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Zeolites are among the most popular minerals in natural health, but they aren't very well understood. Here is a brief introduction to the uses and safety of zeolites with answers to some frequently asked questions.

If you are a believer in detoxification, you are probably familiar with zeolites.

A typical description of a zeolite supplement labels it as a "breakthrough" that easily removes toxic heavy metals and radioactive materials from the body in the body, allowing them to be harmlessly flushed away in the urine. Zeolites may be powdered, which is to say, crushed in their original form, or micronized, reduced to even tinier particles that can interact with the lining of the digestive tract on a cellular level. Claims that a product is micronized are likely to be accurate. Nearly everything else that is claimed about zeolites needs additional clarification.

What Is a Zeolite?

A zeolite is one of about 200 different kinds of minerals, about 40 of them natural zeolite, and about 160 of them manufactured in industrial processes. Zeolites were first identified by the Swedish geologist Axel Cronstedt in the early 1700's. The term zeolite literally means "boiling stone," and the first application of zeolites was to toss in chips of zeolite rocks into boiling liquids to help them boil more evenly.

In the twenty-first century, zeolites are put to an astonishing variety of uses. The most common uses of zeolites are in water softeners and in dishwasher detergents. Some are used to clean up spills of radioactive materials. In 2011, some Japanese rice farmers spread zeolites on their fields to absorb fallout from Fukushima. Some are used as kitty litter. Some are used as catalysts in chemical reactions. Some are used in natural health, as we will consider in more detail a little later in this article.

All zeolites are minerals formed from interlinked pyramids of alumina (AlO4) and silica (SiO4). (Every zeolite contains high concentrations of aluminum.) Their linked tetrahedral structure allows them to capture alkaline earth metals and water. Zeolite form molecular "pores" in a regular arrangement roughly the same size as small molecules, making them ideal for "soaking up" a great variety of positively charged compounds.

Some zeolites are mined from the ground. These include clinoptilotite, which is most often used in natural health applications, chabazite, and mordenite. Some zeolites are manufactured in laboratories. These include zeolite A, used in laundry detergent, zeolytes X and Y, used in catalytic cracking, and ZSM-5, which is used in industrial processes to make a solution highly acidic. Of the naturally occurring zeolites, about three-fourths are mined in China, while smaller amounts are dug from the ground in Jordan, Turkey, and the United States.

Do Zeolites Contain Harmful Minerals?

There's no such thing as an aluminum-free zeolite. Some zeolites contain more aluminum than silicon, and some zeolites contain more silicon than aluminum, but all zeolites contain aluminum. However, the aluminum is zeolites is highly unreactive. It is locked into the crystalline structure of the zeolite.

Because zeolites are molecular sieves, they can absorb harmful toxins while they are still in the ground. A few sources of natural zeolite are contaminated by lead in amounts slightly above what the FDA permits in food products in the United States. Responsible supplement makers do lead testing of their raw materials and keep lead out of zeolite supplements, but you should only buy zeolite products that are certified as lead-free.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Lamprecht M, Bogner S, Steinbauer K, Schuetz B, Greilberger JF, Leber B, Wagner B, Zinser E, Petek T, Wallner-Liebmann S, Oberwinkler T, Bachl N, Schippinger G. Effects of zeolite supplementation on parameters of intestinal barrier integrity, inflammation, redoxbiology and performance in aerobically trained subjects. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Oct 20.12:40. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0101-z. eCollection 2015. PMID: 26500463.
  • Rieger KA, Cho HJ, Yeung HF, Fan W, Schiffman JD. Antimicrobial Activity of Silver Ions Released from Zeolites Immobilized on Cellulose Nanofiber Mats. ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2016 Feb 1. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 26788882.
  • Photo courtesy of cobalt: www.flickr.com/photos/cobalt/393788845/
  • Photo courtesy of jill47: www.flickr.com/photos/jill47/6058348908/
  • Photo courtesy of jill47: www.flickr.com/photos/jill47/6058348908/

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