published on Tuesday, April 15, 2008
are proving that clay from the ground can kill even the strongest
bacteria, including the flesh-eating "superbug" MRSA.
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
"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 added.
Though the three varieties of clay have different characteristics,
Williams said each type is effective at killing various bacteria.
"So far, it's killed everything that we've tested," Williams said.
This shared bacteria-killing ability is probably because the clays
were likely produced under similar circumstances, Williams said.
"We think they're associated with volcanic ash," she said.
How the various elements in the clay interact with each other and
bacteria is the key to learning why the clay is anti-bacterial.
"We don't believe it's a physical contact that's causing the bacteria
to die," Haydel said. "We believe it's a chemical process."
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
"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."
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