This post was originally published in July 2015. Since that time, I have received many comments, Facebook messages, and emails from people questioning why I’d promote the internal usage of bentonite clay due to its lead content, especially in the form of a children’s toothpaste. Finally, after three years and one very polite email asking me to dig a little deeper into this topic, I decided to hit the web for new information and research, and edit this post with my findings. I hope you find this helpful, no matter which side of the “lead and bentonite clay” fence you are on. — Meagan
Several months ago, a mama commented on a post I wrote promoting Redmond Trading Company’s “Earthpaste,” saying that she had recently ordered some for her child but was greatly disappointed when she saw the proposition 65 warning label on the tube saying it contained lead. She said she couldn’t let her child brush his teeth with a toothpaste containing lead and wanted to know why I would promote such a product.
This argument against using lead-containing bentonite clay has been around for a while, and there are some pretty strong voices on both sides.
Today, I’d like to address this “lead and bentonite clay” topic, hopefully, share some truths and untruths with you, and let you know the ways I will use bentonite clay products in my home from this point forward.
Understanding The Mineral Lead & How It Affects Our Health
Lead is a mineral found deep in the earth’s crust as well as the air, water, soil, and other everyday things we’re exposed to. It’s found in varying levels in products such as paints, water pipes, batteries, gas, cosmetics, toys, and even in the food we eat (United States Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.).
While lead is a naturally-occurring substance in the earth and is useful in many ways, it’s still toxic to human and animal health, even in small amounts (US EPA, n.d.).
Children are more likely to experience negative effects from lead as their bodies are thought to absorb lead more easily than an adult. They are also thought to be more sensitive to its health effects (US EPA, n.d.).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children should have less than 5 micrograms of lead in a deciliter of blood. Anything over 10 micrograms per deciliter can lead to negative health effects (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). In the United States, the average blood lead concentration in 1-year-old children has been reported at 3 micrograms per deciliter (Holstege, 2016). As you can see from the numbers here, even infants have the potential to be exposed to lead.
While children are at a higher risk of lead exposure due to playing on the floor, eating with their hands, and not washing hands (including babies in utero and nursing infants), lead can negatively affect adults too.
Lead is absorbed in the lungs and gastrointestinal tract. Once absorbed, it is transported via red blood cells and stored in bones and other organs (specifically the brain) in the body where it moves in and out of these tissues as needed (Gulson & Salome, 1995). Lead levels can increase over time, and the higher the lead levels get, the more health problems you can experience (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). Nervous system effects are usually noticed first, but as lead levels increase, other body systems will be affected, leading to organ damage and even death at higher levels (CDC, n.d.). Lead is excreted from the body via urine and the gastrointestinal tract (Gulson & Salome, 1995).
If you’re curious to know what your or your child’s lead level is, you can request a lead screening at your doctor’s office. Just keep in mind that these tests rarely detect lead levels under 25 micrograms unless they are sent off for further testing (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, n.d.).
While it is believed that there is no safe limit to lead in the body, the truth of the matter is that we live in a world where lead exists, we are exposed to it from many sources, and it’s highly probable that we all have some level of lead in our bodies.
As a parent, and someone who desires to be healthy, I realize that there is a certain amount of control I have over-exposure to toxins like lead. While I can’t prevent my children or myself from being exposed to lead at all costs, I can work to decrease potential exposure as much as possible. I can choose to purchase and use lead-free products in my homes (toys, dishes, paint, cosmetics, etc.), I can feed my family a healthy diet in order to decrease lead absorption (US EPA, 2014), I can keep our homes clean in order to reduce exposure to dust and soil, I can test our water and other materials for lead levels, so on and so forth.
Is It True?? There’s Lead In Bentonite Clay?
Now that we know a bit about lead and how it affects our health, let’s move on to the big question. Is there lead in bentonite clay and Earthpaste?
Simply put — yes. There is a small amount of lead in bentonite clay, Earthpaste’s primary ingredient (Redmond Trading, n.d.; Advanced Laboratories, 2017). While I couldn’t find any evidence, I do wonder if trace amounts of lead can be found in all types of clay, seeing how clay is mined out of the earth. If you have an answer to this question, feel free to email and share it with me.
So now the question becomes, should we not use clay because it contains lead?
Seeing how we use clay in many areas of our life (cookware, pharmaceutical medications, farming, landscaping, animal care, and more), it would be very difficult to completely cut it from our lives. Besides, clay has a lot of positive uses, not only in our world but for our health as well (Kos, 2016; Moosavi, 2017). While there have been reports of increased lead levels in persons using specific clay products, there have also been reports that don’t show increased lead levels after long-term use of clay.
So what’s a natural mama to do or even think about this topic?
Before coming to a conclusion about lead and bentonite clay, I think it’s important to try to understand how compounds, chemical bonds, and ionic charges work so we can fully understand whether we’re at risk for lead toxicity from clay or not.
As I dug deeper into this lead and bentonite clay topic, I found myself wishing I had paid better attention in my high school chemistry class, especially since understanding the difference in organic and inorganic compounds seems to be an important part of all of this.
Now, a bit of a disclaimer here. I am not a chemist and certainly not an expert in this area. The following information is merely my attempt at interpreting the research I found. If you are a chemist, and I’ve come to a wrong conclusion on the information below, feel free to send me an email and educate me. I’ll update the post and credit you, of course. Thanks in advance!
So here we go — Chemistry 101.
Understanding Organic & Inorganic Compounds
- Organic compounds are those that contain another molecule such as carbon, hydrogen, or even nitrogen. These compounds are usually those found in living things such as animals and plants. They are believed to be relatively stable, have lower absorption rates in the body, and are less toxic. Lead can be in the form of an organic compound when it is bound with animal and plant tissue (as is the case with foods that contain lead).
- Inorganic compounds, on the other hand, do not contain another molecule (with some exceptions) and are often found in non-living things like rocks, soil, and water. These compounds are thought to be more unstable, more bioavailable in the body, and more toxic. Lead is also found in this form when it is unbound in its natural state (as is the case with lead in soil, rocks, water, or in forms used in modern products like paint, pipes, cosmetics, etc.).
(Texas Education Agency, n.d.; Barron, 2014; Eidon Ionic Minerals, n.d.).
Bound & Unbound Forms of Lead
As I mentioned above, metals, like lead, can come in both organic and inorganic forms. These forms are referred to as either bound or unbound.
- Organic forms of lead are found in plants and animals — living things. This is due to a plant or animal absorbing inorganic lead from a non-living thing such as the soil or animal feed and that lead binding to molecules within the plant or animal tissue, converting the lead from an inorganic form to an organic form. Organic forms of lead are considered “bound” because they have attached themselves to another molecule. They are part of the animal or plant tissue and are less available for absorption (Barron, 2014).
- Inorganic forms of lead are those that are in their natural molecular state and are found in non-living things like rocks, soil, or water. Inorganic forms of lead are considered “unbound” because they have not attached themselves to another molecule. These unbound forms are considered more unstable, and they are more bioavailable in the body (Barron, 2014).
Absorption Rates of Bound & Unbound Lead
While it may be true that organic “bound” compounds have lower absorption rates and inorganic “unbound” compounds have high absorption rates, the fact remains — they both can be absorbed to some degree.
When it comes to lead, it’s believed that lead is primarily absorbed via the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract (some lead is absorbed via the skin as is the case with lead in cosmetics). Seeing how the lungs can’t digest clay, I’m not so sure that inhaling bentonite would put you at risk for absorbing the bound lead in it. Perhaps it would cause other problems, but would lead absorption be one of them? That doesn’t seem likely. What seems more likely is that lead absorption from clay would instead take place in the gastrointestinal tract.
Absorption of these compounds comes down to one thing — how quickly the body can break them down into their basic anatomical structures so they can be absorbed and transported to tissues in the body.
Compounds in liquid form tend to be the quickest to be absorbed whereas compounds in solid forms take longer to break down. Breakdown of these compounds begins in the stomach. While an acidic pH is a huge factor in how much lead is leached from a substance (Valadez-Vega et. al., 2011; Enslin, van der Mey, & Waanders, 2010), time is also a factor. The longer something remains in the acidic environment of the stomach, the more time the substance has to be broken down into its basic form — including substances that contain lead (Eidon Ionic Minerals, n.d.).
How Bioavailable Is Lead In Bentonite Clay?
So this is where the rubber meets the road. We know that bentonite clay contains lead, but how bioavailable is this lead? As in, if bentonite clay is ingested, will the lead in it bind to the tissues in our bodies, negatively affecting our health, or not?
The lead contained in bentonite clay, as well as other forms of clay, while inorganic in nature, have been found to be bound with the clay due to the negatively charged ions in bentonite (Williams, Haydel, & Ferrell, 2009), and therefore, is not believed to be as bioavailable to your body as unbound forms of lead are. In fact, a 2017 review of 100 PubMed articles about the effects of bentonite clay on body function showed promising results when using this clay for health reasons. While the potential for adverse effects was reported for gastrointestinal binding of electrolytes and potential cell lysis, increased lead levels were not reported (Moosavi, 2017).
How Does Ionic Bonding Work?
Bentonite clay has a negative electrical charge, and lead, like most toxins and heavy metals, has a positive electrical charge. These two opposite charges attract, binding the clay and lead together, making the lead “bound” instead of “unbound.”
This ionic bonding is one reason why bentonite clay is often used in detox protocols. When positively charged substances come into contact with the negatively charged clay, they bind together, eventually passing both the clay and the toxin from the body.
How pH and Time Affects Absorption
As one final caution when it comes to absorption of lead from bentonite clay, note that I said “not believed to be as bioavailable,” meaning that, under the right circumstances, there is a possibility that lead could be absorbed to some degree.
Think back to the factors that cause compounds to be broken down for absorption — pH and time. The longer bentonite clay remains in the acidic environment of the stomach, the higher the chance it will be broken down, lead unbound, and therefore, absorbed.
However, in order to decrease the chance of this occurring, speeding up transit time in the stomach could be the answer. This can be achieved by not only increasing water consumption after taking bentonite clay but by taking bentonite clay in capsule form as well (Le, n.d.).
I know I’ve shared a lot of information with you in this article, and hopefully provided some good sources for you in case you want to do your own research (which I always recommend). At this point, I think it would be good to review some of the important points from above.
- Lead is highly toxic and is something we’re exposed to via many different sources in the world we live in.
- Lead comes in organic and inorganic forms.
- Trace amounts of inorganic lead are found in bentonite clay; however, the lead is bound there due to the clays ionic charge.
- There is a chance for some lead becoming unbound due to high-acid levels in the stomach; however, there are things that can be done to minimize the likelihood of this.
What This Means For Me
Yes, clay contains various amounts of lead and other elements, therefore clay-based products, like Earthpaste, contain lead. While this lead has a low chance of being bioavailable inside the body, the fact remains that there is still a chance.
When it comes to teaching kids how to brush their teeth, all children swallow toothpaste at first. So whether the toothpaste is made from clay that contains trace amounts of bound lead, store-bought toothpaste with fluoride (another harmful toxin), or an oil-based tooth oil with essential oils — the child is still going to swallow something, correct? So which is worse? Which has the least chance of harm?
Each of us will need to make that decision for ourselves. Personally, if I were training a little one to brush his teeth again, I think I’d start out with an oil-based tooth oil with essential oils that are safe for children. Once they were doing well with that, I would be fine switching to a clay-based toothpaste. Again, this is my own personal conclusion to the information I’ve found in regards to using clay-based toothpaste. I’d encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusion.
So what do you think? Does this concern you? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and research in the comments below.
Post originally published: July 2015 – Updated: March 2018
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