Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a powder made from the sediment of fossilized algae. The algae — tiny, aquatic organisms called diatoms — have skeletons made of silica, or silicon dioxide.
Silica is a very common component of the Earth's natural rock, sands, and clays, making up 26% of the Earth's crust by weight. The natural silica reacts with oxygen and water to form silicon dioxide, and most diatomaceous earth is composed of silicon dioxide. Diatomaceous earth is found in streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans around the world.
Diatomaceous earth is primarily known as a pesticide/insecticide. The first pesticide products containing diatomaceous earth were registered in 1960. Today, diatomaceous earth products are registered for use to prevent or exterminate pests like fleas, bed bugs, cockroaches, ticks, spiders, crickets, and other insects.
In recent years, many health food providers have begun selling food-grade diatomaceous earth as a supplement. However, many of the health claims these merchants describe are unfounded. The following alleged benefits are often listed on vitamin and supplement websites.
Diatomaceous earth is potentially able to reduce blood cholesterol and positively affect lipid metabolism in humans. In a clinical trial, diatomaceous earth intake was linked to a significant reduction of serum cholesterol. Managing cholesterol levels helps decrease your risk for a number of health conditions, such as heart disease.
Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides levels also decreased. Four weeks after the intake of diatomaceous earth was stopped, serum cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides still remained low. Placebo-controlled studies are necessary to confirm these findings.
Evidence suggests that silicon is important in bone formation. Though it was previously unclear just how much silicon was absorbed from the human diet, a 2002 study found that silicon was able to be absorbed from solid foods.
The silicon content of the foods consumed was significantly correlated with urinary silicon excretion — a mean of 41% of the ingested silicon was excreted in the urine of the study's participants. The association between dietary silicon intake and bone health should be further investigated.
Despite these findings, it has been reported that when diatomaceous earth is eaten, very little is actually absorbed into the body. Most of it is excreted, the researchers explain, and since small amounts of silica are normally present in all body tissues, it is not unusual to find silicon dioxide in the urine. Therefore, consuming diatomaceous earth most likely has no significant impact on bone health.
Some manufacturers of diatomaceous earth have claimed that it can help remove toxins from the body. This claim is based on the supplement’s ability to remove heavy metals from water. In fact, it's used as an industrial-grade water filter.
Despite DE's efficacy at treating water, there is no evidence that implies these properties have any significant impact on your digestive system. There is no need to "cleanse" our bodies of toxins. Our liver, kidneys, and digestive system do that for us every day.
Other possible uses for diatomaceous earth include:
- Treatment of constipation
- Improving the health of skin, nails, and hair
- Removing dead skin (exfoliation)
- Brushing/cleaning teeth
Keep in mind, supplement manufacturers claim that diatomaceous earth has many health benefits, but many have not yet been proven in studies.
If diatomaceous earth is inhaled, it may irritate the nasal passages. If a large amount is inhaled, it may cause coughing and/or shortness of breath. Diatomaceous earth can also cause skin irritation and dryness and eye irritation.
Inhaled amorphous silicon dioxide particles can accumulate in the lung tissue, bronchi, pulmonary alveoli, and lymph nodes. Continued inhalation of diatomaceous earth has been tied to several diseases, including lung cancer, silicosis, and nonmalignant respiratory diseases.
Amounts and Dosage
There is not currently enough scientific information to determine dosage or portion size for diatomaceous earth as a health supplement. Most of the health claims surrounding diatomaceous earth have not yet been proven or confirmed through studies.
The nutritional information of diatomaceous earth is unknown. Most food-grade DE supplements contain only diatomaceous earth.
Use diatomaceous earth at your own risk, and speak with your doctor or pharmacist about supplements that might better suit your needs.