Silicon

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Second only to oxygen, silicon is the most abundant element in Earth's crust. It is found in rocks, sand, clays and soils, combined with either oxygen as silicon dioxide, or with oxygen and other elements as silicates. Silicon's compounds are also found in water, in the atmosphere, in many plants, and even in certain animals.

Silicon (Si) has only recently been regarded as an essential mineral. It is present in the body in the form of an ether derivative of silicic acid or silanate, and is needed for the optimal growth and efficient production of mucopolysaccharides and collagen in connective tissues. Si plays an important role, cross-linking the mucopolysaccharides and proteins to increase the strength and reduce the permeability of the extracellular matrix in connective tissues including the aorta and other arteries, trachea, tendon, bone, teeth and skin, and also has a catalytic role in the mineralisation of new bone. Si therefore aids the healing process and also helps to build the immune system.

Therapeutic uses

Suggested therapeutic uses for Si supplementation:

* Hair loss
* Irritations in mucus membranes
* Skin disorders
* Insomnia
* Signs of aging
* Atherosclerosis

Deficiencies

Symptoms of Si deficiency are predominantly evident as abnormalities of connective tissue and bone 16:

* Aging symptoms of skin, e.g. wrinkles
* Thinning/loss of hair
* Poor bone development
* Brittle nails

Excessive intake: Most Si compounds are generally regarded as being non-toxic when consumed orally, although high levels of Si have been found in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Food sources:

* Cereals, oats
* Hard water
* Wine
* Unrefined grains of high fibre content
* Nuts and seeds
* Apples

Generally, plant sources have a higher Si content, whilst animal sources and refined or processed foods are low in Si.17 Most of the Si consumed from the diet is in the form of aluminosilicate and silica, and is therefore not bioavailable.17, 28 Even silicate additives, which are increasingly used in prepared foods and confections in the form of anti-caking or anti-foaming agents are not readily absorbable.

Summary

With the many uses of silicon and its low toxicity, there is clinical potential in Si supplementation and it has been highly speculative. Further investigations on humans may be beneficial to confirm the same effects as found in animals. However, the human requirement is so small and the therapy would be so cheap that, unfortunately, supplementation in this case lacks investment potential and would be financially non-profitable.

RDA: not established, possibly 2-5mg

Researched supplement range: 5-20mg

Average daily intake: 329mg

Research findings

* Studies with chicks and rabbits have shown that the injection or ingestion of Si compounds prevents intimal thickening and fragmentation of arterial elastic fibres, and increases the endothelial production of heparan sulphate proteoglycans. This decreases the morphological transformation, migration and multiplication of vascular smooth muscle cells and reduces intimal hyperplasia, thus promoting an anti-atherosclerotic property of Si. Prevention of atherogenesis and CV disease in humans has been suggested.

* A study has shown that the application of colloidal silicic acid twice daily to the face and taking oral doses of 10ml colloidal silicic acid can improve the thickness and strength of skin, wrinkles, and health of hair and nails. However, the study population was small, and further investigation is needed.

* Si has also been thought to complement glucosamine activity, which may help to prevent or treat osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, vascular aneurysms, and varices.

* Experiments involving chicks fed on a semi-synthetic Si-deficient diet demonstrated abnormal skull structure and long bones, with small poorly formed joints and defects in endochondral bone growth, possibly due to a decrease in bone hydroxyproline and alkaline and acid phosphatase, with an alteration in bone mineral composition.

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