Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth: Uses, Benefits, and Safety

Are D.E. supplement claims true or just hype?

Diatomaceous earth
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Eating sand or crushed rock to improve your health may sound odd, but it's not an uncommon practice. Some people have recently been supplementing with a form of sand called diatomaceous earth (D.E.), a naturally occurring sedimentary rock that has been mined for decades and may have some health benefits according to recent claims.

Swallowing sand seems like an unpleasant experience and before going down that road, it’s important to understand a few things about diatomaceous earth.

What Is D.E.?

Diatomaceous earth (D.E.) is a powder made from sedimentary soft rock. The rock is high in silica and comes from fossilized algae known as diatoms—fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms that have collected in the sediment of lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans. These deposits are found worldwide ranging anywhere from 100,000 to millions of years ago.

The deposits contain silica and come in many forms including sand, quartz, clay, and even asbestos. Silica is commonly found in nature, with diatomaceous earth being a concentrated source. Silica is sought after for industrial and commercial use, as well as its possible health benefit.

Common Uses

Many products contain diatomaceous earth (D.E.) in the form of dust, powders, and pressurized liquids. Common uses include water filtration, food manufacturing, skin products, and farming. You have probably used D.E. without even realizing it.

Diatomaceous earth has several industrial uses and you may be surprised to know it has a primary role in wine filtration. As for health purposes, it can be used both orally and topically, according to Ginger Hultin MS RDN CSO, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can brush your teeth with it or use it to exfoliate your skin. Diatomaceous earth is also used to help treat high cholesterol, constipation, and for nail and hair health.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has listed diatomaceous earth as "generally recognized as safe." However, there is a difference between food-grade and filter-grade D.E. Food-grade D.E. products are purified and considered safe for use around animals and humans. Filter-grade D.E. contains toxic amounts of silica harmful to mammals and is mainly for industrial use.

Health Benefits

There are claims that food-grade D.E. provides health benefits. You may have heard taking D.E. will provide any of the following:

  • Improved digestion
  • Body detoxification
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Increased energy
  • Bone health
  • Improved hair, skin, and nails

Research on diatomaceous earth is unclear at this time, according to Hultin. Silica is found in trace amounts in connective tissue throughout the human body, so some people believe it helps with healthy aging and vitality of skin, hair, nails, and joints. There is some research on its use for lowering cholesterol, but again, that's not proven at this time.

The bottom line is that health claims for taking diatomaceous earth are mostly theoretical since not enough human studies have been conducted.

Safety Concerns

The biggest safety concern is insufficient and reliable evidence about the safety of using diatomaceous earth, says Hultin. There have been some studies about taking it to help lower cholesterol (LDL and triglycerides), but bigger studies are needed to better understand the safety and efficacy of using D.E. for this purpose.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth may be considered safe to consume, but you should be careful not to inhale it. Inhaling crystalline silica concentrated in D.E. can irritate and damage the lungs. Silica is said to have the potential to inflame and scar lung tissue, a condition called silicosis.

Should I Take It? 

Marketing for diatomaceous earth supplements makes incredible health claims. However, all supplements are unregulated by the FDA. This means there is no guarantee of safety, effectiveness, potency, or purity of any supplement, including D.E.

Because of the lack of evidence-based nutrition research, Hultin recommends not taking D.E. supplements at this time. There is evidence that people exposed to high crystalline silica have an increased risk of lung cancer and lung disease. This generally occurs in workers with occupational exposure to it. This is a different form of D.E. than what would be found in a supplement, but everyone should still use care when handling silica products.

Instead, Hultin suggests eating foods that are high in silica as safe and a great option if you're trying to get more in your diet.

What Are the Benefits and Risks of Taking Dietary Supplements?

Foods High in Silica

Rather than taking a diatomaceous earth supplement, you may want to consider consuming foods high in silica, which there are plenty. It's recommended to increase the silica in your diet by simply adding the following foods:

  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Wheat
  • Beer and wine (in moderation)
  • Green beans
  • Bananas and dried fruit
  • Some beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Mineral and spring water
  • Tea and coffee
  • Dairy and meat products

A Word From Verywell

Food grade diatomaceous earth appears to provide health benefits, but there is just not enough research to support the claims. It may be good for industrial uses like farming, and you may even be getting a dose through certain foods and skin products. However, nutrition experts recommend increasing silica in your diet as a better alternative than taking a D.E. supplement.

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