Diatomaceous earth is a substance that has many applications in agriculture and industry. However, questions are often raised pertaining to the safety of diatomaceous earth, especially its effects on the human respiratory system. Although there are hazards associated with inhalation, there may be potential benefits to ingestion of certain varieties of diatomaceous earth.
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Diatomaceous earth is a powder formed from the ground-up fossils of diatoms, a type of microscopic algae. Diatomaceous earth, also called DE, contains a mixture of metallic and non-metallic elements, including silicon, calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron, titanium, boron, manganese, copper and zirconium. All of these elements are naturally occurring and non-synthetic due to the fact that they come from the bodies of organisms that were fossilised thousands of years ago.
Diatomaceous earth comes in several varieties. Natural DE is used for pest control, as the sedimentary particles contain microscopic sharp edges that are harmful to many insects. Food-grade DE is fed to zoo and agricultural animals to kill parasites in their digestive systems and to improve their overall health and appearance. Pool-grade DE is chemically treated and used as a filtering system for swimming pools; the fine powder allows for water flow but traps larger particles.
All types of diatomaceous earth are, to varying degrees, unsafe for human inhalation. Natural and food-grade DE can cause irritation of the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth; therefore, a respiratory mask should be worn when administering DE. Pool-grade DE is a respiratory hazard due to its crystalline silica content. This high concentration of crystalline silica is due to the partial melting of the DE; this melting and processing result in a substance that is carcinogenic and should not be inhaled or ingested.
As diatomaceous earth can be an irritant in any form, the use of protective breathing and eye equipment can prevent aggravation or injury to mucous membranes. For all job-related hazards, a respirator approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (a division of the Centers for Disease Control) is a safe choice. Any eyewear that seals against the skin and prevents particulate entry will protect your eyes from DE powder.
Scientists at the University of Innsbruck conducted a study and found that ingesting 250 mg of diatomaceous earth three times daily reduced cholesterol levels in healthy humans. Both low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) and triglycerides decreased in the bloodstream. The levels of these cholesterols remained low four weeks after consumption of DE had ceased. Additionally, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels increased a significant amount four weeks after cessation of DE ingestion. However, the study was very small (only 19 individuals) and did not contain a comparative placebo group; the scientists acknowledge that further research is necessary.
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