Human beings eat clay for various reasons, yet the very many possible health benefits/defects of its consumption remains under study and very much debated. This work posits at unraveling the health benefits and risks associated with the consumption of clays among the natives of Somorika, Edo State; Nigeria. This was achieved by investigating the elemental composition of some selected clay samples collected from Ososo market, Somorika, Spiritual Island of Edo state, in order to ascertain the potential health benefits and/or dangers of the materials consumed with respect to their essential and toxic mineral levels. The history of Somorika is the story of the Aboriginals of Edo State, Nigeria
Geochemical analysis using Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (AAS) was carried out to determine the elements in the clays. Elements analyzed for include Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Zinc (Zn), Aluminum (Al), Silicon (Si) and Lead (Pb). From the analysis, Silicon has the highest concentration of 64.8ppm in all the samples while Lead with concentration of 0.01ppm was the least abundant. The result of the analysis indicates that the concentrations of Manganese, Iron, Zinc and Calcium are below the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) needed for an adult or pregnant woman hence, the nutrient supplementing ability of the clays become compromised. For toxic minerals, the high concentration of Aluminum, 35.9ppm , Silicon, 64.8ppm exceeded the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) limits of 1ppm and 150ppm respectively. The presence of Lead in all the samples pose a risk of medical disorders, such as breast cancer due to high concentration of Aluminum; deformed babies and different types of cancers among women, intelligence decline in children due to high concentration of Lead, damaging colon and dental enamel due to high concentration of Silicon.
Considering that geophagy cannot be eliminated owing to its history and belief amongst a wider population, we advocate the enlightenment of geophagists on the risks and benefits as well as safe preparation, storage and use of geophagic clays
Keywords: Geophagy, elemental composition, minerals, superstition, Artemisinin