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Years ago, when my old dog Bella was still alive, I was the happy recipient of several doggy haiku verses. One of them read:

The cat is not all bad./She fills the litter box/with tootsie rolls.

I was reminded of this when reading the comments thread on a recent post by Orac. Some commenters were discussing claims that the mineral zeolite has enormous healing powers and other health benefits. Going by the amount of the stuff that Bella would have ingested along with the aforementioned ‘tootsie rolls’, perhaps it’s no surprise that she reached the advanced (for a labrador) age of 15…

However, the comments left me with alarming mental images of people also chomping through kitty litter, albeit in a finely-ground form and without the organic inclusions that so delighted Bella (& which also delight young Ben-the-poodle). You can certainly find the stuff widely promoted on-line (at naturalnews.com, for a start). And yes (alas!) there are purveyors in New Zealand as well, although the outfit that came up tops on a google search sells it in liquid form.

I really should send them a bill for a new irony meter. For on reading the promotional blurb, one is told that It is chemical free: LIQUID ZEOLITEâ„¢ is processed without chemicals. This, on the same page that proudly proclaims the actual materials in this wonderful product:

humic acid/fulvic acid complex, ultra-cleansed volcanic zeolite (clinoptilolite) and a blend of angstrom-sized trace minerals, phyto-nutrients, macro-nutrients & micro-nutrients,DHQ (Dihydroquercetin), “M-Water”, citric acid, Preservative: potassium sorbate.

You can see why the meter went kablooie :-)

Humic & fulvic acids are produced by the breakdown of dead organic matter, & are widely used in agriculture as soil supplements. Since to the sellers of ‘natural’ health products the word ‘chemicals’ is used for teh ebil ‘artificial’ substances, I suppose I can see why they would classify these acids as ‘non-chemical.’ Clinoptilolite is the technical name for zeolite, & from the seller’s blurb the ‘ultra-cleansing’ has been done by treating it with concentrated humic acid. So that’s all nice & natural too.

I’m intrigued by the idea that the product contains ‘angstrom-sized trace minerals’, since angstroms are definitely on the nano-scale and people do have concerns about the health implications of products containing nanoparticles (not an issue I want to address here). Goodness knows what the ‘phyto-nutrients’ et al. are, so it’s not possible to check how they are extracted – in commercial quantities – from the source plants…

DHQ is apparently one of the most potent [antioxidants] in the whole world, or so this site tells us, & it has all sorts of claimed health benefits. (With a name like dihydroquercetin, I thought, it sounds like something you’d get from oak trees – turns out that it’s extracted from larches.) I’m always a bit puzzled about the promotion of antioxidants – the process of oxidative phosphorylation is key to production of energy in our mitochondria, & that’s definitely not something I’d want to stop! Extraction of DHQ, however, definitely involves those nasty chemicals, in the form of organic solvents. Do the liquid zeolite folks know?

“M-water” – this is pure comedy gold in its own right. Honestly. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried, which I suppose suggests a certain failure of the imagination. Apparently M-water is much better at hydrating your cells than the stuff that comes out of the tap & – as one of Orac’s regulars remarked – is obviously much better than the nasty dehydrated water that you get when the tap’s turned off. He was right on the button, if the M-water sellers are to be believed: apparently most other functional water products will actually cause dehydration instead of improving hydration. As I said, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

Citric acid – well, I suppose someone could be squeezing a lot of lemons for this product, & since lemons are natural then they must also be chemical-free. But potassium sorbate? It’s obtained by neutralizing potassium hydroxide with sorbic acid, an unsaturated carboxylic acid that occurs naturally in some berries. Yup, they definitely owe me for a new meter!

And that’s even without going into the various health benefits claimed for consuming zeolite in its various forms. One of which is that it chelates various ‘toxins’ including mercury. A search of pubmed using ‘zeolite chelation’ as the search term produces just 2 references, neither of which looked at zeolite in a human-health context. ‘Nuff said.