Clay detox kits and retreats are experiencing a rise in popularity at the moment, and it’s prompted the FSA to reissue a warning from 2012 about the dangers of some detox brands which were found to contain high levels of arsenic and lead.
Clay cleanses are promoted as wonder diets by celebrities such as Elle Macpherson, who claims they have helped her to lose weight. The cleanses can be expensive though; a Master Cleanse can set you back £200 and you can even book yourself onto a retreat costing £1000 a week which involves days of cleansing followed by a raw food menu.
Some of the most popular cleanses on the market involve taking tablets or mixing a powdered supplement into a glass of juice or water. The idea behind this type of cleanse is that the most commonly used type of clay, bentonite, can help to purify the system by sucking up toxins, getting the metabolism moving by eliminating slow moving waste in the gut (like a colonic) and helping to curb appetite.
The cleanses often contain psyllium husk as an extra ingredient, which can swell up to 12 times its original size when swallowed. Psyllium husks are indigestible and get broken down by the intestinal tract where they are said to work as ‘mini sponges’ to soak up any stray toxins.
The FSA originally warned consumers, especially pregnant women, to avoid clay based drinks and supplements because of the dangerous lead and arsenic levels found in some brands. Being exposed to high levels of arsenic can lead to a higher risk of some cancers, and lead exposure is especially dangerous for young people as it can have an effect on their brain development. Pregnant women are advised to avoid ingesting clay based drinks and supplements because of potential risks to their unborn babies.
Another thing which is guaranteed to dissuade many image-conscious consumers from attempting a clay detox is the knowledge that bentonite is in fact an ingredient in household cat litter. It’s also a key ingredient in many face packs where it soaks up excess oil.
Experts say there is no evidence to prove manufacturers’ claims about clay removing toxins or aiding weight loss. Dr Anton Emmanuel, gastroenterologist at University College Hospital, London, also believes that the clay detoxes could be harmful. He told the Daily Mail;
“The clay acts as a resin and binds everything — both good and bad — making it harder for the body to digest vital nutrients such as iron and calcium.”
The original FSA list of brands to avoid (from 2012) can be found at: http://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2012/aug/clay-warning