Can Clay Stop Infections?

bentonite clay

Story at-a-glance -

  • The average person will suffer over 9,500 cuts, bruises and other minor mishaps in their lifetime, increasing their risk for infection; seniors risk acquiring nonhealing wounds costing nearly $32 billion annually
  • Researchers from Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University found Oregon blue clay has antibacterial properties to fight wound infections, including those from antibiotic resistant bacteria
  • Diatomaceous earth (DE) and bentonite clay have risen in popularity due to their health benefits for both humans and their pets; DE is available in food, pest control or pool grade and is effective against fleas, ticks and lice
  • Bentonite clay has also demonstrated health benefits, including reducing skin inflammation such as psoriasis or eczema, treating dandruff or as a natural deodorant

By Dr. Mercola

In a yearlong study from Great Britain, researchers found an individual has at least one cut, ache, sprain or other minor ailment at any time; and if is not present, something will likely happen in the next three days.1 In a single year, the average Briton was found to cut themselves at least twice while shaving, get one electric shock and three paper cuts, among other minor mishaps.

The data suggested each citizen would suffer 9,672 ailments over the course of a 78-year life span. One in 20 in the study admitted to having slipped on a banana peel at least once, suggesting there may be truth to the classic comedy mishap.

In some instances, especially in the elderly, these cuts and abrasions may result in chronic, nonhealing wounds. A study published in the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research2,3 demonstrated the economic burden of these wounds to Medicare patients.

The data suggests nonhealing wounds impact nearly 15 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, far more than were suggested in previous studies. Conservative estimates of total annual spending reach $31.7 billion. Chronic nonhealing wounds are rarely reported in individuals who are otherwise healthy, but more frequently in those who suffer from diabetes or obesity.4 

An additional burden of wound healing is the problem of scarring, accounting for $12 billion in annual costs. These wounds pose a significant and often underappreciated burden to the individual, the health care system and society. Recent research5 shows the use of Oregon blue clay as a topical skin treatment may help fight wound infection, including those infected with resistant bacteria.

Blue Clay May Help Antibiotic Resistant Infection

Arizona State University (ASU) and Mayo Clinic researchers evaluated the effectiveness of Oregon blue clay against bacterial wound infections. Enriqueta Barrera, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research, believes the study is an important advance in understanding how specific clay may have medicinal properties.6

In laboratory testing, data demonstrated the clay has antibacterial effects against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli (E. coli), including strains that are carbapenem-resistant and methicillin-resistant. Carbapenem is a class of antibiotics effective against gram positive and negative organisms and often reserved for severe infections or as a "last-line" agent.7

The lab testing was the first step in simulating an infected wound, but researchers caution only one clay suspension was tested and more research is needed to identify and reproduce clay with antibacterial properties.8

This recent research supports findings from previous data published in Nature,9 which found natural antibacterial clay, when hydrated and applied topically, would kill human pathogens, but only certain types of clay were bactericidal. These researchers found clay containing soluble reduced metals and expandable clay materials provided the best bactericidal activity.

Critical antibacterial components were soluble iron and aluminum working synergistically to attack multiple pathogenic cellular systems.10 Lynda Williams, Ph.D., clay mineral scientist at ASU, describes how these two metals work in tandem, explaining chemically reduced iron is required by the bacterial cell for nutrition and tricks the cell into opening the wall.

Aluminum essentially props the cell wall open and allows a flood of iron to enter, effectively poisoning and killing the cell.11 The previous study was triggered from a chance discovery of medicinal clay in Europe. When Williams was unable to locate the site where the clay was mined, she began testing clay sold online, analyzing dozens of samples before identifying clay from the Oregon Cascades.

Williams believes the colors of the clay reflect their origins and give an antibacterial clue to the high contents of chemically reduced iron, as opposed to oxidized iron which produces a familiar rust color present in many clays.12

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How Bacteria Use Biofilm to Proliferate and Resist Antibiotics

Biofilms are a collection of microorganisms forming a densely packed community surrounded by secreted polymers.13 Many bacterial species will form biofilms that allow them to become complex and diverse, operating in a coordinated and cooperative group, analogous to multicellular organisms.

Some research has estimated up to 80 percent of microbial infections in the human body are caused by biofilm bacteria.14 A common example of biofilm is dental plaque, the slimy buildup of bacteria that forms on your teeth. Biofilms are able to grow on plant tissue and animal tissue as well as implanted medical devices.

The distinctive feature of each of these environments is they are periodically or continuously wet. Bacterial communities are an advantage for microbes as it makes them more resilient to stress and to antibiotics. According to the National Institutes of Health nearly 65 percent of all microbial infections and 80 percent of chronic infections are associated with biofilms.15

A number of bacteria present in biofilm on wounds, including Staph aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae. Microscopic evaluations from chronic wound infections often indicate the presence of biofilms. Although bacterial communities colonizing wounds may not always demonstrate classical symptoms of infection, they do adversely affect healing.16

Antibacterial Wound Infection Treatment May Not Be Effective

Antibiotic treatment is often the first step taken in a wound infection, but in the case of a mature and established biofilm, antibiotic therapy may be the least effective treatment and may have only a short-term effect.17 Williams, coauthor of the featured study, is encouraged by the results of the blue clay against biofilm bacterial colonies, saying:

"Working with Mayo Clinic, we showed that these clays also diminish populations of bacterial biofilms, as well as bacteria common in wounds that are more resistant to drugs. The results support our efforts to design new antibacterial drugs using natural clays."

Bentonite Clay or Diatomaceous Earth?

Although both bentonite clay and diatomaceous earth (DE) have risen in popularity, many are still uncertain of the differences and how they may be used at home. While the name diatomaceous earth gives rise to an image of dirt, it is actually made of fossilized diatoms or a type of microscopic algae, which collected for thousands of years in now-dry lake beds.18

The fossils are mined and ground into fine white powder containing an assortment of trace minerals. The main component is silicon dioxide, or silica, and the product is sold as food grade, pest control grade or pool grade.

Food grade DE meets generally recognized as safe (GRAS) safety standards for consumption and use in your home. Pest control grade is a chemical free substance used to kill insects, while pool grade is primarily used as filtration in swimming pools.19

As the ground diatoms have very sharp edges, at least to small pests, DE is an effective and safe means of treating head lice. Read more about how to use it in my previous article, "How to Get Rid of Lice." In all cases, it is crucial you do not breathe the dust or the powder coming out of the packaging as it may be damaging to your lungs and upper respiratory tract.

Bentonite clay is a little bit closer to being dirt as it's a type of clay containing a collection of trace minerals. Also known as Montmorillonite, the largest deposits are found near Fort Benton, Montana. The clay deposits are mined and ground into a light brown earthy powder which can be purchased in industrial grade and food grade.20

Sodium bentonite is generally used for industrial products and never a good choice to be taken internally. It expands when it absorbs liquid, which can be problematic if it swells in your stomach or intestines. Calcium bentonite has a lower sodium content and doesn't swell as much, making it safer to take internally.

Dogs Naturally Use Mud to Treat Skin Conditions

Most dogs love rolling around in the mud, and it seems there's a purpose to this behavior. Through absorption through the skin, clay works to help correct imbalances and bind organic and inorganic substances to help detoxify the body.21 The process will vary depending upon the type of clay.

One of the benefits is clay is negatively charged and most toxins are positively charged. This makes clay irresistible to bacteria, viruses and various other harmful substances, without any harmful side effects. Other benefits include eliminating internal parasites, supporting your pets immune system and detoxifying the digestive tract.22

Bentonite clay has a high absorption rate and a unique chemical structure with surface particles both negatively and positively charged. Interestingly, the clay can carry particles three to four times its size and hold them as they travel outside the body.23

Food grade bentonite can help relieve digestion issues like constipation, soothe skin and allergy issues and help your dog recover from a bout of vomiting and diarrhea. Whether adding to your pet's diet or to their skin, it's important to use food grade bentonite as your pet is likely to lick the clay off their coat.

Externally, clay baths can help maintain a strong coat luster and help heal cuts, abrasions, rashes and hot spots.24 The clay acts as an analgesic, reducing the pain and itching of skin conditions and speeds healing by reducing bacterial causing infection or rashes.

Fleas and ticks are pests also causing skin conditions, and may be more than simply unpleasant as they are capable of transmitting disease. Fleas breed quickly and are difficult to get under control. You can help protect your pet from pests using DE and other natural products:

  • Tiny amounts of fresh garlic may be given to dogs and cats to help prevent internal as well as external parasites
  • Apply a light dusting of food grade DE on your carpets, bare floors and pet bedding, as well as down your pet's spine (avoid head to help your pet avoid inhaling the powder), to kill fleas
  • Keep your lawn mown and clear brush, leaves, tall grass and weeds from your yard and areas your pet frequents
  • Keep stacked wood off the ground and away from your house
  • After the growing season, clear perennial plants and other brush from your garden

More Benefits and Uses for Bentonite Clay

Bentonite clay may be used externally and internally. It's wise to keep the clay from coming into contact with anything metal as it reduces the effectiveness. Therefore, mix the clay in a glass jar with a plastic lid or use a plastic whisk to mix the contents.

When taken internally, it's important not to take it within an hour of having eaten or two hours of any medications or supplements as it may bind to the drug or supplement, reducing effectiveness. Prior to using bentonite clay internally, it's wise to check with your physician or pharmacist if you're taking any medications.

Be sure to get the clay from a reliable quality source as some clay may contain lead. In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers not to purchase "Best Bentonite Clay" located in Guthrie, Oklahoma, as the FDA had found elevated levels of lead that posed a risk of poisoning.25

It is wise not to take DE and bentonite clay internally at the same time as they both may trigger constipation, and taken together can make the condition worse. Be sure to drink plenty of water, until your urine is a light straw color each time you use the bathroom, to reduce the potential for constipation.26

External Uses

Underarm detox and deodorant — Bentonite clay can be applied with a face brush to dust on your armpits as your only natural deodorant. It has moisture absorbing properties and may help reduce odors.27

Skin irritations — Make a paste with bentonite clay and water, remembering to mix it in a glass jar with a non-metal spoon. Apply to any skin irritation such as insect bites, cuts or burns. Leave it on until it dries and then wash it off. It may help skin itching from eczema, psoriasis and chickenpox. The clay may help diminish allergic contact dermatitis from poison ivy and poison oak.28

Face mask and skin treatment — Many beauty products contain bentonite clay as it binds with and removes toxins and impurities. Masks may be beneficial for oily skin, clogged pores and acne.

You can make your own at home using a paste of bentonite and water. Leave it on for 20 minutes and wash off with warm water. Add a quarter cup of bentonite clay to your water for a relaxing bath that softens your skin.

Hair treatment — Mix 1 cup of bentonite clay, one-half cup of raw, organic apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of warm water in a glass bowl.29 Massage a handful of this into your scalp and coat your hair thoroughly. Leave it on for five to 10 minutes before rinsing off.

The clay naturally draws out dirt and oil and conditions your hair. No extra shampoo or conditioner is needed. This treatment can be repeated once a week, or used instead of your normal shampoo and conditioning routine.

Internal Uses

Digestion and detoxification — With a strong negative charge, bentonite clay attracts bacteria, pesticides, pathogens and heavy metals, flushing them out of your gut.30 As these are eliminated from the body, it may help to heal irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut syndrome, which will allow your gut's good bacteria to flourish.

In one study of mice fed bentonite clay, researchers found it had a prebiotic effect suggesting bentonite may be a potentially functional supplement to improve your gut microbiome.31

Oral health — Bentonite clay may be added to your homemade tooth powder or mixed with water as a mouth rinse to help remove toxins from your oral cavity and calcify and whiten your teeth.32