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Why we need silica in our diet

By David Coory

I received an email from a reader of my Stay Healthy book asking “Why is silica not covered in your excellent book?" A very good question – silica is an important nutrient that’s not talked about much and found in only a few multi-vitamin-mineral supplements.

We don’t need much silica, only about 25mg a day, but it’s critical for our bone and joint health, and boosts collagen to keep our skin youthful and our arteries flexible. It’s also good for our nails and gums. Study after study confirms silica’s importance and surprisingly it's reported to protect against asthma and dementia. I did overlook silica in my book but will add it to future editions. In the meantime, here are some useful facts about this mineral.

It needs to be plant sourced

Silica in its crude form is quartz rock, or even beach sand and is one of the most abundant minerals on our planet. But silica in this inorganic form cannot be used by our body – it has to be converted to the organic colloidal form (orthosilicic acid) by a plant so that it can be dissolved in water.

Not many plants contain useful amounts of organic silica – wheat is good, but the bran and germ containing most of the silica is discarded during processing into white flour. Kiwi men might be pleased to hear that beer is a good source, and even many New Zealand tap waters. Bamboo shoots are the richest source of organic silica and we use this source in our Health House products.

Silica defers skin wrinkling

In our youth, our tissues absorb and maintain high levels of silica which allows our bodies to be flexible, supple and energetic. As we age, our silica levels steadily decline (believed to be due to hormonal changes) until they become almost non-existent. This shows up mostly in the reduction of our skin's collagen of which silica is a critical factor. Collagen retains water which keeps our skin tissue firm and greatly reduces wrinkling.

Silica is needed to form healthy new bone

Our body cannot create healthy new bone without the presence of silica. A French study found that fractured bones did not heal at all, (even when high amounts of calcium were present) if there was no silica. Yet they healed well even when low amounts of calcium were present, if there was an abundance of silica. This is why lack of silica is a major cause of osteoporosis. UK bone researcher Dr R. Jugdaohsingh reports, “Silicon intake is a major dietary determinant of bone mineral density in men and pre-menopausal women." ‘The Journal of Bone and Mineral Research’ vol 19-2 p297-307.

Another bone researcher reports, “Silicon in tiny amounts increases eggshell thickness in hens.” And another, “In one month, organic silica increased the bone formation rate and surface area at the tibia of female rats by 30%.”

Silica improves nail health

One of the frequent testimonials we receive from our customers is that their nails are so much stronger. Dr N. Scheinfeld, Dept of Dermatology, Columbia University Hospital reports, “Brittle nail syndrome appears to abate with supplementation of a 10mg dose of silicon daily.”

Silica can rid our brain of aluminium

Silica can also rid our bodies of excess aluminium associated with dementia. When researchers added silica to aluminium-laced water supplies, it suppressed the aluminium from being absorbed and caused a huge increase in aluminium being excreted in the urine and lowered aluminium concentrations in the brain. A French study of the mental acuity of 7,600 women over 75 reports, “The results of a number of studies suggest that dietary silicon supplementation could be of therapeutic value for preventing chronic aluminium accumulation in the brain, and hence, be a potential therapy for Alzheimers.” ‘Nutrition Reviews’ Drs J. Domingo, M. Gomez & T. Colomina Jan 2011 p41-51

Silica, asthma and our arteries

Another study found an 85% reduction of asthma with silica supplementation and found that silica was abundant (up to 14 times more) in the arteries of people who were free of heart disease. Their arteries were also stronger and therefore more resistant to aneurysm.

RDI and safety

There is no NZ RDI set for silica, but overseas figures recommend 14 to 30mg per day for adults, and no more than 700mg per day from a supplement.