The Health Benefits of Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth

May support nail and hair health

Diatomaceous Earth in an earthenware bowl against a wooden background

Spitfire1973 / Getty Images

Diatomaceous earth (D.E.) is a naturally occurring soft, sedimentary rock made from the fossilized remains of microscopic aquatic creatures called diatoms, which are a group of algae.

The skeletons of these unicellular organisms are made of silica and have accumulated in the sediment of rivers, streams, freshwater lakes, and oceans all over the world for hundreds of thousands to millions of years. These silica-containing deposits are mined for both industrial and food-grade use.

What Is Silica?

Diatomaceous earth is a concentrated source of silica. Also known as silicon dioxide, silica is commonly found in nature in quartz, clay, sand, and living organisms. Silica is highly sought after for industrial and commercial use, as well as its possible health benefits.

If the idea of consuming silica sand for health seems hard to swallow, keep in mind there are distinct differences between filter-grade and food-grade diatomaceous earth. Filter-grade D.E. contains toxic amounts of silica harmful to mammals and is primarily for industrial use. It can be especially dangerous to humans when inhaled.

Food-grade D.E., however, is purified and is generally recognized as safe for both humans and animals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additionally, food-grade D.E. may have some health benefits for humans such as lowered bad (LDL) cholesterol, relief from constipation, and improved nail and hair health, but there is insufficient scientific research to support these claims.

Talk to your doctor before taking D.E. supplements to help treat a health condition since most claims about the product have not yet been validated in clinical settings.

Health Benefits

Marketing for diatomaceous earth supplements makes some pretty substantial health claims. However, health claims for dietary supplements are unregulated by the FDA, which 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, it's not recommended to take D.E. supplements at this time. But there are other ways to boost your intake of silica by consuming certain foods and beverages containing this mineral.

Silica is a mineral that's essential to the formation of collagen in your body, but rather than taking a D.E. supplement, nutrition experts recommend choosing foods that are high in silica such as:

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

Health Claims

There are a number of anecdotal claims that food-grade diatomaceous earth provides health benefits. But the biggest concern about these claims, according to Ginger Hultin MS RDN CSO, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the lack of insufficient and reliable evidence regarding the safety of using this product. Here's a closer look at some of the health claims.

Body Detoxification

Proponents say that D.E. can remove toxins and heavy metals from the intestinal tract to "detox" the body. Filter-grade D.E. is an industrial-grade filter that removes heavy metals from water, but this "cleansing" effect has not been proven in humans with food-grade D.E. In general, most health experts do not endorse products with health claims promoting detoxification and cleansing.

Improved Digestion

The "detoxifying" properties of D.E. claim to clear out the colon, which proponents say will improve digestive function and promote regularity by increasing the frequency of bowel movements.

Bone Health

Silica is found in trace amounts in connective tissues throughout the human body, so some people believe it helps with the healthy aging of the bones and joints. Because D.E. is made almost entirely of silica, which is essential for cartilage formation, some claim that the product helps to strengthen bones and joints as well. Emerging research on silicon and bone health is promising but remains unclear.

Improved Hair, Skin, and Nails

Proponents claim that silica can also improve the skin, hair, and nails. Silicon dioxide is also found in many hair products. Some people have said that D.E. supplements can produce fuller, thicker, healthier hair within a few weeks of regular use. Similarly, it is said that silica helps with collagen production to improve skin texture and appearance and may also strengthen nails.

Increased Energy

Anecdotal claims report that taking D.E. supplements during the day can increase your energy levels, but again, there is no evidence to support this.

Reduced Inflammation

Proponents have said that D.E. supplementation can help fight inflammation in the body. While there is no evidence to back this claim, some research has actually shown the inverse. A 2015 follow-up study of diatomaceous earth workers who inhaled excessive amounts of silica showed increased inflammation and instances of lung disease.

Weight Loss

Research on diatomaceous earth for weight loss is unclear at this time. There have been some studies about taking it to help lower cholesterol (LDL and triglycerides), but larger, more rigorous studies are still needed to better understand the safety and efficacy of using D.E. for this purpose.

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

Possible Side Effects

Currently, there isn't enough information to thoroughly evaluate the potential side effects of food-grade diatomaceous earth. To that end, women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid using D.E. since reliable evidence is lacking. Though food-grade D.E. is considered safe to consume by the FDA, you should still be careful not to inhale too much of 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. For instance, there is evidence that people exposed to high crystalline silica have an increased risk of lung disease—though this generally occurs in workers with occupational exposure to it.

Therefore, those with respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should always consult with their health care provider before using D.E. in their home or taking it as a dietary supplement.

Additionally, some anecdotal reports have described a "die-off" process (known as a Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction) during the early stages of the detox process while using diatomaceous earth. This can generate unpleasant flulike symptoms as toxins and other bacteria are "cleansed" from the body and essentially die off. While these symptoms can be unpleasant, they should resolve within a few days. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence linking D.E. to a die-off process in humans.

If you're experiencing flu-like symptoms from diatomaceous earth that last for more than three days you should stop taking the product and seek medical attention right away.

Dosage and Preparation

If you decide to try diatomaceous earth, you can use it both orally and topically for health purposes, according to Hultin. You can brush your teeth with it or use it to exfoliate your skin. Use caution, however, since the product could cause irritation due to the sharp microscopic particles of ground-up diatoms in the powder.

Diatomaceous earth is taken orally by mixing the powder with water and drinking the liquid. It must be taken right away because the powder doesn’t actually dissolve in water. Anecdotal reports suggest starting with a teaspoon of diatomaceous earth and gradually working up to a full tablespoon, but reliable advice backed by nutrition experts to support this dosage is lacking.

What to Look For

Like all vitamin supplements in the United States, diatomaceous earth is largely unregulated by the FDA. This means that it's not subjected to the same rigorous testing and research as pharmaceutical drugs. This is also why the quality of dietary supplements can vary from one brand to the next.

If you decide to use D.E. as a dietary supplement, you'll want to make sure you purchase the food-grade product only. Filter-grade D.E. is not safe for consumption and is highly dangerous if inhaled.

Other Uses

Food grade diatomaceous earth is often used as an insecticide. The sharp microscopic particles of the ground-up diatom fossils can destroy the protective shells of many pests including bedbugs, cockroaches, fleas, ticks, and spiders.

Many common products also contain diatomaceous earth in the form of dust, powders, and pressurized liquids. These uses include anything from water filtration to food manufacturing to skin products and farming. In fact, you have probably used D.E. without even realizing it. For instance, D.E. has an essential role in wine filtration.

Filter-grade diatomaceous earth is more toxic than what would be found in a dietary supplement, but everyone should still use caution when handling any product containing silica.

A Word From Verywell

Food grade diatomaceous earth may provide some health benefits according to anecdotal reports. But there is just not enough scientific research to support the claims to determine the efficacy and safety of this product. It may be useful for industrial purposes like farming, and you may even be getting a dose through certain foods and skin products. However, nutrition experts still recommend increasing silica in your diet with foods as a better alternative to taking a D.E. supplement. If you have a health condition and are curious whether diatomaceous earth could help treat it, be sure to consult with your doctor first.

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6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Gallagher LG, Park RM, Checkoway H. Extended follow-up of lung cancer and non-malignant respiratory disease mortality among California diatomaceous earth workersOccup Environ Med. 2015;72(5):360-365. doi:10.1136/oemed-2014-102412

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