Tell your kids it’s “skeleton powder.” Or that it slashes and dehydrates bugs to death! If you have boys especially, they may look at your natural pantry with a whole new respect!
You won’t be lying … Diatomaceous Earth (or DE for short) is all that and more! Here are all the (not so gory) details on this natural remedy wonder for anyone with pets or a family.
What Is Diatomaceous Earth, Anyway?
DE is, as mentioned, a white powder naturally occurring from the fossils of diatoms (a type of algae found in river bed and lake beds). The diatoms form a very hard shell of silica in a tubular shape.
When dry, Diatomaceous Earth appears very fine and soft to the naked eye but microscopically it has some very unique qualities:
- High Silica Content: These fossilized diatoms have a very high silica content (which is used to build hair, skin, and nails).
- Hard as Nails … or Diamonds: DE is very hard (only two points lower than diamonds on the hardness scale). It looks like a tiny cylindrical tube with many holes in it when viewed through a microscope.
- Holds a Strong Negative Charge: DE has a very strong negative charge, which makes it purifying and beneficial in several ways.
Since the 1960s DE has been commonly used in things like toothpaste, as an anti-caking aid, for clarifying beer or wine, and to eliminate pests naturally. In fact, you’ve likely consumed products that contain traces of DE without even knowing it! While I’m usually not a fan of hidden ingredients, DE is one we don’t need to worry about.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of controversy … not all of it warranted.
How Do I Know DE Is Safe?
In this article, I’m referencing Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth, which the FDA classifies “Generally Recognized As Safe” for human consumption, even when pregnant or nursing. It is NOT the industrial grade type used in pool cleaning. Much of the misunderstanding about the benefits of DE stems from the difference in these two types. The industrial grade is toxic to humans and should be avoided. It is also toxic to workers who collect it.
Food-grade Diatomaceous Earth is purified and amorphous, not crystalline. It is inert and harmless (as long as you’re not an insect with an exoskeleton).
What Does Diatomaceous Earth Do for the Body?
For the human body … and even for animals … DE is an ally. Thanks to its strong negative charge diatomaceous earth binds to unwanted toxins in the digestive tract. On the skin, it acts as an oil binder, a purifier, and an exfoliant.
For unwanted bugs and insects, it’s quite another story.
Does DE Kill Insects?
In a word, yes! Many use Diatomaceous Earth as a natural pesticide. Its sharp and strong structure allows it to puncture and drain the exoskeleton of insects from their protective fats and oils on a microscopic level. This causes them to dehydrate and die (while humans and animals are left completely unharmed).
10 Ways to Use Diatomaceous Earth
Some sources claim that DE is a cure-all for everything from parasites to viruses and everything in between. They claim it eliminates free radicals, remineralizes bones, and halts aging in its tracks.
I haven’t found any research to back up these claims, but there are studies on silica and other compounds found in DE. These are the benefits that seem credible based on the available body of evidence:
1. As a Natural Alternative to Pesticides
Most pesticides and insecticides work by poisoning the pest. Unfortunately, chemicals that are harmful to small pests can also be harmful to humans and carry risks. Insects can also develop immunity over time.
DE works mechanically on:
Just sprinkling a little DE around the house bonds to and absorbs parts of the waxy coating on the exoskeleton of these insects, causing them to dehydrate and die. Sprinkle a perimeter around the exterior of the house and also indoors where problems are observed.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act classifies DE as safe for household use. The Environmental Working Group classifies it as safe for household and beauty use as well.
2. To Treat Fleas on Pets
I will be forever grateful for DE and its help when we had a horrible flea infestation. We adopted a rescue kitten and she brought along a few thousand close friends … FLEAS.
The fleas quickly infested the entire apartment we were living in at the time and with a new baby and toddlers, it was a HUGE problem. I didn’t want to use any type of harmful pesticide either since my kids were crawling around on the floor.
To stop the flea outbreak, we sprinkled DE all over our carpet and soft surfaces several times a day. The only potential concern with DE is irritation from inhalation, so I wore a dust mask when sprinkling it around the whole house. I worked the powder into the carpets and let it sit for about an hour. Then, I vacuumed it up. I repeated this a few times a day for 4 days until the fleas were gone. (Yes, this is a messy process!)
We also killed the fleas on the kitten by carefully dusting her with DE a few times a day, avoiding the eyes and nose.
We now dust all of our animals with DE before and after going hiking with them in the woods, or if they show any signs of fleas.
3. Fighting Bed Bugs
Were you hoping bed bugs weren’t real? Well, sorry … they definitely are and don’t discriminate against even very clean homes!
DE is well documented for its ability to eliminate bedbugs. Even pest control companies sometimes use DE for removing bed bugs safely. Follow these steps if you see or fear bedbugs. For good measure, I sprinkle DE on mattresses each time I change the sheets to help ward off bed bugs and other pests.
4. As a Source of Silica
DE is 84-90% silica with over 20 trace minerals that are difficult to obtain in today’s world and needed by skin, teeth, and hair. A study from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Pharmacy showed that silica may help increase hair growth and thickness when taken regularly. The skin also uses silica and deficiency may lead to dry or brittle skin.
Studies show that dietary silicon is beneficial to bone and connective tissue, though the specific form in DE is not well studied. Evidence shows a positive association between dietary silicon intake and better bone mineral density, though the exact reason is unclear. One theory is that silicon helps the body synthesize collagen (which the body uses in joints, connective tissue, bones, and skin).
More research on the direct effects of DE on silica levels is needed, but silica itself is indisputably good for hair, skin, and nails.
5. To Assist in Detoxifiction
This is where claims start to get murky. On the one hand, there are thousands of products that claim to remove “toxins,” without clearly defining what “toxins” are. Since “toxins” is a term that could apply to a wide range of substances, these claims are difficult or impossible to measure.
On the other hand, there is evidence that diatomaceous earth may have a measurable affect on several substances that harm the body, including reducing aluminum and other heavy metals.
DE’s high silica concentration may also contribute to the detoxification claims. Some evidence suggests that silica may help fight free radical damage in a similar way to antioxidants. This may be due to its ability to remain stable and carry a negative electrical charge, attracting positively charged free radicals. Though largely unproven by actual research, this mechanism is likely the basis of the claims that it reduces oxidative damage and has anti-aging effects.
6. To Fight Parasites and Bacterial Overgrowth
When my husband was battling SIBO his practitioner had him drink DE daily to help bring his gut bacteria back into balance. There isn’t much research on DE’s ability to remove parasites in humans, but it is well documented in animal studies.
In one commonly cited study The Oxford Journal of Poultry Science examined DE’s role in reducing parasites and improving egg quality in organic and free-range chickens. The study essentially concluded that hens fed DE had better eggs and fewer parasites relative to controls.
If you happen to be a chicken struggling with a mite problem, DE is a great remedy. The method in humans is less clear, but many people have used DE internally to fight other types of intestinal parasites. Anecdotal reports abound of DE’s benefits in human parasites as well, but more research is needed.
7. As a Way to Reduce Cholesterol
Amazingly, the most well-researched benefit of DE for humans is not often mentioned. In fact, the only study I found that looked at DE as a dietary supplement dates from 1998 and examined its role in improving cholesterol levels. The results are fascinating:
- Participants all had a history of high cholesterol
- They took diatomaceous earth multiple times a day for 8 weeks
- At the end of the study, the subjects total cholesterol had got down by 13.2%
- LDL (“bad”) cholesterol decreased the most
- HDL (“good”) cholesterol increased slightly
The researchers concluded that while the results were promising, further studies are needed with larger groups and a control group. Anecdotal reports abound of people who used DE to help with cholesterol levels. A family member saw a 30 point reduction in blood pressure numbers from using DE.
8. In Sensitive Skin Deodorant
I’ve been making my own natural deodorant for years now (using this recipe) and love it. Some people react to the baking soda in the recipe, likely because it is so alkaline and may irritate certain skin types. This recipe is a great sensitive skin alternative using diatomaceous earth in place of the baking soda.
9. To Fight Foot Fungus
DE is naturally drying and may reduce moisture. I couldn’t find any studies to back it up, but a friend claimed that sprinkling it in her socks daily helped her beat a decade-long battle with toenail fungus.
10. Mixed in Beauty Products
A bonus use for DE!
I personally love using diatomaceous earth on my skin in beauty products. My skin tends to be naturally oily, so I often add a little bit of DE to homemade facial cleansers and face masks to remove some excess oil. Bonus: It makes a nice natural exfoliant!
Cautions and Risks
It is VERY IMPORTANT to only use food-grade diatomaceous earth for consumption. Other forms of DE are not considered safe and can be harmful to the lungs if inhaled. Many of the misconceptions about diatomaceous earth comes from confusing these types. Food grade DE is recognized as safe by both the FDA and the EWG. Industrial grade has many uses but is not safe for human use or to inhale!
Avoid Inhaling INDUSTRIAL Diatomaceous Earth
Studies have shown that long term exposure to industrial DE can be dangerous. While it isn’t a good idea to inhale any form of powder, the same level of caution isn’t necessary with food grade DE, as this National Pesticide Information Center fact sheet explains.
Diatomaceous “Detox” Reactions
DE may cause die-off symptoms, so it is important to work up slowly. Some people don’t respond well to DE, and I always suggest working with a knowledgeable health professional for any kind of acute problem or when doing any kind of detox.
How to Take DE
At our house, adults take 1 tablespoon per day on an empty stomach (we worked up to this from a teaspoon over a period of weeks) and kids take a teaspoon per day (they started with 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon).
Where to Buy Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (& How It Tastes)
We use this brand since I was able to verify that it is food grade, though many local co-ops and feed stores carry food grade DE as well. It has a chalky/silky consistency and tastes like a very mild mixture of dirt and chalk, but we are able to just mix in water to take it daily. It can also be mixed into juice or coconut milk.
I am not a doctor and I don’t play one on the internet. Diatomaceous Earth has been recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, but it is not intended to treat, prevent, cure or diagnose any disease, so use at your on risk.
Have you ever use Diatomaceous Earth? What did you use it for? How did it work? Share below!