Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth

Dual Role as Health Food and Aid in Parasite Control

by Heather Smith Thomas of Salmon, ID

Diatomaceous earth is being used by a growing number of horse owners for a variety of purposes, including parasite control and as an organic calcium source. Jim Zamzow, a feed manufacturer in Boise, Idaho, says “this is a product I’ve worked with for more than 30 years. I was introduced to it by an old man – a veteran of World War I – who owned a little mining claim near Nyssa, Oregon. He was taking this white powder, mixed in milk. He said he used to have cataracts and glaucoma, and when he started taking this powder it cured his eye problems.”

Zamzow says he has always been interested in mineral deposits of all kinds, “so I took an active interest in that particular one. There have been so many claims made for it over the years; that I started studying it to see what was true and what was not. Then I ran across another fellow that owns several mines; he controls most of the diatomaceous earth products that are used for filtration. Its main use is as a carrier for the active ingredients in aspirin and that sort of thing. Any time you see aluminum silicate listed as an inert ingredient, that’s a form of diatomaceous earth.”

There are many types of deposits, both fresh water and salt. “One old fellow said that it won’t work as a dewormer unless it is a fresh water deposit, but that’s debatable,” says Zamzow. “In fact, it’s debatable whether it actually works as a wormer or insecticide at all. We tried to get some diatomaceous earth registered as a pesticide in the state of Idaho, but they wouldn’t allow us to register it. Then later some other folks got some kind of a clearance for it.”

WORM CONTROL – Zamzow says that in the organic feed industry it has been used as a feed additive, “but many people also feed it as a dewormer. It does seem to have a beneficial effect. It also helps keep insects off plants. Some folks theorize that it works for this because the microscopic crystals are so sharp that when an insect crawls across it, it cuts their outer shell and allows them to dehydrate. But quite honestly, I’m not sure about this. I’ve poured big patches of it on the ground and let insects walk through it, and it doesn’t seem to bother them too much. But long-term, it does seem to help.”

He has a different theory about how insects and diseases affect plants and animals, feeling that “the insects (and worms) tend to more readily attack plants and animals that are unhealthy. If you have a horse that’s not doing very well and is unthrifty, the worms tend to build up more.” The immune system is not as strong to ward them off.

“Insects, worms and bacteria don’t cause disease any more than flies cause garbage. They are just a symptom – opportunists that take advantage of an animal with lowered defenses. A lot of us are deficient in some of the trace minerals and in organic silica in particular. If we are deficient in those particular elements, then when we ingest them, we stimulate our immune system – which causes the insects or parasites to go away.”

He has also theorized that what happens with the diatomaceous earth when it is taken internally, “is that when it is dissolved in the stomach acid – the diatomaceous earth being alkaline – it is ingested by the worms in the digestive tract and then when the material recrystalizes inside the worms’ bodies (because of its pH) it then causes injury to the parasites and they die. This is just a theory, but I’ve spent so many years trying to figure out why it worked, because some of the other explanations just don’t seem to be adequate. I’ve seen information on how insects are supposedly damaged by walking through diatomaceous earth, but I haven’t been able to replicate that at all.”

He has a product that he wanted to sell as a natural dewormer, but could not. “But it does contain diatomaceous earth and some of the other mineral extracts. I have a blend of 5 or 6, and I also put a high level of probiotics in it (such as lactobacillus culture.) It works to help keep worm populations down in all kinds of animals, but we don’t sell it as a wormer, because I don’t think it is killing the worms; it is just reinforcing the immune system of the animal to enable it to get rid of the worms – to build up the body’s own protection. We could not afford to register it as a dewormer anyway; if we were going to sell it as such, it has to be registered and have all the proof behind it. As a “natural” product, you have to realize you are not killing insects or worms, you are just building health.”

Zamzow has always been interested in organic and natural ways of dealing with things, he says. “So I was excited to find something that could help control insects without using chemical pesticides, and I really got involved with it. I bought 2 semi truckloads of diatomaceous earth at one time, and had it stored for years. Eventually I learned that by using it as a feed additive, there were benefits from it. But I cannot really tell you why or what. I suspect I know why, but I cannot prove it.”

FEED INGREDIENT – He says, “We do get healthier animals, therefore I use it primarily as a source of silica. Any of the free choice minerals, for instance, we use it in those. We make a calcium-phosphorus free choice, and a 1:1 free choice to balance them back the other way, and I always put diatomaceous earth in those, and in all my free choice products, just because I think it’s good to have in there. If someone asks how much should be put in to accomplish our objectives (like you would with copper or some other trace mineral) there are no real answers to that. It’s just a guess. If the government wants to know why we put it in, we can say we do it for a flow improver, because it is authorized for that. They consider it an inert ingredient. But that’s not why we put it in.”

He says this is similar to the use of bioflavonoids (a generic term for a group of compounds found in many plants and which help maintain the normal state of the walls of small blood vessels.) “In Canada they don’t recognize those as having any benefit, so we just have to call them citrus byproducts. But these extracts are important and vital to health, strengthening the capillaries. But Canada won’t let us say that on a product; they consider it just a carrier – so we just say it’s a product of the citrus industry.”

He says, “We need it in there, however, like for horses that bleed under exercise stress. Bioflavonoids are synergistic with vitamin C. We call them vitamin P, though it’s never been proven to be a vitamin that life can’t exist without. You never find vitamin C in nature, however, without the bioflavonoids. Vitamin C helps keep blood vessels healthy, and the bioflavonoids allow the capillaries to expand and be flexible, so they won’t burst when there’s a lot of pressure. If you don’t have enough bioflavonoids, you may have a capillary burst (and then you’ll have a stroke – in humans; in a horse racing hard you will have bleeding from the lungs.) We can stop this by using this product, though the FDA won’t allow us to make that claim.” So diatomaceous earth, like the bioflavonoids, he adds to his feed ingredients just because he feels strongly that these are beneficial to good health, in spite of not being able to say anything about it on the product label.

“The second person who introduced me to diatomaceous earth was a rancher near Nyssa, Oregon, where there are small deposits all around the area. He’d scoop it out with a tractor loader and take it to the pastures for his cows, dumping it out for them to eat. Later I located a mineral deposit that is better, from a nutrition standpoint – I’ve experimented with literally hundreds of them – and this one is absolutely phenomenal. We’re calling it Dynamite Gold. We use it not only in feeds, but also on crops; it’s a combination of minerals needed by plants,” says Zamzow.

“At one time, I though diatomaceous earth was an end-all, be-all. But now I realize it’s just another ingredient, or component, of a healthy diet. There are thousands of natural things out there that have benefits for animals. For years I tracked the wild horses here in Owyhee County, to see what they were eating – to try to figure out why they would go from one place to the next. Then I would take samples of the soil and the plants there. If they need selenium, for instance, they tend to seek it out; they’ll go 25 miles to get it. They’ll eat around that area and graze awhile, and maybe eat a little of the dirt, then leave. The same is true when they need manganese,” he says.

“An old doctor once told me that the hypothalmus triggers that type of instinctive appetite. He said that’s what causes an animal to crave the taste of a given nutrient. If that’s the case, they can smell or sense it – whatever it is in the plant or dirt tastes good because they happen to have a deficiency (though it doesn’t always work, as when horses seek out locoweed and become poisoned from overdose of selenium.)”

As an aside, speaking of selenium toxicity, Zamzow mentioned that some authorities say that Custer lost his last battle because his reinforcements were held up coming across Nebraska. “Their horses were suffering from acute selenium toxicity; their feet got sore and some started sloughing their hoofs, so the troops were held up a few days. They attribute this to the high selenium levels in western Nebraska.”

INSECT CONTROL – Zamzow says that diatomaceous earth is beneficial in insect control. “When we spray our orchards, we spray with oil and garlic and put in 5 pounds of fine-ground diatomaceous earth. It sticks to the leaves and looks a lot like the old DDT. The diatomaceous earth stays on the leaves. I add it to the mix because if there is any benefit to it, I want it to be there. It seems to help. But when you aren’t setting up any testing protocol, you really can’t say whether it was that or the garlic or the oil, or whatever. But I always include the diatomaceous earth because I believe there is some value to it.” He says that people can use it with a belief that there’s some value there, but they should not think it would solve all the problems.

His family has 7 lawn and garden stores and sells diatomaceous earth in bulk. “We used to label it as diatomaceous earth for natural insect dust for the garden, but the state told us we couldn’t do that. So now we just label it as diatomaceous earth, period (and the price) and don’t claim anything. The people who read organic gardening magazines are usually looking for it, so we are a source for them, but we can’t make any claims for it.”

He says that the diatomaceous earth used as a pour-on for cattle to control flies and lice is often saturated with a 1 to 2 percent insecticide. “The diatomaceous earth is just the carrier; it filters down through the hair and it stays pretty well, carrying the insecticide. It’s not the diatomaceous earth that kills the insects. If people are using it by itself, it doesn’t really work very well. My experience is that you have to put something else in it. If you are going to take the time to run the cattle through a chute to work them, you need something more effective and longer lasting for insect control – because you can’t afford to run them through every 5 days.”

He explains that almost all the people that manufacture diatomaceous earth for insect control in orchards, etc. use electrostatic charges and blow the diatomaceous earth through an electrical field, which causes it to stick to the plants. “They blow it out in big dusters. The products almost all contain pyrethroids; the DE is just the carrier.”

He personally would never use a duster without a facemask. “It’s been said that if you breathe too much silica into your lungs, you end up with a disease called silicosis. It’s abrasive. If I were using it as a dust, I would do it very cautiously.” Some people who mix it into feed put water in it to keep it from being dusty; you should never breathe in the dust.

Diatoms and Diatomaceous Earth

Diatoms are single celled water creatures, similar to algae, but in a class by themselves (Bacillariophyta, in which there are about 16,000 species), and have existed for millions of years. They are still found floating in all the waters of the earth – fresh water and salt – where they serve as food for larger organisms. The cell walls are composed mainly of silica and form a pillboxlike shell with overlapping halves, with intricate and delicate markings when observed under a microscope. The beautiful symmetry and design have prompted the diatom to be called the “jewel of the sea.”

When these organisms die, their shells form crystals that look like snowflakes. Fossils of dead diatoms (as well as living diatoms) are too small to be seen without high magnification, but in a living mass they are visible as the brown growth on the surface of stagnant water, mud, rocks, seaweed and other wet surfaces where light and water enable the growths to accumulate. Diatoms are among the most important and prolific sea organisms; they provide food for many animals either directly or indirectly.

In many regions of the world that were at one time under water, large deposits of these fossil “algae” were formed during the Miocene and Pleistocene Epochs as the diatoms died and settled to the ocean or lake bottoms. This sediment, diatomaceous earth, is used in filters, insulation, abrasives, paints and varnishes, and now as a feed additive for horses and livestock. The earthy beds resemble chalk, but the material weighs much less. A 40-pound bag of it, for instance is about 4 cubic feet. It is about half as dense as rolled oats; the same weight of diatomaceous earth would take up twice as much space.

Its oldest use is as a mild abrasive in metal polishes and toothpaste, and later used mainly as a filter for clarifying sugar and syrups; it is now used in almost all industrial filtration applications, including processing of oils, beverages, antibiotics, solvents and chemicals. One of its primary uses is in swimming pool filters. It is also used in medicine as a carrier and as a flow improver in many powders, keeping them from clumping. It is used as a filler or extender in paper, paint, brick, tile, linoleum, plastic, soap, etc. It is more efficient for heat insulation than asbestos, and is also used for sound insulation and as a vehicle for herbicides and fungicides. Diatomaceous earth is very absorbent; for instance, if you put it in a refrigerator it absorbs a lot of the odors.