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8 Common Myths about Diatomaceous Earth

Updated on April 18, 2016

I’ve talked to a lot of people about diatomaceous earth (DE), and I’ve found that there is a surprising number of misconceptions about what it is and what it does. Although many people have seen incredible benefits from using DE, it’s still widely unknown by the general population and largely untested by the medical community, which leaves room for confusion and misunderstanding. So I want to set the record straight and dispel a few of the most common myths about DE.

Pool grade diatomaceous earth is only good for pool filtration.
Pool grade diatomaceous earth is only good for pool filtration. | Source

Myth #1 Diatomaceous Earth Is Poisonous

There is one thing to blame for this myth: pool grade DE. Used in pool filters, pool grade DE can be very harmful if inhaled or ingested, which has given rise to the belief that food grade DE is bad for you. Pool grade DE has been heated to extremely high temperatures that crystalize the DE, making it harder and sharper than food grade. This makes pool grade DE very toxic to your health if it is misused.

Food grade DE, on the other hand, is essentially DE in its natural, organic form and is safe to use for many things. Food grade DE can be ingested safely by people and animals and can be used for many things around the home.

Myth #2 Diatomaceous Earth Causes Cancer

Most likely, this myth also arose from pool grade DE. Pool grade DE, when inhaled, is carcinogenic, meaning that it has been known to cause cancer. This is only true of pool grade DE. As long as you are using food grade DE, you don’t have to worry. Food grade DE can irritate your lungs if you inhale too much of it, but it won’t damage your lungs unless you inhale extremely high amounts over a long period of time.

Myth #3 Diatomaceous Earth Cures Cancer

We know that food grade DE does not cause cancer, but can it cure cancer? There are people who claim it can. While this is not necessarily false, no substantive studies show that DE is a cancer fighter. As more studies are performed, there is a chance that new discoveries will show that DE cures cancer, but to definitively say it does so at this point is premature. Be wary of any DE company that says its DE is a wonder drug that fights cancer. Such claims are unsupported. DE can, however, according to the testimonials of many DE users, improve overall health, which may in turn boost the body's ability to fight disease.

Myth #4 Because Diatomaceous Earth Kills Bugs, It Can’t Be Good for Me

DE is a natural pesticide, which has many people worried about ingesting it. Their logic makes sense. Ingesting mainstream pesticides could make you very sick, so why would DE be any different? The key here is that DE doesn’t kill bugs for the same reasons as other pesticides. DE is naturally chemical free. It kills bugs because of its coarse, porous, and absorbent physical structure. When insects crawl over a surface that is covered with DE, the DE sticks to them and absorbs valuable moisture from their exoskeletons. Over the course of a few hours or a few days, insects die from dehydration. Since we don’t have exoskeletons, DE doesn’t have the same effect on us or our pets. Taking DE internally can cause dehydration and constipation, but this is easily remedied by drinking more water.

With that said, be sure you only ingest food grade DE. Some companies add chemical pesticides to their DE to make it kill bugs faster. Do not use this type of DE in your home. To kill pests in your home, you want pest control DE that is as pure as food grade.

Myth #5 Diatomaceous Earth Is Made from Fossils of Ancient Marine Animals

There’s a grain or two of truth to this, but it still misses the mark. First, DE is made out of fossilized diatoms, which are a kind of microscopic algae. So DE is actually the remains of aquatic plants, not animals. Second, while diatoms can be found in oceans, food grade DE is harvested from freshwater lake beds.

Food grade diatomaceous earth is made of microscopic freshwater algae called diatoms.
Food grade diatomaceous earth is made of microscopic freshwater algae called diatoms.

Myth #6 Diatomaceous Earth Will Cut Your Insides

Some people make it sound like ingesting DE is like swallowing razor blades, which is of course not the case. It’s true that DE is very hard, coarse, and even sharp, but it’s not going to shred your insides. Yes, it’s sharp, but it’s also microscopic—far too small to cut you. DE’s coarseness, however, is mildly abrasive. This is partly why DE is such a good internal cleanser. As it moves through your body, it gives your insides a gentle scrub, helping to remove whatever toxins might be clinging to your digestive system.

Myth #7 Diatomaceous Earth Kills Bad Bacteria but Not Good Bacteria

For some reason, this idea is widely held as true in the online DE community, yet there is no research to back it up. It stems from the belief that diatomaceous earth has a negative electrical charge and harmful bacteria have a positive electrical charge. They attract each other, which allows DE to pass out of the body with bad bacteria in tow. This, according to what people say, only works on bad bacteria. Good bacteria have a negative charge, like DE, which means DE and good bacteria will not attract each other.

Try as I might, I can’t find a thing about how this conclusion was reached. I have seen some information that says metal atoms have a positive electrical charge and non-metal atoms have a negative charge, and if that's the case, then DE would have a negative charge—but so would everything else I put in my mouth.

The truth is, we really don’t know how DE affects bacteria. But whether or not DE can kill bad bacteria while leaving good bacteria alone, the benefits of DE are remarkable. People are sharing testimonials by the thousands about how their health has improved since they began taking DE. But these benefits more likely come from the abrasive, absorbent quality of DE, along with its trace minerals and high silica content.

Myth #8 You Can’t Let Your Diatomaceous Earth Touch Metal

Many people are afraid to let their diatomaceous earth touch metal because they fear it will throw off the negative electrical charge that makes diatomaceous earth effective. As I have already shown, there is no evidence that DE has an electrical charge any different from any other substance you might ingest. But there is evidence to show that touching metal does not affect DE. Take how DE is manufactured, for example. It is mined from diatom deposits in dry lake beds using mining equipment like front loaders and dump trucks. Then it’s ground to fine powder. DE has contact with metal in both instances because it is mined and processed with metal machinery. Even if some of it escapes coming in contact with the metal mining equipment, you can be sure every grain of it is exposed to metal in the grinder. So, if metal renders DE ineffective, then the DE we buy online and in stores wouldn’t work. Yet, according to thousands of testimonials, it works, and it works well.

Metal does not change the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth.
Metal does not change the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth.

Although the following video focuses mostly on DE as a filtration aid—only one of the many uses for DE—it illustrates just how much metal DE comes in contact with during its production.

Conclusion

Diatomaceous earth is a wonderful product with many wonderful uses, but it is also widely unknown and misunderstood. This is not a comprehensive list of all the misconceptions about DE, but these are some of the myths I’ve run into the most. Hopefully this helps to you understand a little better what DE is and what it is not. If you feel that any of the information I have presented is inaccurate, please let me know in the comments, and I will update this article accordingly.

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      sean d cohen 7 weeks ago

      Excellent info! thanks so much. Somebody was making me second guess DE, and now I know I was right to begin with. Back to my daily dose!