As research continues to explore the importance of nutrition, scientists keep finding nuggets of information that are critical for human health. Silicon is a trace nutrient that remained largely unknown until recently. We’re not talking about the flexible, colorful polymer used to make kitchen utensils and fake breasts (that material is “silicone,” with an “e” on the end). Silicon, also known as silicon dioxide or silica, is a mineral that is abundant in soil, plants and water.
Why silica is important for health
While silica is needed only in tiny amounts for the human body to stay healthy, that trace level is vital. Without it, many things go wrong: our teeth and bones become soft and deformed, while soft tissues like blood vessels become stiff.
Scientists first highlighted the importance of silica in animal models fed a silicon-deficient diet. This is a great way to determine the purpose of something when you’re not sure — just observe what happens when you take it away! The animal experiments showed that a diet lacking silica results in skeletal deformities such as an abnormal skull, poorly formed joints and decreased cartilage. Therefore, silicon is essential for the formation of bones and connective tissue. Cartilage needs silicon to form a healthy structure and to attract and hold water in the joint. If you want flexible, cushy joints, be sure to consume enough silica!
Silicon is vital for proper growth of bones in babies and children because it is an important part of osteogenic cells — these are the cells responsible for the formation of new bone. After adulthood is reached, silicon continues to play a role of maintenance in the living system of bone. Minerals are constantly dissolved and reabsorbed, and new bone is formed. Silica prevents bone loss by allowing the continual formation of healthy bone structure. Studies on people with osteoporosis have found that silica was able to significantly improve bone density. Silica also helps bones stay flexible (rather than brittle) by supporting the synthesis of collagen.
It just so happens that hair, nails and skin are formed out of proteins that also rely on silica. This is why silica is known as a beauty supplement. It can be used to promote strong, shiny hair as well as healthy nails and youthful, elastic skin.
Another amazing benefit of silica is its ability to reduce aluminum absorption. Aluminum is toxic to the human body, especially the brain, causing impaired cognitive function and even Alzheimer’s. In animal studies, silicon was found to prevent the accumulation of aluminum in the brain and prevent neurological disorders.
The heart and circulatory system also benefit from silica. The arteries of healthy people have been found to contain 10 times more silica than those with atherosclerosis. Adequate silica consumption can help prevent the hardening of the arteries and unhealthy plaque accumulation.
Similar to the way that silicon helps to keep arteries, joints and skin flexible, it performs a lubricating function in the mucous membranes. These include the eyes, nose, mouth and genitals — all of which require a self-moisturizing function to stay healthy. Just one more reason to ensure you’re getting enough silica.
Finally, dietary silicon is an immune-boosting food, helping to activate cells called phagocytes, which remove toxins and viruses.
Are you low in silicon?
Unfortunately, our modern diet and lifestyle can predispose us to silicon deficiency in a number of ways:
- Good, strong stomach acid is needed to break down silicon so that it can be used by the body. Chronic stress and a poor diet mean that many of us have inadequate stomach acid.
- Processed and refined foods generally have the natural silicon-containing fibers removed, so we miss out when we eat these foods.
- Many of the additives used in packaged foods interfere with silicon absorption.
- The earth’s soil is becoming depleted by extensive agriculture, so plants contain less silica than they used to.
Here are some telltale signs that you might be deficient in dietary silicon:
- Weak, brittle nails
- Dull hair that falls out easily
- Loss of bone mass (pre-osteoporosis)
- Joint pain or inflexibility
- Pre-Alzheimer’s symptoms
Healthy foods that contain silica
Many fruits and vegetables contain silica, but, as mentioned above, those grown in depleted soils will not contain as much silica. Therefore, purchasing organic produce grown on mineral-rich soil is worth the investment for improved nutritional value.
Choose the following foods for a good dose of silica:
- Oats (gluten-free, soaked and sprouted are best)
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Red beets
You can also consume silica from some types of natural spring water, as a mineral supplement gel or liquid, or as an herbal supplement made from a silica-rich plant called horsetail.
Eating whole foods that are rich in silica can keep you healthy, youthful and gorgeous without the need for expensive products or risky medications. Did you know that sea salt also makes a great natural anti-aging treatment?
Liivi is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and is training to become a doula. She inspires women to find peace and personal power by taking control of health and fertility naturally. Liivi‘s passion is ancestral nutrition and primal lifestyle design. She and her partner Will live between Toronto, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand.