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Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth: Dangers and Health Benefits

By Fitoru | 17 December 2019
ood grade diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is sand that’s made out of fossilized algae. It has traditionally been used much like any other sand, for industrial use and as a natural pest control substance. However, in recent years, diatomaceous earth has arrived on pharmacy store shelves as a health supplement. Are there food grade diatomaceous earth dangers? What are the health benefits of this substance and is it safe enough to try? We have explanations for these concerns. 

What Exactly Is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth (also known as diatomite) is sedimentary rock found in with other types of sand and earth from whence it is extracted for use. It’s made up of diatoms, which are the small skeletons of algae and other microscopic aquatic organisms that have been fossilized for literally millions of years. 

There are two types of diatomaceous earth.

  • Filter grade diatomaceous earth: This is inedible and better used in industrial practices. Something like pool grade diatomaceous earth, used as a natural pool filter, is dangerous to consume or inhale due to its 60% makeup of crystalline silica.
  • Food grade diatomaceous earth (DE): Suitable for human consumption, food grade diatomaceous earth products are not calcined and are generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and approved by the EPA and USDA. This sand is largely composed of non-crystalline amorphous silica (only between .05 and 2% of sharp glass-like crystalline silica is allowed), a substance found in humans, plants, rocks, and sand. Food grade DE is used in toothpaste, skincare products, beverages, foods, and medicines.

Food grade DE is also used to discourage bug infestations like dust mites, cockroaches, ants, bed bugs, and fleas without having to resort to harsh chemicals that may be harmful to your family and pets. The silica in insecticide products removes the waxy coating of the exoskeleton of bugs it comes into contact with it, dehydrating them to death. Farmers sometimes feed diatomaceous earth to livestock in the hopes that it will help kill internal parasites and intestinal worms without harming the animal. 

Let’s investigate the health claims and potential dangers of food grade diatomaceous earth.

What Exactly Is Diatomaceous Earth?

Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth Dangers and Health Benefits

Used as an anti-caking agent, food-grade diatomaceous earth is valued for detoxification, weight-loss, bone health, and more. But is there any proof of these claims, and what about any possible side effects? Let’s start with the good stuff.

Health Effects of Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth

Testimonials claim that food grade diatomaceous earth can improve heart health, hair growth, and skin and nail strength, but not all of these claims have been tested on human participants. If you’re looking to take food grade DE to gain trace minerals or promote your health, here are the scientifically tested benefits you may experience. 

  • Bone health: Silica in humans is one of the minerals that make up our bones, and though it isn’t fully understood, research indicates that food grade DE does indeed support bone health and the strength of our skin, hair, and nails (1).
  • Detoxification: There is an assumption that since diatomaceous earth is useful for removing heavy metals from water, it has a detox effect on the body and the digestive tract. There is no scientific evidence for this assertion, however, and like other substances that claim to detox the body, the effect is not direct detox but rather promotion of the detox capabilities of your kidneys and liver.
  • Cholesterol levels and heart health: The evidence here is sparse but worth mentioning. One small study with 19 human subjects from 1998 (so a long way from being recent) found that those who took food grade DE over 8 weeks enjoyed decreased cholesterol levels by as much as 13.2%. Triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol went down, while “good” HDL levels went slightly up. Therefore food grade DE may improve heart health, though more information is needed to confirm this with scientific certainty (2).

Side Effects of Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth

Food grade diatomaceous earth travels through your digestive system without incident and does not get into the bloodstream. It is deemed safe to consume, but there are some dangers you deserve to be aware of.

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: There has been no research conducted on the effects of food grade DE on pregnant women, so it is not advised for this population.
  • Lung disease: Inhaling filter grade diatomaceous earth is known to be harmful to the lungs, but the inhalation of food grade DE may also result in lung issues, possibly causing conditions as serious as asthma, silicosis (internal scarring and inflammation), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or even lung cancer. Be careful not to inhale any of this powder.

Tips for Ingesting: How to Take Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth

If you’re interested in taking food grade diatomaceous earth and confident you can do so safely without inhaling any of it in small or large amounts, here are a few tips for how to take it.

  • Powdered form: If you purchase food grade DE as a powder, simply follow the instructions on the packaging and stir it into water or a healthy detoxifying smoothie.
  • Capsule form: If you’re worried about the danger of inhaling diatomaceous earth, a capsule form is probably your best bet—the powder is contained better with less chance of spilling.

Should You Be an Earth Eater?

When it comes to diatomaceous earth, the bottom line is that we don’t know much about it. Evidence on its effectiveness in the health sphere is scant, but there are real dangers when it comes to consumption. Pool grade diatomaceous earth is a known toxin, but food grade DE has almost no evidence that it’s helpful to human health, and yet it too has the ability to kill insects and harm your lungs. With so many other proven health supplements out there like turmeric or acai, we recommend you give this one a pass and instead choose a natural health product that has zero risks of hurting you.

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