The Surprising Risks of Using Bentonite Clay

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Dr. Khoshaba

March 10, 2021

First of all, what is bentonite clay? Is it safe to use daily? What hidden dangers should you be aware of?

All these reasonable questions may occur to you and leave you wondering whether or not to purchase and utilize this natural material.

Nowadays, bentonite clay has created a somewhat controversial reputation for itself - some swear by its beneficial effects, while others try to stay as far away from it as possible. What is the absolute truth in reality?

It's a pretty complicated question to answer, and for this reason, you should decide it for yourself. Let me introduce you to the fundamental facts supported by research work and consumer experience.

The story behind bentonite clay

Bentonite clay springs into existence when volcanic ashes react with seawater and take up its minerals. Its name originates from its most significant source globally, which is in Fort Benton (USA).

It was first discovered in Montmorillon (France), and this is why its main component is named montmorillonite, which is formed by layers of silica and alumina.

This raw material is bound to many other minerals, for instance, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and aluminum. This implies that another denomination for this substance is calcium bentonite clay. Its most significant producer and trader in the US, followed by China, India, and Greece.

Throughout history, humans used clay to treat minor illnesses such as food poisoning, aches and pains, infections, mineral deficiencies, and cosmetic purposes.

In some recluse societies (such as native African or Australian cultural tribes) that have not lost touch with nature, clays are still used these days for preventative care, remedies, and their curative powers.

The diverse usage of clay

Bentonite clay is a natural clay with a finely-grained, soft texture. It forms a thick paste when mixed with water. Some people use that mixture for medical or cosmetic benefits, such as treating rashes, cleansing the skin, or hair masks.

On the other hand, it is also commonly used internally to detoxify the body from accumulated toxins. It has been stated that bentonite clay adsorbs materials by sticking to their molecules and ions. As the clay leaves the body, it takes the toxins and other unwanted molecules. Some doctors, also recommend applying a benodite clay mask to help shrink your thyroid nodules, however, ask your doctor about this first!

Furthermore, it is claimed that bentonite clay treats and has an excellent effect on the following problems: skin infections, pimples, poison ivy allergy, constipation, recurring diarrhea, diaper rash, and high cholesterol levels.

This kind of clay can be modified and converted into synthetic materials. These can be used as improved delivery and slow-release drugs for infections, different types of cancer, mental disorders, glaucoma, and sunscreen protection.

What happens if you only use clay on your skin?

If you choose to use the clay on your skin, it is exceedingly important to do a patch test on a small, hidden area of your skin before trying it on your face.

Several analyses provide information that bentonite clay may help with dermatitis (eczema), mild acne, and ulcers. The most popular method to utilize the clay is to apply it to the surface of your skin as a face mask.

At the same time, the studies, which ,erudite scientists did show that the lead in clay absorbs across the skin and can enter the bloodstream, which can efficiently conduct to severe infections and dangerous health issues.

In addition, other researches have shown that bentonite is detrimental to immune cells and to regrow endothelial cells when it's placed on wounds or cuts.

Side effects and cautions

It's possible to consume too much of this questionable substance without even noticing it. Bentonite clay and its derivates can have highly harmful germs and heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury.

You must contact your doctor before you take bentonite clay or any supplement orally, especially if you're pregnant or take other medications. We would recommend that you steer clear of bentonite clay products altogether.

Can we absorb lead from clay?

Yes, you can.

In everyday life, lead-based pots, cookware, and eating out of clay pots can pose a threat and rise to lead poisoning. Studies have demonstrated that amongst children, using clay utensils wasone of the more significant contributors to lead toxicity.

Undoubtedly, clay has been treasured for centuries for its earthy appeal and durability, especially in the form of cooking pots and dishes. However, the safety of these items is highly dependent on their glaze or treatment during manufacturing. Often, traditional glazing methods include the use of lead to induce a certain color or finish. If these glazes are not properly fired or if the clay beneath is still porous, there exists the potential for lead to migrate into food or drink, especially when the food is acidic, hot, or stored for a long time, thereby increasing the absorption of lead.

This phenomenon isn't just a theoretical risk but has been supported by scientific studies linking the use of inadequately treated clay utensils to increased levels of lead in the human body. Moreover, in many communities and cultures, where these practices are deeply ingrained, engaging with such cookware can be a substantial contributor to the overall lead burden in the population—posing a particularly acute threat to children's health and development. This demographic, due to their developing bodies and nervous systems, are far more susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of lead. Delayed cognitive development, learning disorders, and a host of other neurological impairments have all been associated with lead poisoning in children—a concern which underscores the significant public health impact that lead-contaminated clay products can exact.

Therefore, it is essential for individuals who utilize clay items in their daily routines to ensure that they are using lead-free or treated products that are specifically labeled as safe for food use. Regulatory bodies in various countries often have stringent guidelines and testing protocols to certify the safety of ceramic cookware. Consumers should pay close attention to these certifications and consider avoiding uncertified clay products, particularly those that are handcrafted or imported, without clear evidence of safety testing against lead contamination.

Can bentonite clay detox lead?

Bentonite clay has been touted by some as a natural detoxifier, capable of chelating lead and other heavy metals from various mediums, such as contaminated water. The clay's absorbent properties allow it to bind to lead, thereby effectively removing it from water.

This has led to a certain perception that consuming bentonite clay may yield similar detoxifying benefits. However, the ingestion of bentonite clay for lead detoxification is not only scientifically unsubstantiated but potentially harmful. When bentonite clay is consumed, the acidic environment of the stomach may leach lead from the clay, which is then readily absorbed into the bloodstream, potentially leading to lead poisoning.

Applying bentonite clay in an industrial or environmental context, for instance, in the treatment of wastewater, reveals its capacity to attract and hold heavy metals like lead, zinc, nickel, and cadmium. In these applications, the clay acts as an effective filtration aid, preventing these metals from entering natural water systems or reducing their concentrations to safer levels.

In stark contrast, the ingestion of bentonite clay can present far more risks than benefits to health. When consumed, the lead content traditionally bound in the clay's structure could be released due to stomach acid, making it bioavailable for absorption and circulation throughout the body. Lead is a toxic metal with no physiological role; it can cause a spectrum of adverse health effects, especially when large amounts are ingested.

The consequences of lead consumption are far-reaching, potentially causing acute gastrointestinal distress, characterized by severe vomiting and adverse effects on the hematological and cardiovascular systems. Further, chronic exposure to lead can result in debilitating damage to the nervous system, manifesting in both cognitive and behavioral disorders.

Therefore, while bentonite clay is indeed useful for the removal of heavy metals from certain environmental contexts, it is important to understand that its internal use is not only unsupported for heavy metal detoxification but could also be dangerous, introducing lead and potentially other contaminants rather than removing them from the body. It is advisable to follow proven medical treatments and to consult with healthcare professionals for safe and effective detoxification methods.

How much lead is considered safe?

The issue of lead safety is one fraught with concerns. For many years, experts debated what level of exposure might be considered negligible or inconsequential for human health. However, a growing body of scientific evidence has consistently shown even minute amounts of lead in the body can have harmful effects. As a result, respected health organizations have adjusted their positions on lead exposure.

The World Health Organization (WHO), a leading authority on international public health, has unequivocally stated that there is no level of lead exposure that has been shown to be without harmful effects. Similarly, agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States have indicated that there is no safe blood lead level identified for children, and efforts should be directed towards the lowest possible exposure.

The absence of a safe threshold is especially critical in the understanding of lead's impact on the body. Lead is a cumulative toxicant, meaning it builds up in the body over time, leading to chronic poisoning. Its effects are most deleterious in young children where it can lead to permanent developmental issues, including reduced cognitive capacity and behavioral problems, not to mention a range of possible physical health issues such as kidney damage and anemia.

For adults, chronic exposure to low levels of lead can contribute to hypertension, heart disease, and reduced fertility. Pregnant women need to be particularly cautious, as lead exposure can affect the developing fetus, leading to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and low birth weight, alongside developmental delays in the child.

Due to these factors, the consensus in the public health community emphasizes that exposure to lead should be minimized as much as possible. All efforts should be targeted toward reducing lead exposure from all potential sources, which can range from lead-contaminated soil and lead-based paints to certain types of plumbing and even some cosmetic products.

Given the widespread historical use of lead in various products and industries, it is impractical to think that an individual's exposure can be brought to zero. Nonetheless, it is crucial for regulatory bodies to enforce strict measures that limit the presence of lead in consumer products, water supplies, and the general environment. Additionally, it is recommended for individuals to be proactive by seeking out lead testing and abatement in their homes, especially if they live in older buildings, and by being mindful of the risks posed by certain consumer goods and foods known for higher lead content levels.

Prevention strategies at the public health level are also critical, including the enforcement of strict regulations on industries that release lead into the environment and the implementation of broad public health campaigns to raise awareness about lead poisoning and its prevention. Through these collective efforts, we can work towards reducing the impact of lead on our health, despite the understanding that no level of it is truly safe.

How much lead do we actually absorb from bentonite clay?

Researches have shown that one gram of bentonite clay bottles up around 37.5 micrograms of lead. As an average oral dose of bentonite clay is usually 2 tablespoons (which is 0.72 ounces or 20.4 grams), this means that your oral lead dose could be as high as 765 mcg. To understand the unit of measurement, Mcg/g is the same as ppm (parts per million).

Why should you take lead poisoning seriously?

Most physicians don't recommend eating clay as it could cause a blockage in your intestines and lead to bothersome digestive issues.

Research done by the FDA laboratories evinced that exposure to lead can cause grave damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and immune system.

In children, chronic exposure to lead, even at deficient levels, is associated with cognitive impairment, growth delays, reduced IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral difficulties, and other serious problems.

In general, high exposure to lead can bring on vague symptoms, for example, exhaustion, numbness and tingling, digestive problems, and aching joint pain.

Recent and continuously appearing evidence suggests that it can also be a sign of kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, anxiety, infertility in males and females, and mental health problems.

Health care professionals advise consumers to desist from using this harmful material as soon as possible because it might cause irreversible effects on their wellbeing and health conditions.

Symptoms of lead toxicity

Lead poisoning can be hard to detect, and even people who seem to be healthy can have high blood levels of lead. If you suspect that you might suffer from lead toxicity, get yourself tested to be aware of your condition and accidental hardships.

A blood test called serum lead is the best way to check the lead levels in your body. This type of test can be ordered by any healthcare provider and executed by any standard referencing laboratory.

It may show that there's no need to worry, but make sure to request an examination by a creditable physician better safe than sorry! Any lead levels above 10L are considered dangerous.

Lead side affects in children

What is the lead side effect of children?

Here are the side effects of lead poisoning in children:

  • Problems in Behavior
  • Lowered IQ
  • Hyperactivity
  • Loss in Hearing
  • Seizures
  • Delays in growth

An alternative possibility is a red blood cell test, which is more accurate than the serum lead test. This one covers a 90-day average and works far more precisely. Frequent check-ups are indispensable, even more, if you have previously suffered from lead poisoning.

The main symptoms of lead toxicity for adults include high blood pressure, difficulties with memory, headache, joint, and abdominal pain, and anemia. As in the case of children, the symptoms may involve learning difficulties, loss of appetite, seizures, constipation, and weight loss.

Other unexpected and unanticipated sources of lead

Besides Bentonite Clay and the other sources that we have explored containing lead, there are some unexpected sources of lead in our everyday lives.

Lead usually derives from the tap water and our home's water system, alongside household dust, lead-based paint, and utensils (cutlery, plates, glasses) that contain lead. Besides these common contingencies, we can also be exposed to some flabbergasting lead sources.

Surprisingly, calcium supplements that are derived from bone tissue have often been found to carry excessive amounts of lead. Also, the inorganic calcium extracted from rocks, such as dolomite calcium, can possess a high level of lead contamination.

Besides, even bone broth and collagen can cause lead poisoning when consumed in large quantities. This may occur as a consequence of the fact that lead builds up in bone tissue and collagen.

Livestock (and cows mainly) are prone to lead accumulation. Knowing this, it's recommended to pay attention to what kind of cookware and utensils you employ daily.

Keep this in mind when consuming gelatine, since in the form it can be found in bone broth, it's able to pull the lead out of cookware and thereby raise the risk of lead poisoning.

Beyond that, the meat of wild animals (game meat) can easily be soiled with lead residue.

The process of contamination happens when the animals are shot with lead bullets, and those bullets break down into hundreds of minute fragments that afterward spread over a large area of their meat.


Bentonite clay certainly has its advantages and disadvantages, yet it's still disputed if its effects are helpful or it should be banned from the healthcare and beauty industry.

With all the above-listed information in your possession, it is fully up to you if choose to/ not to use this material.

If you do, please contact a medical professional beforehand and discuss the exact application adequate for your needs. Your health and safety should always be your number one priority!

Also, there are plenty of other ingredients you can use instead of clay, for instance, clean versions of fiber that contain resistant starches.

They do wonders to your immune system and get rid of the objectionable toxins. Additionally, you can mix it with chlorophyll, which is extracted from spinach.

As natural remedies seem to have a deep root (and future) in maintaining body health, it merits doing more profound research on bentonite clay and its impacts on bodily functions.

In the near future, bentonite clay may turn into a stable and dependable ingredient for both skincare and nutritional supplements. In the meantime, please act cautiously regarding this relevant matter and stick to the safer natural medicines such as turmeric!

Enjoy this article? See our article on Olive Oil and learn how to effectively make sure you are getting the right stuff!

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Dr. Linda Khoshaba is the Leading Integrative Health and Hormone Doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has extensive experience working in the field as a Hormone Specialist and Natural Endocrinologist.

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