Among the odder things that I’ve heard recently, a patient told me he had been eating diatomaceous earth and it had killed several parasites in his guts When I asked who had told him to eat diatomaceous earth, it was something he’d heard from one of his friends. I wondered privately if his friend had just told him to go eat dirt in a clever way and he hadn’t gotten the joke.
Suddenly, I see diatomaceous earth, “food grade” no less, advertised all over the internet. For twenty dollars you can get ten pounds of diatom skeletons. These tiny beasties left behind their calcified, hollow shells, and presumably this will help people.
When I started looking into this the studies were pretty alarming. You really don’t want to be exposed to diatomaceous earth as a miner. Breathing it does bad things to your lungs. Think asbestos level nastiness.
But it is included in animal feed and doesn’t seem to do the animals much harm. It also doesn’t seem to be that effective at removing their parasites, at least if you believe the Wikipedia cited studies.
So, let’s ask the obvious question: is it good for people? We have no idea. No studies have been done on whether or not it helps people or kills them off.
Lacking human studies we can turn to animal studies. Eating it didn’t seem to kill off steers. But those animals aren’t expected to live that long. What happens over a lifetime of crunching on microscopic diatom bones?
I do have an answer, but it won’t please either side. If rats are any indication of what may happen to humans, then diatomaceous earth won’t hurt you if you eat it. Before anyone goes out and buys a twenty-pounder for lunch, you might want to read on.
When they did the study on diatomaceous earth and rats, they also included another small, abrasive compound that might scrape out a parasite. That compound is a natural occurring silicate and was all the rage in the last century because of its versatility. Only in this century have we come to understand that a sound deadening, fire-retardant compound can also be deadly. Yes, asbestos was the comparison compound they used. And you know what? Eating asbestos didn’t kill the rats either.
Now, is eating asbestos good for you? Well, it didn’t kill rats, but that’s not really a health claim to hang your hat on. I’ll put the abstract below so that you can read the best information we have on eating diatomaceous earth.
Arch Environ Health. 1981 Nov-Dec;36(6):298-303.
Biological effects of ingested amosite asbestos, taconite tailings, diatomaceous earth and Lake Superior water in rats.
Hilding AC, Hilding DA, Larson DM, Aufderheide AC.
Because amphibole fibers were found in Lake Superior and in Duluth municipal water, this study was initiated to evaluate the carcinogenicity of ingested asbestos. Groups of 22-30 Sprague-Dawley rats were fed asbestos and related materials during their lifetime and were examined at autopsy after spontaneous death. Test materials were unfiltered Duluth city tap water, municipal water reservoir sediment suspension, taconite plant tailings, amosite asbestos (a “low-dose” group at 20 mg/rat . day an a high-dose group at 300 mg/rat . day) and diatomaceous earth; a control group drank fiber-free well water or filtered city tap water. Autopsy studies revealed no significant increase in the incidence of malignant tumors in any experimental group compared with that in the control group.
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