Bentonite, also known as montmorillonite, is a type of clay generally extracted from volcanic ash. It’s been used by traditional medicine practitioners for centuries to treat skin and internal diseases—Cleopatra’s famous beauty was often credited to her use of these clay facials. Today, bentonite is an ingredient in a variety of pharmaceutical and cosmetic preparations, with additional health benefits that have been documented both in vitro and in animal and human trials.
In February 2008, the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at Arizona State University published a study regarding bentonite’s antibacterial properties. There research found that a mineral in the clay, CsAg02, was effective at killing E.coli, salmonella, staph and penicillin-resistant MRSA bacteria, among other strains in vitro. The study concluded that clay minerals could provide an inexpensive but potent treatment, particularly for the “superbugs” that are becoming increasingly resistant to current antibiotics.
Medicinal clays show promise for treating fungal infections such as Candida albicans, the cause of many oral, intestinal and genital infections. A study in the 1970s in the “Canadian Journal of Microbiology” first noted the anti-Candida effects of bentonite, and a later study in 1998 at Egypt’s Mycotoxins Laboratory discovered that bentonite prevented kidney and liver damage from the aflatoxin toxins released by Aspergillus fungal infections when the bentonite was added to the diets of laboratory rats.
One of the primary folk medicine uses for bentonite clay has been to treat constipation and diarrhea, and modern science is discovering its benefits for patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. A double-blind study in 2005 in France tested bentonite therapy on IBS patients suffering from constipation, diarrhea or both and found that the bentonite improved all symptoms, including abdominal pain and discomfort.
Bentonite has long been used for the treatment of pruritus, or severe itching—one reason bentonite is an ingredient in calamine lotion. It’s also found in over-the-counter acne remedies such as Clearasil, used to absorb excess oil and clear pores. The University of Louisville School of Medicine in 2001 studied bentonite as a treatment for chronic hand dermatitis, finding that the bentonite-containing moisturizing cream significantly improved the dermatitis in a majority of patients who had previously uncontrolled dermatitis.