For many of us our first contact with silica comes in the form of a little non-descript white packet typically found in a shoebox or in a vitamin bottle. It comes with the warning “do not eat” or “harmful if swallowed” and has the dual purpose of both alarming and annoying us. This form of silica is used to absorb moisture and preserve the dryness and freshness of anything in its proximity. And although non-threatening in itself, it is usually laced with cobalt chloride (among other things) which is definitely not meant for human consumption. That is the bad silica.
The good silica, the one that confers an endless array of health benefits and the one that we want more of is found unadulterated and naturally combined with oxygen in our environment in the form of silicon dioxide (SiO2). It is the second most abundant element on the earth’s crust and seemingly everywhere. Very similar in structure to carbon and a stone’s throw from it on the periodic table, silicon is one of the building blocks of life. Found in water, plant and animal sources, the most common form of silica is quartz and is a component of stone, concrete, and sand. If you’ve touched a rock or been to the beach, chances are you’ve handled silica.
In the human body, silicon is the third most abundant trace mineral after iron and zinc. It exists in your tendons, aorta, liver and kidneys. It is found blood vessels, cartilage, lymph nodes, muscles, teeth, tendons and the trachea. It is an integral part of bone health and the creation and maintenance of connective tissue. It is a critical component of healthy hair, skin and nails. At this point you may be thinking… ok so what? It is plentiful, omnipresent and surely I have enough of it already. Perhaps. But like many minerals, the presence of silica in the body diminishes with stress and as we age. Silica is all around us and yet it paradoxically only appears (in large concentrations) in certain foods. Moreover, taken as a supplement it has a notoriously low bioavailability, meaning your body will only absorb a tiny amount of it at a time and excrete the rest in urine.
But don’t let that deter you. The importance of this little known supplement for human health is only beginning to be understood but it is becoming clear that it is a foundational mineral we definitely need to consider adding to our anti-aging, youth-promoting, wellness enhancing repertoire.
A good skin, nail and hair day
Along with sulfur, silica is increasingly regarded as a superstar beauty mineral. And for good reason: our hair, skin and nails contain large amounts of it and rely on it for its strength, structure and overall integrity. Not sure if you are deficient? You might begin with your nails.
Since silica is the predominant mineral in their composition, the presence of soft and brittle nails is usually a good indication of a systemic deficiency in silicon. By supplementing with silica one can both improve the growth and strength of nails as well as offer increased protection against fungal infections. The beauty of silica is that it functions by taking minerals and nutrients to the periphery of the body such as our digits, imparting strength but also feeding the nail bed with all the vital nutrients for healthy growth.
"Since hair is really non-essential for our survival, minerals such as silica might not make it there unless there is enough to go around."
In terms of hair, silica is particularly important. It seems to be the most common complaint echoed by concerned girls around the globe: my ‘hair won’t grow’ or ‘my hair only grows to my shoulders’. We have spoken before about how mineral deficiency in the soil is a major contributing factor in declining health in the industrialized world. Our hair health and growth is always a good indicator as to what is going on inside and whether or not our nutritional quotas are being met. While Sugar Bear Hair vitamins might look cute and its biotin content might be somewhat effective, silica is really what you need. Its role in hair health appears to be two-fold.
First, it helps to achieve hormonal balance by keeping other minerals (such as calcium and magnesium) in check. An imbalance in the female sex hormones is one of the biggest single causal factors for hair loss and the thinning of hair. An intake of silica will most definitely help to address this issue, preventing hair thinning and restoring vitality to your locks. Silica is also said to affect the structural fibres of the hair itself, making individual strands stronger, shinier and less vulnerable to breakage.
Secondly, as is evident with our nails, silica also helps to transport nutrition to the outer parts of the body; parts that perhaps are considered non-essential in terms of our short term survival. That is triage theory: the view that in a situation of deficiency, vitamins and minerals will be rationed and only go to those vital tissues and organs needed the most to keep us alive. Since hair is really non-essential for our survival, minerals such as silica might not make it there unless there is enough to go around.
If you still aren’t convinced, witness the positive role of silica in the skin. When it comes to skin aging and degeneration, there are both intrinsic and extrinsic factors at play. External aging primarily results from damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. Although it has been suggested that those who do go in the sun have an overall stronger collagen matrix and healthy glow (add to that the indisputable benefits of Vitamin D) those who sun worship excessively will pay for their sins in the form of damaged skin. Other factors related to skin aging include smoking, pollution and inadequate nutrition and are more or less within our control. This we know. Internal factors related to skin deterioration are perhaps less within our direct control and this is where silica may come into play. As we age, there is a reduction and thinning of blood vessels with collagen particularly affected in this process. This is the inevitable aging process at work but can be mitigated internally- that is by giving our body the necessary substrates to regenerate and produce healthy, youthful skin. Silica is a significant part of this process because it is a large component of collagen itself and is required for rebuilding it. It acts as kind of glue, providing strength, flexibility and resilience to connective tissues. This glue-like function means silica is imperative for rebuilding the skin, something that is constantly ongoing. Silica also has an anti- inflammatory property that may help to relieve chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. If this weren’t enough, because silica and oxygen are so closely linked, silica is actually a strong carrier of oxygen and as such increases the transport of both nutrients and oxygen to the skin. When silica is in circulation it assists the red blood cells to carry up to 20% more oxygen than usual, giving that ‘just been to the gym’ glow that is so sought after. But be patient. Results can take anywhere up to 12 weeks at which point you may notice firmer skin with more elasticity, hydration and a reduction in pores, blemishes and lines as well.
Any discussion of the benefits of silica should include the significant part it has to play in bone health and maintenance. Low bone mass (osteoporosis) has been called the "silent epidemic of the 21st century" and shows no sign of abating. The usual genetic and epigenetic suspects such as weight bearing exercise, rate of alcohol consumption and exposure to toxins all have a role to play in bone health. And yet research reveals that nutrition continues to be that all-important determinant of bone health even as the effects of individual nutrients and minerals (except calcium) are not fully understood.
If soaring rates of osteoporosis are any indication, increased calcium supplementation does not in and of itself seem to be the answer. In fact the tide seems to be turning and we are discovering that strong bones require much more than a glass of milk a day. One mineral simply does not cut it and co-factors such as the elusive vitamin K as well as vitamin D3 in order to make its way into our bones. In fact without sufficient silica, magnesium, and vitamin K2, calcium cannot become part of bone matter and remains in the blood to potentially calcify in the soft tissue of inner artery walls and the heart. You have been warned.
Bone minerals include magnesium and a slew of other trace minerals including silica. Other co-factors such as zinc, copper, manganese and boron are essential enzymatic co-factors important for the synthesis of bone. Silica is in fact a major player and it has been suggested that a calcium deficiency is invariably associated with a deficiency in silica. Several studies have indicated that people with broken bones heal a lot quicker when silica levels are high irrespective of their calcium levels in the bloodstream. Animal studies in the 1970’s reported that “dietary silicon deficiency produces defects in connective and skeletal tissues” and that “silicon is concentrated at the mineralization front of the growing bone”. There are some that go further, suggesting that silica is able to transform into bone. Nobel prize nominee and French professor C. L. Kervran did so in the 1960’s and his work strongly argued for the concept of biological transmutation or the notion that one element may be transmuted into another alchemically. In this way, magnesium may be transformed into calcium, potassium into sodium and silica into calcium. While this theory is definitely in need of further research, the role of silica in bone health can no longer be underestimated.
One maybe less known advantage of supplementing with silica is its ability to assist in the detox of heavy metals, particularly aluminum. This is worth noting since sadly, there is no shortage of aluminum toxins in our environment. It’s in our cookware, beverage containers, foil, cigarette smoke, cosmetics, antiperspirants, sunscreen, antacids and is found in all vaccines. Once in the blood it is carried to the heart and across the blood brain barrier. Aluminum in the brain is no joke; it continues to be strongly linked to various forms of dementia as well as Alzheimer’s, which has been steadily and consistently on the rise since the 1990’s. Once in the blood, silica binds with aluminum molecules and leads them out of brain cell tissue safely through the urine. Why is this? Generally speaking when minerals are lacking or absent from the diet, the body will use metals as a substitute. When we begin to remineralize these metals are expelled from the body in favor of the real thing, which it always prefers. A closer look at the periodic table may offer a clue as to silica’s affinity for aluminum. It shows that aluminum (Al) sits right next to silicon (Si) and as both are cations with similar properties there is definitely a relationship there that demands further investigation.
Other notable benefits of silica in the body include:
- helps to keep arteries and blood walls strong
- promotes healthy digestion
- boosts the immune system
- helps to keep the blood more alkaline
- can help fight yeast overgrowth such as candida
- strengthens the connective tissues of the brain, nerve cells, and spinal cord thereby improving memory
- helps stabilize the release of insulin
- helps keep teeth and gums healthy and keep cavities at bay
So now that we’ve established the reasons why you should be taking more silica, what is the best way to get it? Good food sources of silica include unrefined cereals, apples, cherries, almonds, oranges, fish, oats and seeds. But again, the refining and processing of foods greatly reduces the available amount of silica and soils are notoriously depleted.