Why we need it for beautiful skin, hair, nails, & so much more


One such mineral, silica, or more properly silicon, is essential for maintaining healthy bone and connective tissue. Traces of this mineral can be found in every organ and cell of the body, with its greatest concentrations being in cartilage, blood vessels, skin and hair. While silica may not be the first beauty nutrient that leaps to your mind, its value shouldn't be ignored since beautiful and strong hair, skin and nails depend upon it. In fact, silica not only enables your body's framework to hold you up, it will also help your natural good looks to hold up too.
What is silica?

Silica is a non-metallic element second only to oxygen in its abundance on Earth. It's also the second-most common element that comprises nearly 28 percent of the Earth's crust and occurs naturally as silicon dioxide, or flint. In its pure form, silica (or silicon) cannot stand alone in a natural state due to its vulnerability to atmospheric water and oxygen. Instead, silica is found in polymerized combinations with metals as silicates embedded in geologic rock formations, such as quartz.

Silica is used extensively in various industries. Since the term silica -- which is actually analogous to silicon dioxide -- is tossed about with attachments such as "gel" or "colloidal" so frequently these days, things can get a bit confusing.

In finding the silica solution, absorption or bioavailability of silica products in the body is the key. First of all, the term "colloidal" indicates that the silica preparation contains particles of polymerized silicic acid suspended in water. Silicon dioxide is crushed into a fine insoluble powder and is also used in manufacturing foods and beverages. In fact, it is commonly added to beer as a defoaming agent.

Silica also resides in certain plants and whole grains, but usually as insoluble compounds. It's important to keep in mind that, while secondary sources of silica, including vegetable sources, do present benefits, they can sometimes have limited bioavailability. For one thing, commercial processing of grains and vegetable sources sometimes promote the conversion of silica to non-bioactive silicates. For another, the body does not directly absorb these silicates.

They must first be hydrolyzed in the stomach to form orthosilicic acid, which is the only silicon form known to be readily absorbed by the human body. In short, the amount of orthosilicic acid produced by the stomach from dietary silica is relatively low due to insufficient solubility. For this reason, some experts believe that products containing stabilized orthosilicic acid, for example, may offer especially good absorption via the stomach and intestinal walls. However, only trace amounts of this mineral are required by the body, and individual considerations such as age, lifestyle and diet should be taken into account when determining which silica source is best for you.
The silica difference

Why do you need silica? Silica-derived orthosilicic acid is a component of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), a group of chemicals including hyaluronic acids, chrondrotin sulfates and complex keratin proteins that stimulate the manufacture of collagen and connective tissue function and repair. Aging skin is typically characterized by a fall off of silica and hyaluronic acid levels in connective tissue, due to a decline in the stomach's ability to synthesize these acids. The result is a loss of moisture and suppleness in the skin. The youthful appearance of hair and nails can also be affected since they are basically composed of keratin proteins.

Several animal studies from the 1970s and 1980s reveal that silica is also critical to bone mineralization and calcification and may be helpful in preventing diseases such as osteoporosis. In fact, loss of bone density and calcium deposition is nearly always accompanied by a significant decline in silica concentration in tissues.
"Apatite" for silicon?

Additional research has demonstrated that silica plays a vital role in the formation of apatite crystal, the main constituent in bone. In fact, a 1993 study by G. Stendig-Lindberg, et al., looked at the effects of silicon, fluoride and magnesium on bone-mineral density. After 1 year, women who received silicon supplementation achieved a statistically significant increase in bone-mass density (in the thigh bone).

Silica is also involved in maintaining the integrity of blood vessel walls. Arteriosclerosis is a condition in which the arteries become blocked and hardened by cholesterol plaque and abnormal arterial tissue growth. Silica levels of the aorta, the heart's major blood pathway, also decline with age, and the surrounding connective tissues may show signs of weakening. In fact, it is the absence of silica in the lining of the arterial walls that helps to contribute to the development of plaque deposits.
Silica and Alzheimer's disease

Silica is not known to have any inherent toxic effects, but there has been a concern about the role it plays in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Earlier literature reports that elevated levels of silicon, as well as aluminum, have been found in the neurofibrillary tangles and plaques of Alzheimer's patients. However, more recent research suggests that normal serum levels of silica, especially in the presence of magnesium, may actually counteract the negative effects of aluminum in the body that may accumulate from processed foods, medicines, cookware or drinking water by interfering with the absorption and accelerating its excretion. There is also a suspected correlation between those of advanced years prone to Alzheimer's disease and the increased use of antacids and anti-inflammatory products, both of which can contain significant amounts of aluminum and silicon. And, as Regina Noble, B.A., M.S., a nutritional counselor based in upstate New York points out, "Silica is often used as a filler in many supplements, so I would review the supplements that the person is already taking. Prior to, or especially after, any supplementation the person should have a hair mineral analysis to determine the need, to see improvement and to check for excess." Since genetic factors play a major role in the potential to develop Alzheimer's, it would be wise to consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before supplementing with silica if the disease is present in your family history.
The bottom line

Silica deficiency in humans has not been extensively studied. However, it is known that silica is essential to good health and a youthful appearance, and that the mineral becomes more important to our bodies as the years progress. If you suspect that you may not be getting sufficient amounts of this trace mineral in your diet, you may want to consider supplementation.
Pork rinds and beer?

Although it may seem "stranger than science" as veteran newsman Frank Edwards, used to say, pork rinds and beer are concentrated sources of silicon, although most nutritional adepts would frown on the former, at least.

Nevertheless, you need not look far to find (other) natural sources of silica, since Noble recommends that, "If a person has symptoms of silicon deficiency, such as very dry hair, of silica, including horsetail or oat-straw, or food sources, such as wheat bran, soybeans, beets, leafy vegetables and brown rice." However, keep in mind that the less adulterated the secondary source of silica is, the more benefits it will have to offer. So, strive to find organic, unprocessed sources of these products. Silica supplements containing standardized orthosilicic acid are also available, some fortified with silica partners such as magnesium, potassium and calcium.

Calomme, M.R. et al. "Supplementation of calves with stabilized orthosilicic acid. Effect on Si, Ca, Mg and P concentrations in serum and the collagen concentration in skin and cartilage." Biological Trace Element Research, 56(2): 153165, 1997.

Carlisle E.M., et al. "Effect of dietary silicon and aluminum on silicon and aluminum levels in rat brain." Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders, 1(2):83-9, 1987.

Eisinger, J. et al. "Effects of silicon, fluoride, etidronate and magnesiliconum on bone mineral density: A retrospective study." Magnesium Research, 6:247-49, 1993.

Germano, Carl, R.D., C.N.S. The Osteoporosis Solution. New York: Kensington Books, 1999.

Kaufmann, Klaus, D.Sc. Silica: The Amazing Gel: An Essential Mineral for Radiant Health Recovery and Rejuvenation. New York, NY: Alive Books, 1998.

Lassus, A. "Colloidal silicic acid for the treatment of psoriatic skin lesions, arthropathy and onychopathy. A pilot study." Journal of Internal Medicine Research, 25(4): 206-209, July 1997.

Roberts N.B., et al. "Increased absorption of aluminium from a normal dietary intake in dementia." Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, 69(3):171-6, Feb 15, 1998.

Stendig-Lindberg, G., et al. "Trabecular bone density in a two-year controlled trial of peroral magnesium in osteoporosis," Magnes Res 6(2):155-163, 1993.

Interview with Regina Noble, B.A., M.S. Saugerties, NY (914) 247-0459.


By Karyn Siegel-Maier

Karyn Siegel-Maier is a freelance writer who specializes in herbs, alternative medicine, and new-age issues. She is a frequent contributor to national and regional magazines, newsletters, and other publications. She is the author of The Naturally Clean Home: 121 Safe and Easy Herbal Formulas for Non-Toxic Cleansers (Story-Books/Dec. 1999).

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