Silica, otherwise known as silicon dioxide, is the most abundant element in the earth’s crust. You’ll also find silica in lots of other places such as quartz, sand, toothpaste, cosmetics, and even in those little sachets that absorb moisture in food packaging. In human’s, silica is an important mineral which supports optimal connective tissue for healthy hair, skin, nails, bones and joints. Silica can be obtained from the diet, but levels may not be sufficient— leading to brittle hair and nails, osteoarthritis, and ageing skin.
In the human body silica is found in high concentrations in the connective tissues of tendon, bone, skin, hair, windpipe and in major blood vessels like the aorta. To a lesser degree silica is located in the liver, heart and muscle.
There is more we need to know about the role of silica in the body. However, signs that you might be lacking in silica include:
Silica is essential for collagen formation and connective tissue strength. Collagen is like the glue that holds everything together and is a major component of everything from our skin to our bones. Silica is also involved in the metabolism of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium which are important elements for maintaining healthy skeletal tissue. To maintain a healthy heart, silica is needed to maintain flexible arteries and plays a major role in preventing cardiovascular disease.
Large amounts of silica are found in plant foods, vegetables and wholegrains. Dark leafy greens, onions, avocado, alfalfa, brown rice, potatoes and strawberries are all good sources. A traditional source of silica is from the herb horsetail which is often prescribed for healthy hair, skin and nails.
The elderly and those who have a diet low in wholegrains and plant foods are at risk of silica deficiency. Due to silica’s role in connective tissue and collagen it can have the following benefits.
Collagen is vital to healthy joints, ligaments, and cartilage—where it lends strength and elasticity, so joints are more flexible, recover quicker, and less prone to degeneration. Silica is involved in a number of processes which lead to the synthesis of glycoproteins and polysaccharides in the extracellular matrix of connective tissue. Many people use silica to help ease joint pain and arthritis symptoms.
Mounting evidence supports a physiological role for silica in bone formation. In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, 136 women took a calcium, vitamin D and silica supplement or placebo. After 12 months the combined therapy had a beneficial effect on bone collagen, compared to taking calcium and vitamin D alone. This suggests that silica, when taken in combination with calcium and vitamin D is of potential use in osteoporosis. Silica may also be indicated in bone fractures to assist in bone repair and healing.
Atherosclerosis is a process where calcium plaques develop in the arteries. This results in reduced blood flow and poor heart health because the arteries are hardened and widened with plaque. Silica enhances the utilization of calcium and thus prevents calcification or calcium build-up in arteries. It has been found that the silica level is higher in healthy hearts compared to pathologic ones.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of senile dementia, is a progressive brain disorder which affects memory and other cognitive functions. Although the process in which Alzheimer’s disease occurs is very complex, one of the environmental factors which may play a role is aluminium toxicity. Silica might protect against the effect of dietary aluminium intake by preventing its absorption and facilitating in its excretion by the kidneys.
Your body needs silica to help form collagen, the protein responsible for keeping your skin smooth and unlined. A deficiency in silica may contribute to slow growing hair and nails, ageing skin, wrinkles, thinning hair, breakouts and brittle nails. If you have injuries or wounds, supplementing with silica may help to accelerate the healing process.
Research has shown that silica helps to boost the production of the antibodies and antigens that the immune system relies on to fight infections. This facilitates better, faster healing from colds, flu, infection, and illness—even when the immune system has been compromised. This may be due to silica’s ability to alkalise the body, enhance mucous membrane health and assist in detoxification.
There are several forms of silica which are collective known as silicic acid. Most forms available on the Australian market are silicon dioxide (the same form present in our food) and colloidal silica. To date there no is no clear evidence of any adverse health risks of silica supplementation. Although no established dosage requirements have been established, the safe upper limit of 700mg/day has been suggested.