Naturally, this was something I wanted to investigate further. Is it REALLY a miracle way to clean out your gut?
The health claims:
- Lowers bad cholesterol and blood pressure
- High in silica “which is crucial for the production of collagen which improves skin tone and the health of your joints and tendons – not to mention gorgeous hair and nails!”
- Detoxes your system to flush out viral, fungal and bacterial pathogens, heavy metals, yeast (Candida) and pesticide residues
- Natural weight loss product
- Fights Osteoporosis, improving people’s arthritis and joint pain.
- Slows/repairs tissue degeneration
- Promotes World Peace (okay, not really; that smart-ass one's mine)
“FGDE is reported on many organic food Internet sites to regulate peristalsis (bowel movements), alleviate constipation, prevent diarrhea, thwart arthritis and purge the body of heavy metals. Although the material is generally nontoxic to humans, no scientific studies have been performed to conclusively support its safety or benefits.”
Its more common uses:
- Filters and filtration systems
- Insecticides and pesticides
- Skin care products that exfoliate
It is worth noting that Wikipedia, which tends to have way too much information on every subject, does NOT include human ingestion or health benefits in its long entry about the myriad uses for Diatomaceous Earth.
How does it work?
It’s an abrasive, used in toothpaste and skin exfoliation. If that’s what it is doing to your outsides, what is it doing to your insides when ingested? The same thing, actually. And that’s meant to be a good thing. “Diatomaceous earth acts as a mild abrasive topically as well as internally. It can help to remove intestinal invaders and other harmful organisms from the digestive tract. As an internal cleanser, diatomaceous earth may aid cleansing by supporting regularity and assist in removing toxic metals. Some studies have shown diatomaceous earth to be very successful in ridding animals of harmful organisms. Food-grade diatomaceous earth placed in the feed of livestock may help discourage fleas and other harmful bugs.”
Putting my research-ninja skills to work:
I checked the library’s databases. First, through our Health and Wellness related ones, and then our Science ones. Nothing in Consumer Health Complete (Ebsco). Most of what was found through Gale’s Health and Wellness database pertained to its use as a pesticide, or the effects on animals. On to the Internet and Google, then.
In searching for information on the benefits of taking DE, the evidence was overwhelmingly anecdotal and hard to find anything particularly clear. The main sources of information were from sites that sell the product. Specifically, Diatomaceous.org and Earthworks Health, both of which seem to ONLY sell Diatomaceous Earth. Larry Smith, president of Earthworks Health, seems to comment on each of the blogs or forums I found (again, which only include anecdotal evidence; no medical or scientific studies or proof). He's a one-man snake-oil salesman. Er, I mean, promotional machine.
I am always skeptical of taking information at face value when it’s from a source that stands to profit from it. But when that source seems to contradict itself? Huge red flag. On the Earthworks Health site, they claim that it helps with tissue degeneration, which “accelerates due to aging when connective tissue develops an increasing inability to retain moisture when left unassisted. Silica can help slow the degenerative process of connective tissue.” Except that by most accounts, even the anecdotal ones, a negative side effect of DE is dryness. You have to hydrate, because drying you out is how it works. It’s also how it acts as an insecticide – it dries out the bugs’ exoskeleton.
A second big red flag is the number of health claims that are covered. I mean, it detoxes and cleanses your insides, it exfoliates your outsides, and it does everything from prevent cancer to keeping your garden bug-free. That's ... excessive. Over the top. Hard too swallow.
The only documented medical benefit seems to be that it has the effect of lowering bad cholesterol. There is no evidence for the other claims. “In an April 1998 article published in the "European Journal of Medical Research," Austrian researchers studied DE's cholesterol lowering effects in humans having raised blood cholesterol levels. This study found that DE did have a beneficial effect in lowering bad cholesterol (low density lipoproteins and triglycerides) and increasing the good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein) after two months. However, this is the only study found in the medical literature at PubMed.gov describing the beneficial effects of DE in humans.”
There IS evidence that it can be harmful if inhaled. The filter (non-food) grade stuff requires the use of masks, and the food-grade earth is only considered “nuisance dust” if inhaled. That’s according to the World Health Organization, and Larry Smith. Still, something that can cause bronchial harm if inhaled makes me seriously question using it to detox the body or lower levels of candida or help prevent fleas in humans.
Beyond inhaling the filter-grade crystalized variation, there seems to be little evidence that it is harmful to humans or animals, so it has that going for it. Diatomaceous earth seems to be used as an inert additive, mostly in animal food. Testing that has been done has been to demonstrate that it does no harm, it has no adverse effect, when ingested. It’s used to keep food from clumping and clotting, frankly. That’s quite a far cry from having nutritional or health benefits. I can see how something that fills you up because it prevents absorption might lead to temporary weight loss. But, y’know, people soak cotton balls in orange juice and eat them for the same reason. <shudder>
It is also being researched as a way to administer drugs that actually HAVE an effect. You know those timed-release pills you can buy? They’re often made from synthetic silica based materials, and diatomaceous earth is a natural silica substance. But it is not being studied for its nutritional value. It’s the lack of absorption and its insolubility that make it an ideal drug delivery system. (Powder Technology. June 2012 v223) Which is great for drug companies, but how effective is it for all the other health claims?
And what about the claim that it’s a health product because it is a source of silica? Silica is very common in nature and makes up 26% of the earth's crust by weight. Various forms of silica include sand, emerald, quartz, feldspar, mica, clay, asbestos, and glass. That’s from the National Pesticide Information Center. Now, granted, I’m not a science-y kind of person. I don’t have the background to understand the complexities of this. I find myself wondering "How important is silica, to the body and to health?" It seems that soil nutrient depletion from over-farming and modern farming methods have reduced the amount of silica in the soil, meaning that there’s less silica in plants and foods than there used to be. How significant is that, though? Silica is a biological compound that is found in most vital organs in the body, but are we seriously running so low on it that we have to eat it by the spoonful? Would the absorption of it, when ingested that way, even work the same? (This, to me, is the same kind of question as taking Vitamin D pills, when we typically get Vitamin D from exposure to the sun; the jury is still out on the efficacy of taking pill format). In checking what the Food and Drug Administration had to say about it, it would seem that the jury is out:
Silicon dioxide and various silicates occur abundantly in the earth's crust, are present in practically all natural waters, animals, and plants, and are part of the normal human diet. The question of whether or not silicon is an essential human nutrient remains unresolved. Silicon compounds consumed as added food ingredients contribute only a minor proportion of the total dietary silicon intake. The estimated possible human intake of sodium aluminosilicate, the predominant silicate added to foods in this country, is approximately 0.3mg per kg body weight per day. Silicon compounds that are GRAS for use as direct food ingredient, except potassium and sodium silicates, are insoluble or very slightly soluble in water and appear to be biologically inert.
The FDA is mainly concerned with the level of toxicity. They are satisfied that it’s safe enough for use in materials that come into contact with food, but they’re not exactly considering it for intended ingestion!
- There is no evidence in the available information on diatomaceous earth, silicon dioxides, sodium silicate, and talc that demonstrates or suggests reasonable grounds to suspect a hazard to the public when they are used as ingredients of paper and paperboard products used in food packaging in accordance with current practice.
- There is no evidence in the available information on diatomaceous earth and perlite that demonstrates or suggests reasonable ground to suspect a hazard to the public when they are used as filteraids in food processing at levels that are now current or that might reasonably be expected in the future.
I really don’t know about the value of this product. On sites that are not specifically selling and marketing it to humans, discussion of food-grade DE does not differentiate between humans and animals. Just because something is non-toxic or apparently not harmful for ingestion, doesn’t make it a good idea.
And the claims seem so outrageous that it makes me wonder why or how anyone would want to try it unless they were at the very end of their rope. Which, frankly, many of the anecdotal sites indicate that people are. Desperate. Yet, miracle cures are often placebos. With so many other healthy alternatives – including eating whole foods and clean eating, as a way to more slowly detox your system – this is one fad that I can easily pass up.
Of course, now that I know that it won’t actually kill her, I’ll probably also continue to poke fun at my friend if she continues to eat diamond-dirt to clean out her innards.