Patients often are surprised when I recommend silicon for their thinning hair or brittle nails. I believe that this mineral is a well-kept secret in the medical world. Note that silicon, the mineral, is different from silicone, the synthetic compound that in gel form) is used in some medical applications and products, including breast implants.
Silicon is amazing—it's the second most common mineral in the Earth's crust and is found in sand on beaches. While it was once believed to be an inert contaminant, researchers discovered more than a century ago that silicon was concentrated in many of the body's tissues. What's more, silicon plays a role in keeping us healthy by strengthening bone and joint cartilage and maintaining the health of hair, skin and fingernails. How silicon can help you…
Health Benefits Of Silicon
You may have heard silicon referred to as a "trace mineral," a mineral needed by the body in only very small amounts. But there is growing evidence that silicon could eventually be regarded as a macro mineral, which is required in amounts larger than that provided by food alone.
We have silicon in every cell of our bodies. Concentrations of silicon are highest in bone, connective tissues, skin, fingernails and hair, as well as the trachea, tendons and aorta-tissues that need strength and/or resilience. Silicon's main role is to enhance the structural integrity of specific tissues, such as…
- Collagen. Scientific evidence points to silicon being involved in the synthesis and stability" of collagen, the body's chief protein. We need collagen to make most of our organs, bone and the fibrous tissues of the skin, tendons and ligaments. Without adequate collagen production, bones and ligaments weaken and skin tissue is compromised.
- Joint cartilage. Collagen and noncollagen proteins are needed to make joint cartilage, the role of which is to protect the joints and enable bones to move freely.
- Bone. Silicon is a major constituent of bone-making cells. Concentrations of the mineral are especially high in cells actively forming new bone. The mineral enhances the absorption of calcium, and a lack of silicon reduces the calcium content of bone. High intake of silicon is associated with better bone-mineral density and stronger bones.
Several studies have found that taking supplemental silicon increases the mineral density of bones.
Example: A study of postmenopausal women published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders found that adding a silicon supplement improved bone-mineral density above and beyond what was achieved with just calcium and vitamin D supplementation.
- Skin, hair, fingernails. Several small but promising studies have found that supplemental silicon often can restore a younger and healthier-looking appearance. This is probably related to collagen and elastin production. Elastin is a protein that, as the name suggests, gives skin the ability to stretch. One study found that a commercial silicon oral supplement called RegeneMax reduced micro-wrinkle depth by 30%. It also improved the youthful look, or elasticity, of the skin. Other studies have found that silicon supplements can increase the thickness of hair strands and strengthen fingernails, making them more resistant to breaking.
Getting Silicon Into Your Body
While silicon was once plentiful in herbs and grains, farming methods have depleted silicon from the ground, so many plant foods are not as rich in silicon as they could be. Because of this, most people have suboptimal levels of silicon. We need 5 grams (g) to 20 g daily of silicon—and the best way to get this amount is to take supplemental silicon.
For those people who have thinning hair or lackluster, aging skin and want a more youthful appearance, I recommend taking 5 mg daily of choline-stabilized ortbosilicic acid, which is biologically active and much better absorbed than silicon derived from herbal sources. It is available in liquid and capsule form. If you have severe osteoporosis or Osteoarthritis or brittle nails or hair, consider taking 10 mg daily. If your body takes in more silicon than it needs, you excrete the excess (so taking in more than you need at these doses is not a problem).
Brands to try: BioSil by Natural Factors (800322-8704, www.naturalfactors.com for a store locator), JarroSil by Jarrow Formulas (310-204-6936, www.jarrow.com) and Xymogen's Regene Max (800-647-6100, www.xymogen.com, which is available through health-care professionals).
There are no side effects, and silicon is safe to take with other medications. Silicon supplements should be avoided by people with chronic kidney disease (excess silicon could result in further kidney damage) and women who are pregnant.