What if I told you there is a fossilized powder of phytoplankton that it is useful for removing household pests like fleas and bed bugs, and on top of that, it has a handful of beauty uses and digestive benefits.
What is that remedy you ask? Diatomaceous Earth!
I always keep diatomaceous earth readily available in our home as we use it often. Unfortunately, it has gotten a bad rap lately, largely due to a misunderstanding about the two types of diatomaceous earth and their major differences.
Today, I’m clearing up the confusion and sharing the many ways I’ve used this natural remedy over the years.
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous Earth (or DE for short) is a fine powder formed from the fossilized remains of diatoms (a type of hard shelled algae).
It is unique in a couple of ways:
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: It is very hard (only two points lower than diamonds on the hardness scale). It looks like a tiny tube with holes in it when viewed through a microscope.
Always so negative: DE has a very strong negative charge, which makes it beneficial in several ways.
The FDA classifies Diatomaceous Earth (food grade) as “Generally Recognized As Safe.” DE is 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!
Unique Properties of DE
The strong negative charge of diatomaceous earth means that it naturally attaches to and removes positively charged substances. It’s sharp/strong structure allows it to puncture the exoskeleton of insects on a microscopic level. This causes them to dehydrate and die (while humans and animals are left completely unharmed).
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is recognized as safe for human and animal use, and food grade DE is considered safe for human consumption, even during pregnancy and nursing.
In this article, I’m referencing Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth and 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.
Benefits of Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth’s has a unique structure that makes it beneficial in several important ways. DE has not been extensively studied, but is generally regarded as safe when used moderately and correctly. There are studies on silica and other compounds found in DE.
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 I have seen many other benefits first hand:
1. Natural Way to Stop Household Pests
DE is a great natural way to kill insects and pests (including intestinal parasites) gently and effectively. It acts mechanically, not chemically. This means that unlike pesticides, insects can’t develop a resistance to it and that it works on almost all pests.
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.
How it Works:
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. DE works mechanically, meaning that it bonds to and absorbs parts of the waxy coating on the exoskeleton of insects, causing them to dehydrate and die. It is incredibly tiny but sharp, and it can scratch the exoskeleton of small insects and pests while leaving human tissue unharmed.
I use DE in our home to stop infestations from fleas, bed bugs, cockroaches and ants.
2. Stops Fleas Quickly
I will be forever grateful for its help several years ago 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, 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. Fights Bed Bugs
DE is well documented for its ability to eliminate bed bugs. Even pest control companies sometimes use DE for removing bed bugs safely:
Both silica gel and diatomaceous earth kill insects by removing a portion of the razor-thin, waxy outer coating that helps them conserve moisture. As a result, they desiccate and die from dehydration. Like super-fine sandpaper, DE acts principally by abrading the protective outer layer of wax as the insect crawls over or through the particles.(source)
I sprinkle DE on mattresses each time I change the sheets to help ward off bed bugs and other pests.
4. Source of Silica
DE’s high silica content makes it helpful for hair, skin and nail growth. DE is 84-90% silica with over 20 trace minerals that are difficult to obtain in today’s world. This 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).
Silica is less well known for its ability to counteract heavy metals, but emerging research shows promise. One study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that silica may help remove heavy metals from the body. The study particularly looked at its high-aluminum-affinity and found that it may reduce aluminum absorption in humans. (source)
We need more research on the direct effects of DE on silica levels, but its rich concentration of silica may make it an inexpensive way to increase silica levels.
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.
I already mentioned its potential ability to reduce aluminum availability. This alone is a benefit to the body.
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. Fights Parasites and Bacterial Overgrowth
When my husband was battling SIBO (more on that soon), 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.
The most commonly cited study is form the Oxford Journal of Poultry Science. It examined DE’s role in reducing parasites and improving egg quality in organic and free-range chickens. The study essentially concluded that:
Hens fed the diet containing DE were significantly heavier, laid more eggs, and consumed more feed than hens fed the control diet, but feed efficiency did not differ between the 2 dietary treatments. Additionally, BB hens consuming the DE diet laid larger eggs containing more albumen and yolk than hens consuming the control diet. In a subsequent experiment, the effectiveness of DE to treat a Northern fowl mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) infestation was tested. Relative to controls, both breeds of hens that were dusted with DE had reduced number of mites. The results of this study indicate the DE has the potential to be an effective treatment to help control parasites and improve production of organically raised, free-range layer hens. (source)
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. Cholesterol Help
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 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. 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.
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. On Skin
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.
Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade vs. Industrial
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 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 explains:
After inhalation of amorphous diatomaceous earth, it is rapidly eliminated from lung tissue. However, crystalline diatomaceous earth is much smaller, and it may accumulate in lung tissue and lymph nodes. Very low levels of crystalline diatomaceous earth may be found in pesticide products.
“I received an email from Larry Smith, the President of Earthworks, who wanted to clear up the misconception about any dangers of inhaling food grade diatomaceous earth – here’s what he wrote: ‘This is a misunderstanding about food grade DE. There are 2 kinds of DE—food grade and filter grade (used in swimming pool and other filters) Only the filter grade is dangerous to breathe. The “dangerous” part of DE is the amount of crystalline silica that is in it. Filter grade is 65% crystalline silica while food grade is less than 1/10 of 1%! The world health org. has said that diatomaceous earth is safe to breathe as long as the crystalline content is under 2%. Food grade is 20X lower than even that level!!’
So no need to be concerned about any danger associated with using DE for pets, bedding, consumption or anything else – as long as it’s FOOD GRADE! “ (source)
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.
At our house, adults take 1 tablespoon per day on an empty stomach (we worked up to this from a teaspoon) and kids take a teaspoon per day (they started with 1/4 – 1/2 tsp).
How to Find Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
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 in to 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.