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Can These Compounds Protect Against the Toxic Effects of Asbestos?

toxic effects of asbestos

A recent study out of Australia suggests that compounds called zeolites might offer protection against the toxic effects of asbestos.

Asbestos is the primary cause of malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer for which there is no cure.

There is no way to remove asbestos from the body after a person has been exposed. But the new study suggests that zeolites might counteract some of the toxic effects of asbestos. 

If the impact can be validated in humans, it could one day change the outcomes for thousands of people at risk for mesothelioma. 

What Are the Toxic Effects of Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral made up of long microscopic fibers. The size and shape of these fibers give rise to the toxic effects of asbestos. 

When people live or work around asbestos dust, they can accidentally inhale or swallow some of the fibers. Wearing protective gear can help, but the risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases is still high. 

That is because asbestos never leaves the body. Over time, it triggers changes in the DNA and overexpression of certain genes. In an effort to get rid of the toxic fibers, the body generates reactive oxygen species. Long term exposure to these ROSs causes a host of health problems. 

Malignant mesothelioma is one of the most serious toxic effects of asbestos. By the time most people know they have it, it is often at an advanced stage. 

Counteracting Asbestos Damage to Prevent Mesothelioma

Like asbestos, zeolites are also minerals. They are aluminosilicates and are filled with holes which make them “microporous”. Zeolites are commonly used in commercial absorbents. They are also in some health products that claim to detoxify the body.

The new pilot study focuses on the zeolite clinoptilolite. Researchers started by putting clinoptilolite on cell cultures along with asbestos fibers. 

The compound appeared to protect the cells against the toxic effects of asbestos. It prevented cell death, reduced ROS production, kept DNA from degrading, and prevented overexpression of certain genes. 

Testing Cinoptilolite in Mice

Next, researchers injected crocidolite asbestos into live mice. Twenty-nine mice received clinoptilolite along with the asbestos. The remaining 13 received asbestos alone. The team monitored the mice for the toxic effects of asbestos for 30 weeks. 

“By the end of the trial all 13 mice injected with asbestos alone had reached humane end points, whereas only 7 of 29 mice receiving crocidolite and clinoptilolite reached a similar stage of disease,” reports lead author Xiyong Fan. 

When the team examined the mice after death, they found that the ones that did not receive clinoptilolite had tiny mesothelioma tumors. But the ones that received both minerals showed none of the toxic effects of asbestos.

“Our study suggests that inhibiting the asbestos-induced generation of reactive oxygen species and stimulating the macrophage system may represent a pathway to amelioration of asbestos-induced toxicity,” the study concludes. 


Fan, X, et al, “Zeolites ameliorate asbestos toxicity in a transgenic model of malignant mesothelioma”, September 2019, FASB BioAdvances, Volume 1, Issue 9, https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1096/fba.2019-00040

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