Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Hydrated alkali aluminum silicate
Common Name

Clinoptilolite, erionite, phillipsite, and mordenite

Brand Name

As used in dietary supplements: Natural Cellular Defense (Waiora), ZETOX (Global Health Products), Vulkansandkuren, Destroxin (ZEO Health), TMAZ, Megamin, Lycopenomin, Esdifan

Clinical Summary

Zeolites are a group of chemically related mineral substances that contain mainly hydrated aluminum and silicon compounds. They occur naturally in volcanic rock and ashes and are also formulated synthetically. Zeolites are marketed as dietary supplements for autism, diarrhea, herpes, hangover, to balance body pH, and as a heavy-metal detoxifier, immunomodulator, and antioxidant.

Industrial and agricultural applications include their use as additives in gravel, detergents, and animal feed, in water and air purifiers, and in some personal care products. Benefits of using zeolites in animal feed include increased mineral utilization (1), reduction of heavy metals-induced anemia (2), and reduction of aflatoxin toxicity (3). However, none of these benefits are applicable to humans. In addition, this use has raised concerns about accumulated tissue aluminum in treated livestock (4) vis-a-vis the known link of aluminum to several morbidities including Alzheimer’s disease (5) (6).

Generally, the various forms of zeolite are not significantly toxic in acute, short-term oral, or parenteral toxicity studies in animals. However, inhalation toxicity is readily demonstrated (7), and airborne zeolite dust has been associated with high incidence of malignant mesothelioma (8) (9) (10) (11), and geologic occurrences of erionite are emerging as a concern for respiratory illness in the United States.

Zeolites have limited use in medicine as an external hemostatic dressing for trauma-related injuries (12), potential for controlled drug delivery, as a suspending agent, or for use in cardiopulmonary bypass and hemodialysis procedures (13) (14) (15).

A small pilot study sponsored by the manufacturer of a proprietary oral zeolite supplement in immunodeficient patients suggests some immunomodulatory effects (16), but no additional studies validate these claims. In an Alzheimer's mouse model, zeolite reduced oxidative damage and plaque generation (17). Two older animal studies suggest that micronized zeolite may have anticancer benefits (18) (19), but this also has not translated into any further studies. Currently, no studies of zeolite as a cancer treatment in humans have been published.

Special Point: A company filed a U.S. patent application in 2001 for a synthesized form of zeolite as a cancer drug (20). Data submitted were based on in vitro, plant, and animal studies. The patent specified that the substance must be injected directly into the tumor, which rules out any benefits by oral route. In addition, the FDA has issued warning letters to several Internet distributors of zeolite products for misleading claims about health benefits (21).

Purported Uses
  • Anticancer therapy
  • Autism
  • Balance body pH
  • Diarrhea
  • Heavy metal detoxification
  • Herpes
  • Immunomodulator
Constituents

Natural or synthetic microporous crystals of hydrated aluminum, silicon, and sodium compounds. Some zeolites also contain calcium and magnesium (7).

Mechanism of Action

Zeolites are hygroscopic compounds with a fine porous cage-like structure that allows for its ion-exchanging, adsorbent, anticaking, chelating, and desiccant characteristics (22) (23). Its ion-exchanging properties may alter the ionic composition, pH and buffering capacity of the gastrointestinal tract under conditions of overexposure (22).

Zeolite controls bleeding by absorbing water from the hemorrhage site through an exothermic reaction which supports the concentration of coagulation factors and platelets, causing clot formation (12). Zeolite pH buffering effects also adsorb nitrosamines in acidic solution (24), leading to unsubstantiated claims that it could remove carcinogenic substances in the stomach.

In vitro studies indicate that micronized zeolite inhibits protein kinase B, induces expression of tumor suppressor proteins (19), and limits reactive oxygen species effects (15). In animal studies, it reduced metastasis and increased the effect of doxorubicin due to its antioxidant properties (18). Zeolites may also have both immunosuppressive and immunostimulating effects, causing a decline of GM-CFU in the bone marrow (25), but also increasing graft-versus-host (GvH) reaction (26). Zeolite can affect brain serotonergic receptor activities of mammary carcinoma-bearing mice (27), but the clinical implications for humans is unclear. Zeolite supplementation did not prolong survival in tumor-bearing animals (25).

Pharmacokinetics

Absorption
Zeolites have stable structures and intact molecules are not bioavailable after oral intake or exposure through the dermal and inhalational routes, but may partially decompose under acidic conditions such as those that exist in the stomach to release sodium ions, silicic acid, and aluminum salts (22). In animal studies using silicon and aluminum as markers, zeolites were shown to be poorly absorbed following oral administration. The amount of aluminum detected in the plasma was less than 0.1% of IV infusion (7).

It is unclear if zeolites are absorbed in the intestine and whether the dosage used in zeolite supplements would have any systemic effects.

Distribution
Largely unknown, however livestock treated with agricultural-grade zeolite had significant increases in both plasma silicon concentrations and tissue aluminum (4) .

Metabolism/Excretion
Unknown

Warnings

Zeolites are carcinogenic when inhaled (8) (9) (10). Zeolites may also cause local irritation and may alter the ionic composition, pH and buffering capacity of the gastrointestinal tract under conditions of overexposure (22). Therefore, certain occupational exposures should be avoided or minimized.

Vulkansandkuren, a zeolite product marketed in Europe, was found to contain high levels of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, copper, and chromium (28). Do not apply liquid zeolite directly into eyes or ears.

Adverse Reactions
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (29)
  • Pneumoconiosis (7)
  • Mesothelioma: A high incidence in humans exposed to zeolite dust (8) (9) (10)
  • Aberrant metaphase: Statistically significant increases found in human peripheral blood lymphocytes and cells from exposed mice (7)
  • Leukocytosis, decline in bone marrow CFU-GM, and myelopoiesis inhibition in animal studies (25)
  • Graft-versus-host (GvH) reaction in animals studies (26)
Herb-Drug Interactions
  • General: Since zeolites have chelating properties (23) and may increase gastrointestinal pH (24), they can potentially interact with many prescription drugs when consumed together. In addition, premature disintegration of enteric coated medications may occur with concomitant use.
  • Antibiotics and ferrous drugs: Because zeolites have chelating (23) and ion-exchanging effects (16), they can potentially bind to tetracycline derivatives, quinolones, and iron resulting in decreased bioavailability.
  • Chemotherapy: Zeolites may have antioxidant effects (18) and can potentially interfere with the actions of some chemotherapy drugs.
  • Immunosuppressants: Zeolites may also provoke graft versus host reaction (26) and therefore should not be used with other immunosuppressants or in transplant patients.
Herb Lab Interactions

In animal studies, oral supplementation of zeolites increased serum potassium levels by 20% (25).

Literature Summary and Critique

There are no published studies investigating the purported antitumor effect of zeolites in humans. Large prospective studies have demonstrated that inhaled zeolite is carcinogenic, and responsible for a well-described epidemic of malignant mesothelioma in Turkey (11).

Case Report: The epidemic of mesothelioma (50% of deaths caused by malignant mesothelioma) in the Turkish villages of Tuzkoy, Karain, and Sarihidir, has been attributed to erionite exposure, a type of fibrous zeolite mineral commonly found in this area of Turkey. A prospective case-control study of residents in two villages who were exposed and a nearby control village conducted from 1979–2003 involving 891 men and women showed that 44.5% of all deaths (n=117) in the exposed villages were due to mesothelioma; only 2 cases of mesothelioma occurred in the control village (11).

Dosage (Inside MSKCC Only)
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References
  1. Watkins KL, Southern LL. Effect of dietary sodium zeolite A on zinc utilization by chicks. Poult Sci. Feb 1993;72(2):296-305.
  2. Pond WG, Yen JT. Protection by clinoptilolite or zeolite NaA against cadmium-induced anemia in growing swine. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. Jul 1983;173(3):332-337.
  3. Kubena LF, Harvey RB, Huff WE, et al. Efficacy of a hydrated sodium calcium aluminosilicate to reduce the toxicity of aflatoxin and diacetoxyscirpenol. Poult Sci. Jan 1993;72(1):51-59.
  4. Turner KK, Nielsen BD, O'Connor-Robison CI, et al. Tissue response to a supplement high in aluminum and silicon. Biol Trace Elem Res. Feb 2008;121(2):134-148.
  5. Tomljenovic L. Aluminum and Alzheimer's disease: after a century of controversy, is there a plausible link? J Alzheimers Dis. 2011;23(4):567-598.
  6. Kawahara M, Kato-Negishi M. Link between Aluminum and the Pathogenesis of Alzheimer's Disease: The Integration of the Aluminum and Amyloid Cascade Hypotheses. Int J Alzheimers Dis. 2011;2011:276393.
  7. Elmore AR, Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert P. Final report on the safety assessment of aluminum silicate, calcium silicate, magnesium aluminum silicate, magnesium silicate, magnesium trisilicate, sodium magnesium silicate, zirconium silicate, attapulgite, bentonite, Fuller's earth, hectorite, kaolin, lithium magnesium silicate, lithium magnesium sodium silicate, montmorillonite, pyrophyllite, and zeolite. Int J Toxicol. 2003;22 Suppl 1:37-102.
  8. Carbone M, Baris YI, Bertino P, et al. Erionite exposure in North Dakota and Turkish villages with mesothelioma. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Aug 16 2011;108(33):13618-13623.
  9. Carbone M, Yang H. Molecular pathways: targeting mechanisms of asbestos and erionite carcinogenesis in mesothelioma. Clin Cancer Res. Feb 1 2012;18(3):598-604.
  10. Metintas M, Hillerdal G, Metintas S, et al. Endemic malignant mesothelioma: exposure to erionite is more important than genetic factors. Arch Environ Occup Health. Apr-Jun 2010;65(2):86-93.
  11. Baris YI, Grandjean P. Prospective study of mesothelioma mortality in Turkish villages with exposure to fibrous zeolite. J Natl Cancer Inst. Mar 15 2006;98(6):414-417.
  12. Georgiou C, Neofytou K, Demetriades D. Local and systemic hemostatics as an adjunct to control bleeding in trauma. Am Surg. Feb 2013;79(2):180-187.
  13. Sun CY, Qin C, Wang XL, et al. Zeolitic Imidazolate framework-8 as efficient pH-sensitive drug delivery vehicle. Dalton Trans. Jun 21 2012;41(23):6906-6909.
  14. Csajbok E, Banyai I, Vander Elst L, et al. Gadolinium(III)-loaded nanoparticulate zeolites as potential high-field MRI contrast agents: relationship between structure and relaxivity. Chemistry. Aug 5 2005;11(16):4799-4807.
  15. Pellegrino P, Mallet B, Delliaux S, et al. Zeolites are effective ROS-scavengers in vitro. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. Jul 8 2011;410(3):478-483.
  16. Ivkovic S, Deutsch U, Silberbach A, et al. Dietary supplementation with the tribomechanically activated zeolite clinoptilolite in immunodeficiency: effects on the immune system. Adv Ther. Mar-Apr 2004;21(2):135-147.
  17. Montinaro M, Uberti D, Maccarinelli G, et al. Dietary zeolite supplementation reduces oxidative damage and plaque generation in the brain of an Alzheimer's disease mouse model. Life Sci. May 20 2013;92(17-19):903-910.
  18. Zarkovic N, Zarkovic K, Kralj M, et al. Anticancer and antioxidative effects of micronized zeolite clinoptilolite. Anticancer Res. Mar-Apr 2003;23(2B):1589-1595.
  19. Pavelic K, Hadzija M, Bedrica L, et al. Natural zeolite clinoptilolite: new adjuvant in anticancer therapy. J Mol Med (Berl). 2001;78(12):708-720.
  20. Kaufman H. Epithelial Cell Cancer Drug. US Patent 6,288,045. Lifelink Pharmaceuticals Inc. September 11, 2001. Accessed June 3, 2013.
  21. Food and Drug Administration.Warning letters to various zeolite Internet distributors. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2011/ucm286700.htm ; http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2009/ucm193287.htm ; http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2007/ucm076433.htm . Accessed June 10, 2013.
  22. Fruijtier-Polloth C. The safety of synthetic zeolites used in detergents. Arch Toxicol. Jan 2009;83(1):23-35.
  23. Burton GA, Jr., Nordstrom JE. An in situ toxicity identification evaluation method Part I: Laboratory validation. Environ Toxicol Chem. Dec 2004;23(12):2844-2850.
  24. Zhou CF, Zhu JH. Adsorption of nitrosamines in acidic solution by zeolites. Chemosphere. Jan 2005;58(1):109-114.
  25. Martin-Kleiner I, Flegar-Mestric Z, Zadro R, et al. The effect of the zeolite clinoptilolite on serum chemistry and hematopoiesis in mice. Food Chem Toxicol. Jul 2001;39(7):717-727.
  26. Pavelic K, Katic M, Sverko V, et al. Immunostimulatory effect of natural clinoptilolite as a possible mechanism of its antimetastatic ability. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. Jan 2002;128(1):37-44.
  27. Muck-Seler D, Pivac N. The effect of natural clinoptilolite on the serotonergic receptors in the brain of mice with mammary carcinoma. Life Sci. Sep 5 2003;73(16):2059-2069.
  28. Eriksson I. Body Detox of Volcanic Ash Cause Cancer. Medical News Today, August 14, 2004. Available at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/12050.php. Accessed June 3, 2013. 2004.
  29. Kliment CR, Clemens K, Oury TD. North american erionite-associated mesothelioma with pleural plaques and pulmonary fibrosis: a case report. Int J Clin Exp Pathol. 2009;2(4):407-410.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Zeolites have not been shown to treat cancer or other conditions in humans.

Zeolites are minerals that contain mainly aluminum and silicon compounds. They are used as drying agents, in detergents, and in water and air purifiers. Zeolites are also marketed as dietary supplements to treat cancer, diarrhea, autism, herpes, and hangover, and to balance pH and remove heavy metals in the body. However, there are no published human data to support these uses. Further, the FDA has issued several warning letters to distributors for misleading claims about zeolite products. When inhaled, zeolite dust can cause certain types of lung cancer.

Purported Uses

Anticancer therapy
In vitro and animal studies suggest anticancer properties, but there are no clinical data to validate the use of zeolites for cancer prevention or treatment.

To treat diarrhea
Although a drug containing zeolite seems to have been developed in Cuba to treat diarrhea, no published data are available.

To treat autism, herpes, hangover; to balance pH and remove heavy metals in the body
No clinical data have been published to validate zeolites for these uses. In addition, the FDA has sent warning letters to various distributors of zeolite for misleading claims.

Immune function controller
Data from animal studies show that zeolites can both stimulate and suppress the immune system.

Research Evidence

Mesothelioma:
This study was done between 1979 and 2003 and involved 891 men and women from three villages in Turkey, two of which had high levels of erionite, a type of zeolite. Data showed that during this period, 117 individuals from the two villages died due to mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to zeolites and related substances. Only two cases of mesothelioma were reported from the third village.

Patient Warnings
  • Natural zeolites can cause cancer when inhaled. There is no evidence that other forms of zeolite cause cancer.

  • Vulkansandkuren, a zeolite product marketed in Europe, was found to contain high levels of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, copper, and chromium.

  • Do not apply liquid zeolite directly into eyes or ears.

Do Not Take If
  • You are taking any medications, because zeolites can bind with other substances and may neutralize stomach acid, causing your medications not to be properly absorbed or to be less effective.
  • You are a transplant patient and/or taking drugs to suppress the immune system, as zeolites may cause rejection.
  • You are using chemotherapy drugs, because zeolites have antioxidant effects and may interfere with the actions of chemo drugs.
  • You are using antibiotics or drugs that contain iron, because zeolites may decrease their effectiveness.
Side Effects
  • Fibrosis (increase in fibrous tissue)
  • Pneumoconiosis (respiratory disease)
  • Mesothelioma (exposure to zeolite dust is associated with high incidence of mesothelioma, a tumor that affects the lining of the chest or abdomen) 
Special Point

A company filed a US patent application for a type of man-made zeolite for use as a cancer drug. Data submitted were based on lab, plant, and animal studies. According to the patent, the substance must be injected directly into the tumor. This means it has no benefits if taken by mouth. Zeolites have not been studied as a cancer drug in human clinical trials and zeolite supplements have not been approved as safe or effective.

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