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Diatomaceous Earth: Potential Uses and Cautions

An image of various vegetables going in a capsule like containerNot all herbs and supplements have research to support their use. This holds true for diatomaceous earth. However, this does not necessarily mean it is ineffective. Diatomaceous earth has many anecdotal proponents. This article investigates their claims.

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

A special kind of sand consisting of fossilized algae, diatomaceous earth (DE) has been mined for decades and used in several industrial applications. However, it has been gaining attention as a dietary supplement with a number of potential health benefits.

The skeletons of microscopic algae called diatoms living in water accumulated in the sediments of freshwater lakes, rivers, and in oceans in many areas of the world. These skeletons consist of a concentrated source of silica, making diatomaceous earth a unique substance.

Types of Diatomaceous Earth

Two main forms of silica exist: crystalline and amorphous (non-crystalline). The crystalline form appears sharp like glass under a microscope. Its properties make it very useful in industrial applications.

The two types of diatomaceous earth contain different concentrations of crystalline silica.

  • Food-grade contains 0.5-2% crystalline silica. Its uses include as an insecticide and in anti-caking applications in food and agricultural industries. The major governmental agencies, FDA, EPA, and USDA, approve its usage.
  • Filter-grade DE, non-food grade, finds uses in several industrial applications such as dynamite production and water filtration. Toxic to humans, this grade contains 60% or more crystalline silica.

You may find the concept of taking silica sand to improve your health difficult to imagine. Please keep in mind the major difference between the two grades of diatomaceous earth. Using the food-grade type could potentially bring health benefits that just recently came under scientific scrutiny.

Non-Food Related Uses of DE

Diatomaceous earth finds several uses in industry. As a filter, it allows liquids such as water to flow through but blocks unwanted substances from passing through. Other uses include paints and plastics, pet litter, cleaning up spills, insulation in industrial uses, and as part of some chemical tests. Food-grade DE is also used as an insecticide. Its mechanism as an insecticide involves dehydrating insects by stripping their exoskeletons of an essential coating.

Health-Related Uses of DE

Food-grade diatomaceous earth has been used as a dietary supplement. Research supports this type of claim. When silicon binds to oxygen it becomes water-soluble and possibly bioavailable to humans.

However, the specific biological, biochemical, or physiological functions remain unknown to scientists at this time.

Proponents of the use of DE tout its many health benefits. These include:

  • Support heart health by lowering cholesterol levels
  • Cleanse the digestive tract
  • Support healthy digestion
  • Promote hair growth
  • Improve bone health
  • Provide trace minerals
  • Improve skin health and build strong nails

We will discuss several of these purported health benefits, along with some others.

DE for Detoxification

One of the major claims for the use of diatomaceous earth involves helping the body rid itself of toxins. Research supports the idea of using non-food grade DE in removing toxins from water. However, the lack of human research using food-grade DE in this regard makes this claim somewhat tenuous.

On the other hand, if DE does assist in removing toxins from your body, it would clearly support the task of your liver, one of the organs in the detoxification circuit of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress response.

The NEM consists of six interconnected circuits of three organs or systems each. The interconnectedness of the circuits means whatever affects one will also affect one or more other circuits. These circuits keep your body systems working in balance. Stress can affect them greatly. Severe, chronic stress can lead to the development of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), as your adrenals become unable to produce enough cortisol, the stress hormone, to cope with the stress. This condition makes you more vulnerable to detoxification problems, among others.

The Liver and Detoxification

An image of a doctor holding up a holographic image of a liverYour liver works to remove toxins from your body. Some of these toxins result from metabolites that come from the breaking down of substances that enter your body. All substances coming into your body go through this breakdown process. The metabolites that result pass through your liver and then go through elimination from your body.

However, in some instances, your liver can become overwhelmed. This can occur when chronic stress affects the detoxification circuit and the circuit becomes dysregulated.

The liver then becomes sluggish and metabolites begin building up. As a result, these metabolites become toxic. Some of them also can become reactive metabolites. They react with other substances in your body and become toxic as well. If foreign or synthetic compounds, such as pesticides and heavy metals, enter your body your liver may not successfully clear them out, especially if AFS weakens your body and decreases the ability of your liver to do its work.

If DE can help remove toxins from your body, this will greatly improve your liver function and allow it to cleanse metabolites and other substances from your body.

People with AFS are more susceptible to paradoxical reactions and retox reactions, where the body is unable to process excessive toxins dumped into the system by a detox procedure. So if you do have AFS, it is important to proceed very gradually and talk to your doctor first.

The effects of food-grade DE on detoxification have also been unstudied and are not currently research-supported.

Effects of DE on Cholesterol Levels

Research supports the concept of diatomaceous earth lowering cholesterol levels. One study showed ingesting 250 mg of DE by mouth per day resulted in a decrease in total cholesterol of 13.2% after eight weeks. LDL cholesterol and triglycerides decreased, and HDL cholesterol increased over the time of this study.

However, the research did not include a control group. Therefore, no specific claim that DE lowers cholesterol could be made. But the research did clearly support the concept. More research is needed in this area.

Effects of DE on Bone Health

Another claim made by the proponents of DE involves the role of silica in bone health. The claim says since silica occurs in small amounts in the connective tissues of the body, it can play a role in the healthy aging of joints and bones. Silica makes up a major part of the formation of cartilage, and DE consists mostly of silica.

Research supports the idea of nutrition as an important aspect of bone health. However, scientists do not completely understand the effects of specific nutrients on bone health. Considerable evidence accumulated over the past 30 years suggests strongly that dietary silicon plays a major part in bone and connective tissue health. As such, DE may help provide some of this silicon, although the bioavailability of the silicon in DE is unknown.

Effects of DE on Hair, Skin, and Nails

And image of a woman holding her hands over her mouthAnecdotal evidence suggests the use of DE can bring thicker, healthier hair in only a few weeks. Likewise, the use of DE increases collagen production resulting in improvements in skin texture and appearance as well as stronger nails. This may be related to the presence of silica, although this is only speculative.

Effects of DE on Diabetes

DE contains both manganese and magnesium, two minerals that help in controlling diabetes. Clinical studies show type 2 diabetes associated with intracellular and extracellular deficits in magnesium. Supplementation with magnesium seems to help improve type 2 diabetes in clinical studies. There may be other, more bioavailable, forms of manganese and magnesium, however.

Effects of DE on Dementia

As a result of the high concentration of silica in diatomaceous earth, it may prove effective in combating dementia brought on by aluminum in drinking water. A report published in 2009 in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed ingesting silica may counter the damaging effects of aluminum in drinking water. DE continues to be one of the best sources of silica.

May Help Balance Hormones

Research shows silica helps promote the balance of magnesium and calcium in your body, which is connected to the production of parathyroid hormone and vitamin D in the body. In addition, the selenium in DE may aid in thyroid hormone metabolism.

May Help Strengthen Your Immune System

Research shows the silica in DE may help boost the production of antibodies and antigens, which your immune system uses to fight infections.

Dosage and Preparation of DE

You can use DE both orally and topically. For example, you can brush your teeth with it or use it to exfoliate your skin. However, you should use caution in these applications. The sharp microscopic particles can cause irritation.

You can take DE orally by mixing it with water. But you should drink the mixture immediately since DE doesn’t dissolve in water. Typical dosages as shown in anecdotal reports consist of starting with a teaspoon of DE and gradually increasing until you take a full tablespoon.

No research evidence supports this, however.

Safety Concerns

You can ingest diatomaceous earth, the food-grade type, safely because it passes through your body unchanged and does not get into your bloodstream. Do not attempt to use filter-grade diatomaceous earth, as this is toxic.

Do not inhale DE. The silica in DE will cause significant inflammation and scarring in your lungs. If you suffer from lung problems, the use of DE may exacerbate your condition. Even accidental inhalation may lead to significant consequences.

Reliable information regarding the safety of DE is lacking. Therefore, you should use caution in using it in either oral or topical forms.

A range of doses for children or adults can not be ascertained at this time due to a lack of reliable research data. A number of factors play a part in determining appropriate dosages. These factors include the person’s age, health, and other conditions.

Possible Side Effects

An image of diatomaceous earth scooped in a shovelOnce again, a lack of reliable research data means we don't know the side effects of using diatomaceous earth.

The FDA certifies food-grade DE as safe to consume. However, you should avoid inhaling it.

In addition, the potential of a "die-off" process occurring during the early stages of the use of DE in detoxifying your body exists. This kind of reaction consists of flu-like symptoms as toxins and bacteria leave your body. Typically, the symptoms resolve in a few days.

All detox procedures should be done very slowly if you have AFS or NEM imbalance due to the potential for retoxification reactions.

Conclusions Regarding Diatomaceous Earth

The use of this silica-based substance may bring some health benefits but also includes some cautions. A lack of scientific research data indicates caution should be used if you decide to consume DE.

Anecdotal reports indicate several health benefits, however. If you suffer from AFS, the potential use of DE in detoxifying the body becomes important. Toxins building up in your body slow down all systems and decrease your overall health.

Clearly, inhaling DE should never occur. This carries many potential problems for your lungs.

What Can You Do?

If you are interested in using diatomaceous earth as a dietary supplement, here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • A lack of reliable research evidence for its use makes DE controversial.
  • You should consult with your healthcare professional before starting its use.
  • Never inhale DE.
  • There are no adequate studies regarding dosages for children or adults.

If you do decide to use DE, however, please do so with the guidance of your healthcare professional. He or she can advise you on appropriate dosages and any expected benefits or side effects.

If you would like to know more about or need assistance with diatomaceous earth, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free** no-obligation phone consultation at +1-626-571-1234 where we will privately discuss your symptoms and various options. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Diatomaceous earth contains food grade silica which can bring significant health benefits. It can improve your heart health by lowering cholesterol. And it helps strengthen your bones. In addition, it aids in digestion by helping your body rid itself of toxins. And it can build up your immune system.

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