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Help or Hype: Body Cleanses and Detoxes

bentonite clayMH asks: "Do you know the origin of using Bentonite Clay and Charcoal capsules as a way of cleansing your body of toxins, impurities, and heavy metals?  Also, do you know if this therapy is safe to do? Supposedly they both absorb heavy metals and are carried out of one's digestive system.  An environmental Dr. is advising me to do this. I wanted to make sure it's in line with Church teaching and is safe to do."

Bentonite clay is composed of aged volcanic ash found in different parts of the world with the largest deposit found near Fort Benton, Wyoming. It was given the name "bentonite" by Wilbur C. Knight in 1898.

There are four different kinds of bentonite clay, each named after their predominant element - potassium, sodium, calcium and aluminum. Sodium bentonite is highly absorbent and is used as a sealant in landfills while calcium bentonite is used in industrial cleaners. Bentonites are also used in cat litter, to purify wines and ciders, and to absorb oils and greases.

It's medical uses seem to be confined to that of bulk laxatives and in some dermatologic formulas.

Natural health enthusiasts claim it can be used to cleanse the liver, colon and skin and to balance bacteria in the digestive tract and strengthen the immune system, although there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

In fact, there is little or no evidence to support the efficacy of any of the popular cleanses on the market today. The reason for this is that these products are not necessary. The body has a built-in cleanse, if you will, known as the liver and the kidneys. As long as these are working fine, you don't need to "detox" the body with supplements such as those you describe in your email, or any of a variety of trendy juice cleanses, smoothies and foot detox products.

activated charcoalCharcoal is another story. According to WebMD, charcoal is made from coal, wood or other substances and becomes "activated charcoal" when high temperatures combine with a gas or activating agent.

Activated charcoal is sometimes used to help treat a drug overdose or a poisoning because drugs and other toxins can bind to it and be carried out of the body.

Less studied uses include the treatment of gas, reduce high cholesterol and prevent hangovers. Test results in these areas have thus far proven inconsistent.

Taking charcoal does have side-effects such as causing black stools, black tongue, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. In more serious cases, it can also cause gastrointestinal blockages.

WebMD cautions against combining activated charcoal with drugs used for constipation because this can cause electrolyte imbalances in the body. Consumption of activated charcoal can also reduce or even prevent the absorption of some drugs, such a acetaminophen and some antidepressants.

Taking these supplements is not against Church teaching as long as they are not being used to treat a condition that is life-threatening or contagious.