Colloidal minerals

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Colloidal mineral promoters would like you to believe that mineral deficiency is a widespread cause of disease. To counter this alleged problem, they are marketing products said to be water-leached from shale in the Emery Coal Field of central Utah. According to various sales pitches, an ailing cattle rancher named Thomas Jefferson Clark was told about a healing stream by Chief Soaring Eagle, a Paiute medicine man and elder. The miracle waters were well-known to the local natives who supposedly had benefited from them for hundreds of years [1]. Clark drank from them and quickly recovered from his malady. Intrigued, he followed the stream back to its source in organic-rich shales. By 1931, after several years of experiments, he sold his own brand of tonic rich in "colloidal minerals." As word spread, a minor legend was born. Light Energy Productions has recorded an account of Clark's many adventures [2]. Curiously, according to an article in Self magazine, the present-day Paiutes have never heard of either Chief Soaring Eagle or the renowned healing powers of their ancestral waters [3].

The most notorious colloidal mineral promoter is Joel D. Wallach, DVM, ND, who says that Americans desperately need his minerals. Wallach has a long history of involvement in dubious healthcare schemes, such laetrile treatment for cancer, as well as chelation and hydrogen peroxide therapies for coronary artery disease. He has also hosted an AM radio talk show in San Diego titled "Let's Play Doctor" and briefly plied naturopathy at [../donsbach.html Kurt Donsbach]'s Hospital Santa Monica. His widely distributed "Dead Doctors Don't Lie!" audiotape [4] quotes from U.S. Senate Document 264:

[Erosion and unwise farming methods] have led to mineral-depleted soils resulting in mineral-deficient plants, livestock, and people . . . . .the alarming fact is that food now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals are starving us -- no matter how much of them we eat. No man of today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply his system with the minerals he requires for perfect health because his stomach isn't big enough to hold them. . . . Laboratory tests prove that the fruit, vegetables, grains, eggs, and even the milk and meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago. . . . It is bad news to learn from our leading authorities that 99% of the American people are deficient in these minerals [74th Congress, 2nd Session, 1936].

The cited quotation is genuine, but it did not, as colloidal mineral promoters usually imply, arise from a government research study. In fact, it is merely a reprint of a baseless opinion piece that originally appeared in the June 1936 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine and was placed into the Congressional record by a Florida senator [5]. Most Americans are not slowly starving to death or dying from mineral deficiency.

Some promoters use fraudulent "symptomatology questionnaires" for assessing purported mineral deficiency-related health problems. The test asks more than 1,000 questions about physical and psychological symptoms. As far as I can tell, everyone who takes it will be advised that supplements are needed. The test costs $125 but is free if colloidal minerals are purchased.

At present, five mines [6] in Emery County, Utah supply three main manufacturers [7] with bulk quantities of shale leachate that are repackaged and sold as distinct products by a burgeoning network of multilevel distributors. T.J. Clark & Co.'s Daddy Dearest 1-9/Blackhawk Mine, which started it all in the late 1920s, is the source of "BHI Lifeminerals," "Toddy," "Golden Minerals," and other product lines. The Clark company controls leases totaling approximately 20 acres and has established major overseas distributorships. In an effort to distinguish itself from a host of recent competitors, it downplays its product's shale origins and has coined the term "PolyfloraminTM" (literally "many plant minerals") to describe it. Its main rival, Rockland Corporation's Body Toddy Mine, opened in 1985 and produces products for American Longevity, Body Systems Technology, Source of Health and LifePlus. Rockland currently owns 1,000 acres of shale leases in Emery County and a new production/bottling facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Its reserves are estimated to be 320 million metric tons of shale, enough for 950 billion gallons of product. Rockland has no qualms about the source of its products: several color photos of mining operations are prominently displayed on its home page. New Vision International and Nature's Sunshine, have refused to disclose the source of the leachate used in their products.

In all of the operations, the shale (often referred to as "a special ancient rainforest deposit") is mined, crushed, ground to a powder-like consistency, and placed into large stainless steel vats. The vats are then submerged in "cool, contaminant free water at low temperatures." Many distributors stress these conditions to counter claims that acids, solvents, and high temperatures will ruin the minerals' special properties. Unnamed competitors are routinely accused of using such faster methods in order to force mineral extraction. After 3-4 weeks, during which time water-soluble components of the shale enter into solution, the bitter-tasting leachate is siphoned off, filtered and ready for tonic, capsule, and oral-spray production. Depending upon the filtration process used, a variable amount of insoluble particulate matter suspended in the leachate will pass into the final product. Advertisements state that colloidal supplements contain 75 "minerals." Actually they are elements occurring in various mineral forms: Ag, Al, As, Au, B, Ba, Be, Bi, Br, C, Ca, Cd, Ce, Cl, Co, Cr, Cs, Dy, Er, Eu, F, Fe, Ga, Gd, Ge, H, Hf, Hg, Ho, I, In, Ir, K, La, Li, Lu, Mg, Mn, Mo, N, Na, Nb, Nd, Ni, O, Os, P, Pb, Pd, Pr, Pt, Re, Rh, Ru, S, Sb, Sc, Se, Si, Sm, Sn, Sr, Ta, Tb, Te, Th, Ti, Tl, Tm, V, W, Y, Yb, Zn, and Zr. Some distributors modify their tonics with flavorings and/or nutritional additives, but most sell them straight and emphasize their "all-natural" quality.

Lots of Hype

Wallach's supporters frequently describe him as a Nobel Prize nominee [8]. Actually, he was "nominated" in 1991 for his "research" on cystic fibrosis by the Association of Eclectic Physicians, a naturopathic group with no scientific standing. His research findings [9] were invalid, because the people he studied were self-selected, and not randomized; he did not follow an appropriate data-gathering protocol; his diagnoses were made with a questionnaire; and his report made claims about other data that were either unsupported or unreferenced. The Nobel Committee gave no credence to Wallach's "nomination" and, in an unprecedented move, officially denied that he was ever a legitimate nominee [10,11].

Wallach claims that (a) we are living in a chemical soup and being bombarded by electronic, magnetic, physical, and mental stress that our forbearers did not have to deal with; (b) "most diseases are symptoms of mineral deficiencies and are virtually 100% preventible; (c) "the majority of people who die of natural causes, actually die of a mineral deficiency; and (d) "In fact, most of us are slowly starving to death." [4] Presumably, only colloidal mineral supplements can rescue us from these dire straits.

Wallach has a down-home manner and is a compelling speaker. During "Dead Doctors Don't Lie!" he asks, "Are these colloidal minerals important? You bet you're life they're important and every time you don't take them in every day, you're chopping off a few hours or a few days of your life." [4] He reportedly collects a 25-cent royalty on each of the millions of tapes sold to distributors and customers [3].

John H. Renner, M.D., President of the National Council Against Health Fraud, has accurately characterized Wallach's tape as riddled with distortions, bogus science, and outright lies [3]. The many outlandish statements Wallach has made on his tape and in public lectures include:

Since physicians have a life expectancy of only 58 years, how can you trust them with maintaining your health? Actually, physicians have a greater life expectancy (averaging 75-88 years) than the general population [12].

Mercury amalgam used in dental fillings causes multiple sclerosis. Not supported by clinical research.

Many Americans suffer from "malabsorption disease." Certain diseases exist in which people have difficulty absorbing nutrients. However, Wallach is referring to a nonexistent condition which, like the long discredited idea of autointoxication, is based on concepts that ignore scientific research on gastrointestinal tract functioning.

Cystic fibrosis is preventable and 100% curable in its early stages. This statement is completely unfounded.

Five cultures around the world have average lifespans of 120-140 years. The key to their longevity is the consumption of colloidal mineral waters ("glacier milk"). No such long-lived cultures exist.

Claims to have authored over 70 articles in peer-reviewed journals as well as several medical texts. Searchs of standard indexes have turned up only a handful of publications, nearly all of which are of dubious quality [9,10].

Claims to have performed 20,500 animal and human autopsies while working as a veterinarian in St. Louis. Even if veterinarians and naturopaths were allowed to conduct human autopsies (which they are not), Wallach would had to have performed them at a rate of 6 per day, 5 days a week, for 12 years in addition to his other duties and while authoring his numerous (though unfindable) articles.

Standard vitamins are not digested but pass out in the feces still in tablet form. An unsubstantiated anecdote.

States that 50% of 70-year-old Americans have Alzheimer's disease. The actual figure for Americans between 65-74 years of age is 3.9% [13].

Claims to have cured cases of porcine Alzheimers. Pigs don't get Alzheimer's disease.

Greying hair and facial wrinkles at any age are due to a copper deficiency. Not supported by clinical research.

Cardiomyopathy is solely the result of a selenium deficiency. Cardiomyopathy is a group of heart-muscle disorders with several different causes.

All aneurysms (over 40 different kinds) are due to a copper deficiency. Not supported by clinical research.

Male-pattern baldness is due to a tin deficiency. Not supported by clinical research.

Bell's palsy is the result of a calcium deficiency. The usual cause is compression of the facial nerve.

Diabetes and hypoglycemia are due to vanadium and chromium deficiencies. Not supported by clinical research.

Sodium consumption is unrelated to high blood pressure in humans. As evidence he notes that cows use salt licks, but don't suffer from high blood pressure. Animals use salt licks as needed. Sodium intake affects blood pressure in people who are salt-sensitive.

Periodontal disease is the result of a calcium deficiency and is not influenced by the quality of oral hygiene. Not supported by clinical research.

All low back pain is due to osteoporosis. An absurd idea; the most common causes are muscle and ligament strains from overexertion.

Metallic minerals (i.e., regular vitamins and minerals) are only 8-12% absorbable while colloidal minerals are 98% absorbable. No data support such a claim; the figures appear to have been pulled out of thin air [14].

The human body transports, stores, and uses minerals in colloidal form. This is simply not true; minerals inevitably occur either as mineral salts, compounded with proteins or lipids, or as enzymal and hormonal components.

When the extent of Wallach's misstatements became public knowledge, T.J. Clark & Co. severed its business relationship with him. Up to that time, Wallach had been claiming that only leachate from Clark's mine was effective in treating mineral deficiencies. After this falling out, however, Wallach revised his "scientific" opinion and quickly moved on to find new partners. After additional problems, Soaring Eagle Ventures terminated their ties with Wallach in early 1997 and prohibited any further use of his promotional materials by their distributors. Wallach is currently collaborating with Ma Lan, a Chinese-educated physician whom I suspect is not licensed to practice medicine in the United States [11]. Wallach has also started his own company, American Longevity, whose home page depicts him decked out in a cowboy-hat, American flag shirt and a welcoming smile. Beneath him is the company motto, "If you don't see my face on the bottle you don't know what your getting."

Promotional literature employed by other colloidal mineral distributors is equally erroneous. Many, for example, confuse the terms element and mineral. Elements are the fundamental constituents of which all substances are composed. Minerals are naturally occurring, homogeneous inorganic substances with a specific chemical composition and characteristic crystalline structure, color, and hardness [15]. Minerals are composed of elements. For example, the mineral silica is composed of the elements silicon and oxygen. Colloidal mineral promoters use these terms interchangibly. They also employ the misnomer "metallic minerals" to distinguish (supposedly ineffective) standard supplement products from their "plant-based" colloidal minerals. The distinction is a spurious one, because most colloidal minerals in leachate come from the sedimentary matrix of the shale itself (i.e., the very "metallic minerals" that these promoters condemn). The main point concealed by all of this hype is that there is absolutely nothing special about colloidal minerals. A colloid is simply any substance whose particle size is small enough to keep it suspended in a liquid or gas, yet large enough to prevent or delay its passage through a semi-permeable membrane [15].

Various promoters disagree about the basic "science" behind their supplements. T.J. Clark & Co. claims that colloidal minerals "produce the correct electrical frequencies that are compatible with the electrical frequencies of the brain and nervous system of the human body . . . and attract toxins and heavy metals from the body and flush them out." Such statements are pseudoscientific gibberish. Ironically, Clark has accused competitors of employing "pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo and marketing hype." Most of Clark's competitors claim that colloidal minerals somehow strengthen and rejuvenate the body, increase longevity, and boost one's energy level. Most manufacturers also hint that only they have the proper minerals and the secret, patented process that results in an effective product, and that everyone else is a fraud. Clark gives its distributors signed "certificates of authorization" as assurance that they've purchased the genuine article. Before splitting from T.J. Clark & Co, Wallach portrayed himself as an "unbiased expert" while exclusively promoting the mine in which he had a financial interest [11]. Today, many independent distributors are circulating copies of Wallach's tape minus the final two minutes in which he had specified that Clark's products were the only effective ones.

Manufacturers also disagree about the nature of the shale used for leaching. T.J. Clark & Co. asserts that its products contain neither humus nor shale, even though it is registered with the State of Utah as a humic shale mining operation [6]. Some promoters claim that the shale deposits were only lightly covered by 20-30 feet of sandstone, "just enough to protect the deposit, but not enough to cause excessive heat and pressure that would have altered this pure form of the minerals." Others state that the ancient forest was covered by thick deposits of sand, mud, and lava that exerted great pressures on the plant matter but did not alter it. All these ideas are either false, inaccurate, or just nonsensical. Despite claims to the contrary, all are deriving their product from a 30-foot thick layer of carbonaceous shale intertwined with bituminous coal that was laid down during the Cretaceous period about 90 million years ago [16,17]. The bituminous rank of the interlayered coals indicates that these formations were subjected to significant pressures and temperatures of at least 100-150°C for a prolonged period of time [18]. At least one distributor claims that the Cretaceous source material for his company's elixir is a mere 2,000 years old.

Distributors rightly assume that health-conscious consumers will find phrases such as "ancient virgin rainforest," "pristine," and "natural" more appealing than "coal," "shale," and "surface mining." LifePlus, manufacturers of MICRO-MINS powdered leachate capsules and BERRY'D TREASURE flavored leachate drink, boast that their minerals are the same ones that were responsible for the spectacular size of Cretaceous trees and dinosaurs. As advertisements point out, "This was a time when much of the earth may still have been very much in a 'Garden of Eden' or very rich, vibrant, and pristine state." Promoters would like you to believe that if these minerals could produce fabulous prehistoric flora and fauna, then they can provide health benefits for you. Some distributors supply a laboratory analysis of their products [19-24].

Many distributors provide testimonials that people taking colloidal minerals have experienced improvement in such conditions as high blood pressure, heartburn, sprained ankles, AIDS, hair loss, perforated ulcers, rheumatism, pimples, leukemia, and impotence. The use of disease-related testimonials to promote supplement products is illegal. The FDA has proposed to ban OTC sale of colloidal silver products [25].

While it is true that optimal health depends upon an adequate intake of essential nutrients, fewer than 20 mineral-related elements are essential for humans [26-30]. The exact role of other trace elements, as well as our intake of these micronutrients from prepared meals, remains to be clarified [30]. There is absolutely no evidence, however, that mineral deficiency is a basic cause of disease. In fact, available data refutes the claim that our food supply is "mineral deficient" and demonstrates that a standard diet generally contains trace elemental quantities far in excess of those supplied by colloidal mineral supplements [19-24,31-33]. Finally, my own search of the medical and nutritional literature databases for the last forty years failed to produce a single study showing that colloidal mineral supplements are useful.

Possible Risks

Of course, this is not to imply that these supplements are safe for human consumption. The ingestion of unnecessary amounts of all trace elements should be avoided because many are not easily excreted and all can exhibit toxic effects when consumed in large quantity or for an extended period of time [3,34]. More important, however, colloidal mineral promoters seem oblivious to the fact that their products may contain hazardous organic compounds. For example, a daily dose of Doc's Mineral Rocks contains 7.2 mg of unidentified total organic carbon [20]. It is well established that groundwater can leach toxic organic compounds from sedimentary deposits such as coal, shale, and lignite. In many locations, specific geochemical conditions have led to the leaching of toxic organic compounds into potable water supplies with resulting disease. For example:

  • Links between endemic goiter and the contamination of iodine-sufficient drinking waters with sulfurated hydrocarbons leached from coal and shale deposits in Colombia and the United States [35-37].
  • Studies of elevated radon levels in Texas drinking waters have implicated lignites and other hydrocarbon accumulations as the suspected radionuclide sinks [38].
  • Suspected links between the kerogen-rich White Speckled Shale in Saskatchewan (Canada) and patterns of Multiple Sclerosis distribution [39,40].
  • Suspected links between weathered low-rank coals and shales and the occurrence of an incurable renal disease known as Balkan Endemic Nephropathy [41,42].
  • Hypothesized complicity of North/South Dakota lignites and Alaska/Maine/Minnesota peats with those state's high incidences of urothelial cancer [41].
  • Correlations between digestive cancer mortality rates in Missouri and the consumption of drinking water from coal and shale-bearing strata [43].

Colloidal mineral extracts have a distinctive yellow tint, indicating the presence of dissolved organic matter. At least one manufacturer, the Rockland Corporation, prides itself on its product's dark gold color. Although the concentrations of hazardous organic compounds may be low, long-term exposure and/or accumulation in body tissues might eventually lead to disease. Suspected and proven carcinogens such as PAHs, aromatic amines, and aminophenols result from the partial coalification of aromatic substances in woody plant tissues [41,44,45]. Such compounds can trigger gene and/or chromosomal mutations and altered gene expression, both of which are significant factors in the development of cancer. PAHs also exhibit the ability to modulate signal transduction among cells, which can have serious negative health consequences [46]. In addition to carcinogenicity, shale extracts possess low-order estrogenic properties. Many organic compounds can also contribute to the unwanted activation of the immune system. Since diseases can be caused by multiple factors, adverse long-term effects of colloidal mineral products may not be readily identifiable. Ironically, while the tonics themselves are unregulated, surface water runoff from the mining operations is routinely remediated because of its threat to plant and animal life.

Ten of thousands of Americans are currently serving as unwitting subjects in an undocumented test of their safety. Some scientists are especially concerned about the widespread administration of these products to children. Unfortunately, since colloidal minerals are classified as dietary supplements, no safety or efficacy testing was required before they were marketed. Action to prohibit their sale can only be taken if it is demonstrated that the products are adulterated (i.e., toxic), misbranded, or that specific medical treatment claims have been made for them. The first colloidal mineral supplement sold commercially, which Rockland Corporation introduced in 1984, was banned because of its toxicity [47]. Called "Body Toddy," it was reformulated, renamed "Mineral Toddy," and currently is marketed as "Body Booster."
Reliance on dubious supplements and unfounded health-care opinions delay people from seeking timely medical treatment. They are also a waste of money. The average recommended dosage of most colloidal minerals costs approximately $360 per person per year. Finally, the widespread quackery associated with colloidal minerals undoubtedly deters professionals from examining the subject simply because of the stigma attached to it. There is always the potential that such research might have generated useful information.
According to the most recent figures available, mining is Emery County's largest industry, contributing one third of its earnings [48]. Judging from the recent large-scale expansion of mining and processing facilities [16], as well as the statistics of gross sales in the past few years, it appears that colloidal mineral supplements are currently a healthy cash cow. Soaring Eagle Ventures is reportedly grossing $3 million per month; New Vision claims to have monthly sales 2-3 times that amount [3]. The products are advertised as a sure track to financial success on hundreds of Internet sites. The sale pitch is always the same: become an independent distributor, work part-time, and earn lots of extra money. New sites seem to pop up overnight like mushrooms, while new applications (colloidal minerals for your pets and garden!) offer more profits. A 16-ounce bottle of leachate purchased directly at the plant in Emery for $12 can net a $20 return in Salt Lake City and upwards of $30 on the Internet [1,16]. All of this despite an unproven product, potential health risks, false advertising claims and a plague of recent scandals (lawsuits, accusations of watered-down tonics, etc.) [10].

Some colloidal mineral distributors have broadened the scope of their activities. One industrious individual has already begun promoting the latest purported "health breakthrough" of the century. WaterOz ionic mineral tonics (produced by a "very technical, revolutionary new process") will replace colloidal minerals which are as ineffective as "normal" mineral supplements. And so the Ship of Fools prepares to sail out from port once again. . . .

For Additional Information

About the Author

Mr. Pontolillo is a research scientist with over ten years of experience in the fields of geology, organic petrology and organic geochemistry. An earlier version of this article was published as: Pontolillo J. Better Living through Shale Leachate? TSOP Newsletter 14(1)1:4-7, 1997.

  1. Assorted promotional literature downloaded from the Internet (LifePlus, KareMor, New Vision, Higher Ideals, Soaring Eagle Ventures, Advanced Bio Company, Organic Planets, Thomas J. Clark & Company, The Rockland Corporation, etc.). When quoting from these materials no distinction has been made as to the exact source, since most manufacturers and distributors employ virtually identical literature. Uncredited quotations hereafter refer to this note.
  2. The Legend of T.J. Clark (90-minute audiocassette). Light Energy Productions.
  3. Alexander B. Colloidal minerals are flying off the shelves of health food stores -- and could be dangerous, Self Magazine, March 1997.
  4. Wallach J. Dead Doctors Don't Lie! Audiotape, 1995. An ad in the May/June 1998 issues of Wallach's magazine Health Consciousness states that seven million of the tapes have been sold.
  5. "Dead Doctors" doesn't die. National Council Against Health Fraud Newsletter, Jan/Feb 1998.
  6. Body Toddy/Rockland Mine (Miracle Rock Mining & Research); Miller Rock/Bret Clark Mine (Hub Research & Development Co.); Daddy Dearest 1-9/Blackhawk Mine (Thomas J. Clark and Co.); Co-op Placer Project Mine (Co-op Mining Company/Stoddard); and Number 1 Clark Mine (Robert L. Clark). Source: Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining; Shale Operators in Emery County; and correspondence to author from Joelle Burns dated 10/21/98.
  7. Soaring Eagle Ventures (San Diego, CA); New Vision International (Tempe, AZ); The Rockland Corporation (Tulsa, OK).
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