What is diatomaceous earth and will it make your hair or nails stronger? Nutrition Diva explains.
Q. "I recently learned about diatomaceous earth (DE) while looking for chemical-free pest control solutions. I then learned that some people actually consume DE as well, and say it does great things to their skin, nails and hair. I'm a bit skeptical. Can you shed some light into what DE does, and if it actually has benefits?"
A. Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occuring substance, a sort of rock dust that is very high in the mineral silica. Organic gardeners love the stuff because it helps control certain types of crop-damaging insects. It can also be used indoors as a non-toxic pest control.
Purified (food-grade) DE is also available as a dietary supplement. But, as I recently said about another dietary supplement, just because someone puts it in a bottle doesn't mean we need it! And I think you're right to be skeptical about the "great things" attributed to DE.
Any benefits from taking diatomaceous earth would presumably be due to the silicon it contains. We're still a little fuzzy on how much silicon humans need to be healthy. Recommended intakes range from 5 to 35 mg day. We get silicon from foods, particularly grains, root vegetables, water, and coffee, with typical intake estimated to be anywhere from 14 to 62 mg per day.
Most of the silicon we take in is excreted in urine within a few hours. The remainder tends to concentrate in the bones, skin, and other connective tissue - where it helps with bone and collagen formation. If your diet were deficient in silicon, it could potentially have a negative effect on bones, joints, or skin. However, silicon deficiency is not known to be a problem in humans.
Diatomaceous earth is essentially just a concentrated dose of silica - and evidence that this will improve the health or appearance of hair, skin, or nails is entirely anecdotal. Just because a nutrient is found in skin, hair, or bones doesn't mean that large doses of it will improve the health of your skin, hair, or bones. Meanwhile, large doses of silica can cause kidney stones and may also decrease the activity of important antioxidant enzymes in the body.
Personally, I think I'll save it for the garden.