposed to.

However, it is one thing to slather your body with warm, silky clay… but eat it?  Why is eating clay good for you?  The company, Therapeutic Living Clay (TLC), recommends eating and drinking clay with clay wraps and facials.  It’s because clay molecules carry a negative electrical charge, while toxins, bacteria and other impurities carry a positive charge.  When the clay is taken into the human body, the positively charged toxins are attracted to the negatively charged surfaces of the clay molecule.  An exchange reaction occurs in which the clay mineral ions are swapped for the ions of the toxic substance.  The clay molecule is now electrically satisfied and holds onto the toxin, until our bodies can eliminate both.

According to National Geographic, in its award-winning documentary, “The Body Snatchers,” the combination of environmental toxins, an unhealthy diet and parasites poses a grave danger to humans.  The documentary states that “parasites have killed more humans than all the wars in history.”  For an excellent increase in detoxification from the inside-out, many believe that ingesting clay will benefit the human body.  We take herbs and homeopathic tinctures, so why not clay?  Raymond Dextreit, a French naturopath believes that “clay offers one of the finest treatments for all types of parasites.”  First, its use will stimulate the gall bladder to increase the flow of bile.  He writes that no parasite can live too long under any bilious condition.

Secondly, there is considerable research on the connection between clay eating and parasites.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition mentions this in a recent article:  “Geophagy can be a source of nutrients.  Its primary way of enhancing nutritional status appears to be, however, to counter dietary toxins and, secondarily, the effects of gastrointestinal parasites.

Dirt brownie
TLC offers recipes to encourage people to eat dirt.  Here’s a sample of a “scrumptious” brownie recipe TLC has for your spa guests or family to try.

1 ½ cup unsalted butter
3 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
7 eggs
1 cup flour
¼ cup TLC powder bentonite clay
1 ¼ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9-inch by 9-inch pan with foil, and spray with cooking spray.  In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter.  Stir in sugar until dissolved.  Removed mixture from heat and beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in vanilla, sift dry ingredients together.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture; mix until combined.  Stir in walnuts and spread batter into the pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes.  Do not overbake.

Be selective
You do have to be careful eating or drinking clay.  Not all clay is equal. Many commercial clays have fillers or even rocks in them – something you don’t want in your stomach.  This could upset or irritate the stomach and bowels.  Also, having chemicals in the mix could especially be harmful.  It is important that it should have listed GRAS – Generally Regarded as Safe for human consumption.  Sodium bentonite is not for internal use, but calcium bentonite and montmorillonite can be ingested.  Again, read the label to know that the clay you are eating is actually edible.  Just because you have heard that eating clay is good for you, first do your research or you might really need to have some of that Kaopectate laying around!


Denise R. Fuller is a licensed esthetician, Australian-trained beauty therapist and certified by the state of Florida to teach and certify therapists in body wrapping.  She is with International Spa and Importing Specialists in Port Saint Lucie, FL, and is a contributing writer for several esthetics trade magazines.  She is the cofounder of Florida Aesthetic Network, a networking group that offers free education.


This article originally appeared in the May 2006 edition of Les Nouvelles Esthetiques.



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