Hard facts on colloidal minerals: cure-all or crushed rocks?

Hard facts on colloidal minerals: cure-all or crushed rocks?

Beth Fontenot

Colloidal mineral supplements are the current craze in “alternative” nutrition, promising to cure what ails you — and to confuse consumers. They are simply extra-small mineral particles suspended in a solution, and they are being promoted as the cure for acne, anemia, brittle nails, birth defects, cancer, constipation, depression, diabetes, goiter, graying hair, hair loss, hyperactivity, impotence, infertility, memory loss, PMS, and wrinkles.

Colloidal minerals are sold largely by multi-level marketing companies under such names as Clark’s Mineral Formula Mineral Toddy, Mineral Solutions, and Micro-Mins. They sell for up to $50 for a month’s supply. The fact that these products are sold by multilevel marketing companies should make one skeptical, and the numerous claims made by the marketers are dubious at best.

The Sales Pitch

The story behind colloidal minerals goes like this: In 1925, a Paiute Indian led an ailing Utah rancher, Thomas Clark, to a legendary spring known for its healing powers. Soon after drinking from the spring, Clark was healed of his ailment. As Clark followed the spring back into the mountains,. he discovered a deposit of minerals that was later determined to be the remains of a prehistoric rain forest. He created a miracle tonic” by extracting the minerals from the spring and are passed it among his friends who reportedly experienced remarkable results. Many manufacturers tout their product as coming from this “original source,” but similar deposits are said to be found in a few other areas of the world.

Colloidal minerals, which have been described by some as “mud” or “crushed rocks,” are sold as elixirs, capsules, and oral sprays. The mineral content varies by product, but the ingredient lists all read like the Periodic Table of Elements: aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, lithium, platinum, silver, titanium, as well as an assortment of other less familiar minerals.

The promoters maintain that our soil is so depleted that the food we eat is lacking in the minerals our bodies need, and furthermore, we absorb only about 5% of the minerals we do get from food. A multitude of diseases and medical conditions, as well as deaths, are due to mineral deficiencies, they say.

The promotional materials declare that colloidal minerals have a natural negative charge that enhances their absorption as well as the transport and availability of other nutrients. Toxins and heavy metals are supposedly attracted to this negative charge and are flushed from the body. In addition, the marketers assert that the small size of colloidal minerals, as opposed to the elemental minerals found in over-the-counter supplements, makes them more easily absorbed by the cells of the body. The ads also carefully point out that toxicity is not a concern, and one company’s ad states that their product contains only “truly organic” minerals.

Reality Check

The claims for these mineral products are nothing more than imaginative sales gimmicks. Absorption of a nutrient is not affected by its charge, and even if colloidal minerals are better absorbed (and experts dispute that fact), that would not make them desirable. Some minerals are toxic at high levels, and many of those present in the products are not recognized as essential to humans. The fact is that for many minerals, absorption by the body is largely regulated by the need for the mineral. And as for the claim about “truly organic” minerals, the fact is that minerals are inorganic. (Organic materials contain carbon atoms, and inorganic materials do not.)

No scientific evidence can be found to support any of the claims made by the marketers of these products, including the claim regarding mineral deficiencies in foods.

Currently, there are 16 minerals recognized as essential to humans. The Committee on Dietary Allowances of the National Academy of Sciences has established a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for the major minerals calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, and for the best-known trace minerals iron, zinc, iodine, and selenium. Estimated Minimum Requirements have been established for sodium, potassium, and chloride. Other minerals such as copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, and molybdenum are known to be essential, and an Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Dietary Intake (ESADDI) is published for these. Arsenic, nickel, silicon, and boron are recognized as essential to animals, but are not firmly established as essential for humans. Very little is known about the need for cadmium, cobalt, lead, lithium, tin, and vanadium. At this time, the evidence that these are essential is weak.

Minerals play a critical role in the maintenance of health as well as in the management of some disease states. The fact that minerals are required only in small amounts and that they can be toxic in excess raises substantial concern about the indiscriminate use of supplements. There are mechanisms in the body that regulate the absorption and excretion of excessive amounts of the essential minerals; however, there does not appear to be such a mechanism for regulating the absorption and excretion of nonessential minerals. There also exists the potential for adverse mineral interactions and imbalances to occur in the body when mineral supplements are used haphazardly.

The bottom line is that a healthy diet that provides a wide variety of foods from both plant and animal sources is the safest, least expensive, and most practical way to ensure an adequate intake of the minerals required by the human body. The claims for colloidal minerals are just too hard to swallow.

Beth Fontenot is a nutrition consultant and freelance nutrition writer in Lake Charles, LA. She serves on the adjunct faculty at both McNeese State University in Lake Charles and Lamar University in Orange, T-X.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Prometheus Books, Inc.

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