Eating clay? Sunning ladyparts? Shailene Woodley's  'Divergent' opinions on health, beauty

Cast member Shailene Woodley poses at the premiere of "Divergent" in Los Angeles, California, March 18, 2014. The movie opens in the U.S. on March 21....
Cast member Shailene Woodley poses at the premiere of "Divergent" in Los Angeles.MARIO ANZUONI / Today

Shailene Woodley, you guys. Shailene Woodley. She’s been crowned Next Big Thing, and if you’re not already familiar with her, you soon will be: Today, her movie “Divergent” opens, which many expect to be the next “Hunger Games”-level hit; in June, she’ll star in her second highly anticipated YA film adaptation of the year, “The Fault in Our Stars.” 

Before now, Woodley’s been able to maintain a relatively low profile, which means you may not know this about her: She has some interesting ideas about health and beauty! Earlier this week, Woodley told the beauty blog Into The Gloss about some of those ideas, in a post that’s been widely shared; we took those ideas to some physicians for a second opinion. 

So, Shailene: Love you, mean it, but, overall, medical experts have NOT A CLUE what you’re talking about.

Shailene on eating clay
“(Clay) is one of the best things you can put in your body. One of my friends was making a clay toothpaste that you swallow instead of spit out. But I first heard about the benefits of eating clay from a taxi driver. He was African and was saying that, where he’s from, the women eat clay when they’re pregnant. Seriously—ask your taxi drivers where they are from and about their customs. You will learn a lot. So, I've discovered that clay is great for you because your body doesn’t absorb it, and it apparently provides a negative charge, so it bonds to negative isotopes. And, this is crazy: it also helps clean heavy metals out of your body.”

She’s absolutely right in saying that there are many cultures who do this, and have done so for generations. “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,” said Dr. Roshini Raj, a gastroenterologist and TODAY contributor. 

There really is some useful stuff to be found in clay — take kaolin clay, for example. This kind of clay, also called china clay, contains kaopectate, which is used in antidiarrheal medicines, said Dr. Michele Berman, a physician who runs the site Celebrity Diagnosis.

There probably isn’t any harm in eating clay, as long as you only do it occasionally. (Done in excess, it could cause constipation, Raj said.) But there are also not really any scientifically proven benefits to taking this particular practice outside its cultural context. “Because I think, now, most people have access to more effective ways of getting those minerals through vitamins, or through foods,” Raj said.

But all that stuff about "negative charges"—well ...

“This idea that there are negative charges and positive charges, and that’s all you need to do to get rid of your toxins—the average person is not so full of heavy metal toxins that they’re not getting rid of them naturally,” says Dr. Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “You have multiple organs in your body that serve the purpose of getting rid of that bad stuff — your liver, your kidneys. Your body is built to get rid of the stuff that harms you and keep the stuff that you need.”

Shailene on oil pulling
“I love a natural way to heal. You can do something called ‘oil pulling’ where you swish coconut or sesame oil in your mouth when you wake up and spit it out. It’s amazing! It really makes your teeth whiter, because the plaque on your teeth is not water soluble, it’s fat-soluble. So the lipids have to dissolve in fats, which is why oil works in your mouth. I prefer sesame oil, but they’re both good.”

This is another ancient remedy, and it’s one that’s been making the rounds online lately, popping up first on natural beauty blogs and then making its way onto more mainstream sites like Jezebel and Women’s Health. And there is some evidence that it can improve oral hygiene. “There are actually studies, even from five, six years ago, looking at oil pulling on plaque, or bad breath, and they all show a small improvement in patients,” Carroll said. “And there’s a big difference between reducing a tiny amount of bacteria in the mouth and reducing cavities.

“It’s really popular at the moment, but I’d bet soon it won’t be,” Carroll says. Because the process is pretty … involved: You take a mouthful of oil and swish it around—some say to swish 5 minutes, others say as long as 20. All that, and "we can barely get people to floss!” Carroll says.

But, like clay-eating: There’s also no evidence that there’s any harm to oil pulling, so long as it's not done in excess, and as long as regular brushing and flossing is happening, too. 

Shailene on her special version of an all-over tan
“Another thing I like to do is give my vagina a little vitamin D. [Laughs] I was reading an article written by an herbalist I studied about yeast infections and other genital issues. She said there’s nothing better than vitamin D. If you’re feeling depleted, go in the sun for an hour and see how much energy you get. Or, if you live in a place that has heavy winters, when the sun finally comes out, spread your legs and get some sunshine. [Laughs]”

… ‘KAY.

There is sort of some truth here ... SORT of. Berman pointed out a couple of studies linking vitamin D and optimal ladyparts health: “From what I can find about vitamin D in the vagina is that, sometimes, vitamin D can be used in post-menopausal women who have vaginal atrophy,” she said. She mentioned another study where researchers found a link between lower vitamin D levels and an increased risk for bacterial vaginosis.

But most people get plenty of vitamin D from just living their normal lives — and, also, there’s no way to pick and choose where your body absorbs the vitamin D. “The body processes it with the aid of sunlight,” Carroll says. “It’s not like the direct contact of sunlight is what gives you a localized source of vitamin D. … That’s just not how it works.”

Same story here: There’s probably not a lot of harm in this, as long as it’s done in moderation. (Because if the lips on your face can and do get sunburned, then it follows … you get where I’m going. Yiiiikes.)

“Certainly taking off all your clothes and opening up your legs for an hour will put you more at risk for burning than anything else,” Berman said. “There’s such a thing as an all-over tan, but—yeesh!”