Our Members Asked:
What is the ingredient zeolite I see in Natural Cellular Defense and other detox supplements? Does it help in any way?
Supplements with zeolite, such as Waiora's Natural Cellular Defense, Get Healthy Again Zeolite, and Ultra Liquid Zeolite, purport to safely remove toxins and heavy metals from the body and boost the immune system. Zeolite supplements have also been promoted for other uses including balancing body pH, reducing diarrhea, preventing hangovers, and treating cancer, and reducing the side-effects of chemotherapy.
ConsumerLab.com investigated these claims, as well as the safety of zeolite.
Health effects of zeolite
Zeolites have a porous structure which allows them to adsorb certain other molecules. Animal studies have shown that adding zeolites to animal feed reduces the toxicity of aflatoxin and diacetoxyscirpenol in baby chicks (Kubena, Poult Sci 1993) and protects pigs against anemia caused by the heavy metal cadmium (Pond, Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1983). In a small clinical study of Waiora's Natural Cellular Defense, 33 healthy men were given 15 drops of liquid suspension of a form of clinoptilolite, a naturally occurring form of zeolite, twice a day for up to 30 days. Urinary excretion of heavy metals was found to be increased in the men taking the supplement, without significant changes in vital serum electrolytes (Flowers, Nutrition and Dietary Supplements 2009). While intriguing, the overall benefit of such treatment is not clear, nor is long-term effect of taking zeolite in this manner.
A laboratory study found zeolites adsorbed nitrosamines in an acidic solution, and the authors concluded zeolites might therefore potentially help to remove cancerous substances within the stomach, which is also highly acidic (Zhou, Chemosphere 2005). However, there are no human studies to support this assumption or to support the use of zeolite as a supplement to prevent or treat cancers.
There are no clinical studies on the use of zeolite to prevent hangovers.
Some very preliminary studies suggest that Zeolite can have an anti-diarrheal effect (Rodgriguez-Fuentes, Zeolites [book] 1997), but no large or well-controlled studies have been published.
A pilot study In Germany found that men with immunodeficiency disorder who took either of two zeolite supplements daily for 6 to 8 weeks had changes in their levels of certain lymphocytes (immune system cells), suggesting immune stimulation, but the results were far from conclusive and do not support the use of zeolite as an immune enhancer (Ivkovic, Adv Ther, 2004).
Although zeolite is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, this does not mean that it has been rigorously tested for safety. In addition, some evidence suggests that zeolite may inhibit absorption by the body of certain medications (e.g., aspirin, theophiline, propanolol, and phenobarbital) (Rodgriguez-Fuentes, Zeolites [book] 1997). Zeolite can have a buffering effect and increase the pH in the stomach (i.e., making it less acidic). Reduced acidity in the stomach could, theoretically decrease absorption of certain nutrients that require a certain amount of acidity. Consequently, it would seem unwise to take zeolite on a regular basis. Due effects of zeolite on the immune system, people on immunosuppressive therapy, such as organ transplant recipients, should avoid using zeolite.
The Bottom Line:
Although zeolite can bind certain compounds, there is currently little clinical evidence to support its use in "detoxifying" the body, and the benefit of such a "detoxifying" treatment has not been established. Zeolite may stimulate an immune response, but it is not clear whether it is an immune enhancer. There is no compelling evidence that zeolite is useful in treating cancer or preventing hangover.
In addition, although thought to be generally safe, zeolite can reduce the effectiveness of a number of medications, and theoretically, could interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
If you see claims that a zeolite product can help prevent or treat a disease, be aware that the FDA has not approved any such claims. In 2007, zeolite supplement maker ZEO Health was warned by the FDA for illegally promoting several zeolite supplements as treatments: Destroxin as a treatment for cancer, Esdifan as a treatment for diarrhea, and Zeo as a hangover preventative that absorbs toxins.