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Pica is an eating disorder in which a person eats things not usually considered food. One of the most known Pica’s is ayilo.  Ayilo, also known as ayilor by the Gadangmes is a Ghanaian term for kaolin or bentonite clay. It is a baked solid white clay usually taken by pregnant women. They are usually baked into egg-shaped balls.  Ewes call it agatawoe/agatawe,  and the Akans call it shirew/shile.

Also, Ayilo is known as mabele in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon as calaba.  Nsu in Nigeria(https://www.alowafoods.com/products/mabele).

The English name is Kaolin. People sometimes say it is bentonite clay. However, they are in the same family with the same benefits.

But what are the scientific benefits of ayilo? I herein explore in this article.

Science

Ayilo is a neglected ‘gold mine.’  A review of geophagy by Sherman et al.(2011) in 482 people and 297 animals found evidence to suggest the main reason people eat dirt is the possible protection soil might offer against toxins. However, more research is needed to support this theory. Geophagy means eating dirt as part of a cultural practice, or because other people in the family or community also eat dirt, which differs from pica. In this instance, there’s a clear reason for eating dirt.

On the other hand, Pagophagia, persistent ice eating or cravings for ice, can also be a sign of pica. Pica usually won’t be diagnosed in children, as many children eat dirt when they are young and stop on their own. Pica can co-occur with conditions such as trichotillomania or schizophrenia, but it doesn’t always involve a separate mental health diagnosis.

Diarrhoea, Constipation

One animal study by Callahan GN(2003) reasoned that animals eat dirt or clay when they have diarrhea, stomach distress, or poisonous fruit. Bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate), a medication that treats diarrhea, has a mineral makeup that’s similar to kaolin, or the kind of clay some people eat for the same purpose. So eating soil could potentially relieve diarrhea.

Moosavi M(2017) study suggests that clay may help some people with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation by regulating bowel movements. Also, another study by Buccigrossi et al.(2017) found that a type of adsorbent clay called diosmectite helped stop rotavirus from replicating. Littman et al.(2022)  reasoned that bentonite can also help to treat diarrhea.

Reduce Morning Sickness

Callahan GN(2003) study found that pregnant women worldwide eat dirt to help ease morning sickness symptoms. This is practiced in most cultures.

Detoxification

 Srasra and  Bekri-Abbes(2020) review found clay to be a natural detoxifier. A recent study by Wang et al.(2021)  found bentonite clay’s effectiveness at aflatoxin sorption in earlier animal and human trials. The researchers also tested a sodium bentonite clay on computational, in vivo, and in vitro models, suggesting it may offer a method to combat emergencies, such as an outbreak of acute aflatoxicosis.

A recent study by Littman et al.(2022)  used a combination of bentonite clay, probiotics, and black seed oil to treat a 2-year-old with a Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection. After four days, there were no traces of C. diff in the child’s stool samples.

Finally, another recent study by Oguz et al.(2022)  found that clay is effective when consumed, including bentonite, to bind to various toxins in animal feed depending on the type of toxin.

Diaper Rash

Wang and Phillips(2023) recommend that calcium montmorillonite clay may enhance the antibacterial effect of barrier creams against Escherichia coli formation. The authors highlight that montmorillonite clay may occur in creams to treat diaper rash due to its adsorption properties.

Removing lead and other heavy metals

A recent study by Abdelnaby et al.(2023) recommends that bentonite clay nanoparticles help to remove trace elements of residual lead and cadmium from milk. On the other hand, Moosavi M et al.(2017) review also recommends that bentonite is an effective treatment for metal toxicity in animal models.

Lowers cholesterol

A study by Turgut et al.(2021)  recommends the following combinations of ingredients have a cholesterol-lowering effect on mice:

  • bentonite, grape seed extract, and turmeric
  • bentonite, grape seed extract, psyllium, and turmeric
  • bentonite, grape seed extract, turmeric, and flaxseed

Stops Growth of Two Cancer Cell Lines in a Lab

Cervini-Silva et al.(2016) study found that eating clay stopped the growth of cancer cell line U251, a human cancer cell found in a central nervous cancer called glioblastoma. However, another cell line grew larger when exposed to the substance.

The researchers explained that the cell formations and swelling of bentonite clay are the reasons for this, and it could potentially be effective against specific types of cancers (like glioblastomas) but not others.

Another lab experiment by Maisanaba et al.(2014) found clay to cause cell death of Caco-2 cells, a colorectal cancer line. In this study, the clay exhibited a large amount of oxidative stress upon just the cancer cells without damaging the DNA.

Supports thyroid function

One study by Cai et al.(2006) in mice studies, found clay to absorb certain thyroid hormones (T3 and T4), resulting in the alleviation of hyperthyroidism. This result suggests bentonite might potentially help people keep thyroid levels down, although the test has not been duplicated in humans as of yet.

Supports Weight Loss

Xu et al.(2016) trial in rats tested the impact of clay on weight loss and found that the supplement was correlated with weight loss, as well as decreased cholesterol.

Kaolin v Bentonite

Bentonite clay, also known as calcium bentonite clay, comes from volcanic ash and is manufactured mainly in the United States. Its name comes from the primary bentonite clay producer in the U.S., volcano-rich Fort Benton, Montana.

Bentonite clay is cost-effective, although it is far more intense for the skin than kaolin clay. However, bentonite clay has a much higher pH level than kaolin clay.

Kaolin clay is a mild type of clay made up of a mineral known as kaolinite, which can be found all over the globe. You may also see it referred to as white clay. 

The original kaolin clay was harvested from a hill in China, Kao-ling, which was the only source of the clay for hundreds of years.

Kaolin clay is known for being very finely powdered, soft, and usually off-white or pink. 

The clay is composed of tiny minerals and crystals (including feldspar, quartz, silica, copper, magnesium, and zinc). It has a relatively neutral pH level of around 4.5, which is close to the skin’s natural pH of 5.5, and bentonite clay sits at around 8.5. This makes it slightly more “basic” on the pH scale, which can help people open their pores even further to accept more products.

Although deciding which clay to use comes down to your personal skin care needs, however, kaolin clay(ayilo) is more beneficial. Why? kaolin clay is more gentle and accessible for all skin types, so you don’t need to worry about how your skin may react.

Warning

In 2016, the FDA warned consumers not to use a certain type of bentonite clay due to its high lead levels.

A study by Steiner-Asiedu et al.(2016)assessed the microbial quality of clay samples sold in two of the major Ghanaian markets. They concluded that ayilo samples were found to contain Klebsiella spp. Escherichia, Enterobacter, Shigella spp. staphylococcus spp., yeast, and mold. These have health implications when consumed.

Another study by Kotei et al.(2019)  showed that there are beneficial minerals in ayilo, however, the accumulated effects of these heavy metals can lead to various complications in pregnancy. The clay also contained pathogenic microorganisms. Traces of Lead, Nickel, and Arsenic were found in the clay. Common microorganisms identified were Bacillus, Pseudomonas, Mucor , and Aspergillus spp.

A recent study by Konlan et al.(2020) examined the use of ayilo amongst pregnant women and found that, out of the 286 pregnant women, 21.2% and 17.8% considered white clay and ice respectively as nutritious. Prevalence was 47.5%, while 44.9% of pregnant women reported they feel uncomfortable when they do not eat ayilo, and 63.3% considered intake as harmful. Among women who received education against ayilo practice, 49.4% have ever taken it and 50.9% of them with education on effects were currently engaged in the activity.

Also, a study by Moosavi M(2017) found that eating clay causes side effects when a person uses large amounts. Sherman et al. (2011) also reported that eating clay could have an effect on nutrients, since clay in the stomach may bind to iron, zinc, and other nutrients. In other words, eating dirt could increase the risk of anemia.

The high potassium in clay could lead to high blood potassium, increasing your risk for cardiac arrhythmia or cardiac arrest. Constipation is also expected when one eats more clay. It can also alter the immune function, though, a study in animal by Cindy Engel(2007) have suggested clay consumption offers protection against a range of toxins.

Recommendation & Conclusion

Drink plenty of water throughout the day while using ayilo. This will help flush the clay from the digestive tract and prevent constipation.

Also, ayilo is an ancient remedy that could hold promise as a treatment for various health conditions. It has a low risk of side effects when a person uses it in moderate amounts. There is a need to tap into ayilo-related products.

I recommend that the government should tap into the ayilo industry. This could generate millions of dollars to the national coffers.

The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a Medical Journalist, an author, and a science writer. E. mail: professor40naturopathy@gmail.com. For more about me, Visit:  profnyarkotey.com

References

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