Actress Shailene Woodley speaks highly about the health benefits of eating clay. This might sound strange, but the actress claims that doing this helped her body tremendously. "I first heard about the benefits of eating clay from a taxi driver," she said in an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.  “He was African and was saying that, where he's from, the women eat clay when they're pregnant. I've discovered that clay is great for you because your body doesn't absorb it. And, this is crazy: It also helps clean heavy metals out of your body."

This new curiosity in the Western world has sparked the interest of many companies who have begun packaging and selling it. Terramin is one seller, and it claims that eating clay helps to detoxify the body by removing waste and helping to repair and remineralize tissue cells. Terramin also says clay protects the body from aging and disease.

For some skeptics, this might sound like a clear case of pica — a disorder where people have the urge to eat non-food substances, like dirt or chalk. But some say that this remedy helps to clean the body of toxins; there are two sides to this claim:

The Benefits

In other parts of the world, such as Kenya and Tanzania, clay is commonly consumed by pregnant women. According to Woodley, many cultures all over the world have been doing this. Dr. Roshini Raj, a gastroenterologist, commented on Woodley's practice in a story on TODAY: “This is a practice in some indigenous cultures, and I think that probably came about because they did not have access to certain nutrients in their diet, like calcium from dairy or iron, and there are some minerals in dirt or clay.”

There is also the belief that eating a certain type of clay called kaolin can be used as an antidiarrheal medicine, according to Dr. Michele Berman, TODAY reported. Another doctor, Dr. David L. Katz, a nutrition expert and founding director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University, who spoke with ABC News, has commented on the topic supporting the idea it can work as a detox. "It is possible that the binding effect of clay would cause it to absorb toxins," he said.

The Downfalls

Before you start munching away at a pile of clay, there are some downfalls that you should be aware of. People who sell clay claim that eating it helps to remove toxins. However, that might not always be a good thing, according to Katz, who also spoke with The Huffington Post: “Removing metal from the body is not necessarily good — iron, for example, is a metal and essential to health. So, there could conceivably be benefits, but there could certainly be harms — and a favorable benefit/harm ratio has not been established to justify recommending this," he said.

Unfortunately, both sides of these claims are based mostly on anecdotal evidence — eating clay sparingly won’t do too much to your health, but binging could cause constipation or other complications. Seek advice from your health care provider before starting on any type of regimen that differs from what your normally do.