Silica: the forgotten nutrient
According to recent studies, silica has not received the attention it deserves. Silica plays a key role on bones, joints and cartilages and is one of those elements whose lists of documented benefits just keeps growing as time passes and more research is conducted.
Our two main dietary sources of silica are drinking water and plant fibre. However, silicon intake in the modern diet is said to have been reduced due to modern food processing and refining techniques, water treatment and purification, as well as growing vegetables under hydroponic conditions.
Essential for collagen formation, silica is now known to be vital for healthy bones, cartilage and connective tissue (including ligaments, tendons, arteries, the aorta and trachea), as well as for hair skin and nails.1 As we age, collagen formation becomes less efficient and silicon levels in the body also decline. It is believed that these two factors contribute to age-related conditions such as wear and tear on joints, osteoporosis, wrinkled skin and hardening of the arteries.
During the 1970s groundbreaking research into silicon was conducted by one of France’s most renowned forensic scientists, Loïc Le Ribault. He discovered what looked like flower blooms on the surface of the sand grains. These “mineral flowers” represented secondary crystallisations on the grains from micro-organisms which break down the sand under certain environmental conditions. The result is a form of silica with more carbon and hydrogen, making it organic in nature. In health terms, this was highly significant as the carbon in organic silica makes it more easily assimilated by animals, including humans. In nature, minerals created by micro-organisms or plants are available in organic, bioavailable form. However, even the plants that contain good amounts of silica (such as horsetail and bamboo) cannot provide sufficient for the daily requirements of humans, which increase with age.2
In the 1980s his work became directed towards the therapeutic qualities of organic silica, with particular focus on its benefits for bone health.
Promoting healthy bones and cartilages
Osteoarthritis, arthrosis, osteoporosis, ankylosing spondylitis and painful joints are among some of the conditions for which organic silica has known benefits. The roles of calcium and vitamin D for promoting bone health are well known, but it was the work of Edith Carlisle, at UCLA´s School of Public Health in the early 1970s that first highlighted silicon´s importance in this area. Silicon has been found to influence bone formation by affecting the composition of cartilage. Carlisle found silicon was localised in areas of active growth of bones and that the more mature the bones, the lower the levels of silicon. According to research nutritionists Carol Seaborn and Forrest Nielsen, there is little doubt that silicon deprivation affects bone health. They go on to explain that because silicon apparently affects the initiation and rate of calcification of bone, it may be an important factor in disorders characterised by an imbalance between bone formation and resorption. And because silicon affects cartilage composition including articular cartilage, Seaborn and Nielsen suggest inadequate dietary silicon “may be of consequence in some joint disorders such as osteoarthritis”.3
Organic Silica and the skin
Skin is our largest protective organ. Collagen accounts for up to 75% of the weight of the dermis and is responsible for the resilience and elasticity of the skin. Collagen, which is mostly made up of silica, is the glue that holds us together. Our connective tissues consist of collagen, elastin, mucopolysaccharides and mucous carbohydrates which aid in moisture retention. Their capacity to hold on to moisture keeps the connective tissue resilient and has apparent importance in the prevention of premature aging. All these valuable molecules house large quantities of silica. Studies show that without adequate silicon, the body cannot maintain optimum skin elasticity, strong hair, nails, teeth and gums4.
Silicon has been seen to inhibit atheromas [fatty deposits or plaques resulting from atherosclerosis] in rabbits fed an atheromatous diet, making plaque formation rare and lipid deposits more superficial.5
In a comparative study, published in The Lancet in 1977 Klaus Schwarz suggested that low levels of silicon may be implicated in the development of atherosclerosis, pointing out that “unusually high amounts of bound silicon are present in the arterial wall”. In experiments conducted at the time, dietary fibre had been found to help prevent atherosclerosis by reducing cholesterol, blood lipids and binding bile acids.
1.Scheer JF, Silica: health and beauty from nature, Better Nutrition, December 1997.
2.Jugdaohsingh, Ravin et al, Dietary silicon intake and absorption, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 75, No. 5, 887-893, May 2002
3.Seaborn CD, Nielsen FH, Silicon: a nutritional beneficence for bones, brains and blood vessels? Nutrition Today, August 1993.
4.Wickett RR et al, Effect of oral intake of choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid on hair tensile strength and morphology in women with fine hair, arch Dermatol Res 2007, Dec; 299(10):499-505.
5.Loeper J et al, The antiatheromatous action of silicon, Atherosclerosis 1979 Aug;33(4):397-408.
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