Clay, Sculpting a Cure
by Claudia Koerner
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
researchers are proving that clay from the ground can kill even
the strongest bacteria, including the flesh-eating "superbug"
Though clay has long been used for healing and cosmetic
purposes, Lynda Williams of the School of Earth and Space
Exploration said the discovery of its ability to kill bacteria,
including methycillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA,
is new. She and her team presented their findings so far at the
American Chemical Society's meeting earlier this month.
"There are people who have used clay for health for
years," Williams said, adding that people today swear by
ingesting clay to cure strep throat and stomach complaints.
"[But] nobody's really realized that it kills
bacteria," she said.
Williams began working with one type of healing clay from France
in 2002 after learning that a group was using it in Africa to
treat skin infections. After hearing about the group's success,
she began to analyze the clay to determine its contents and try
to figure out why it kills bacteria.
"That could be worth discovering — how nature does
it," Williams said.
Since then, Williams and her co-researcher, Shelley Haydel, have
found two other anti-bacterial clays from the U.S. The samples
vary in shade and texture, and the two are trying to determine
what sets them apart from other clays.
Haydel, a microbiologist, said the clay is effective against
bacteria with a variety of qualities, including E. coli,
salmonella and MRSA, often called a "superbug" because
of its resistance to traditional antibiotic treatment.
"We've shown that we can actually kill MRSA," Haydel
said. "This could be something that can kill the bacteria
when the antibiotics can't."
Haydel said the findings could be especially important for
developing countries, where severe skin infections are more
common. Because the healing properties of the clay are natural,
it could also be a cheaper medicine, she said.
"This is basically Mother Nature at her best," Haydel
Though the three varieties of clay have different
characteristics, Williams said each type is effective at killing
"So far, it's killed everything that we've tested,"
This shared bacteria-killing ability is probably because the
clays were likely produced under similar circumstances, Williams
"We think they're associated with volcanic ash," she
How the various elements in the clay interact with each other
and bacteria is the key to learning why the clay is
"We don't believe it's a physical contact that's causing
the bacteria to die," Haydel said. "We believe it's a
Senior Amanda Turner has been working on analyzing the minerals
in the clay and its chemistry since her freshman year. She wrote
in an e-mail that she found it surprising at first that clay
could be used for medical purposes.
"People always think of mud/clay as dirty," Turner
said. "I thought that, if clays actually killed bacteria,
then surely the pharmacy companies should have already known
about it. Apparently not."
the reporter at: firstname.lastname@example.org.