When you think of supplementing your diet to strengthen your bones and teeth, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For some, calcium is the number one thought. After so many years of that famous milk campaign by the dairy industry, most people immediately think of calcium for stronger bones and teeth. Others think of Vitamin D, trying to make the time every day to get a few moments of sun exposure for vitamin production. True, the two go hand in hand when it comes to promoting bone health. But there is an element that is often overlooked that can help to strengthen your bones, detox your system, aid in the prevention of disease, and boost your beauty routine.
Silica, an oxide of silicon or silicon dioxide (SiO2), is second in abundance on this earth only to oxygen. In the food and beverage industry, it’s often used as an anti-caking agent, viscosity controller anti-foaming agent, dough modifier, and as an inactive ingredient, or filler, in supplements. I’m sure you’re also used to seeing silica packets in some of your new purchases as they can absorb excess moisture. Although there are a number of industrial uses for this abundant metalloid, there are also quite a few medicinal benefits that may make this compound good for your health.
In order for the human body to benefit from silica, it must be in a water-soluble form. There are several forms of water-soluble silica, commonly known as silicic acid. Of these forms, orthosilicic acid is the predominant form found in human bones and tissue. In fact, according to data presented by the NCBI, if a person is deficient in silica, deformities in the skull and bones are present, joints are poorly formed, and there are reductions in cartilage, collagen, and an imbalance of minerals in the femur and vertebrae.
Silica is found in the soil, on rocks, and in plants. For human consumption, silica can be found in foods like gluten-free oats which have been soaked and sprouted, potatoes, red beets, asparagus, and bananas. However, one of the best sources of silica for human consumption is horsetail, also known as Equisetum giganteum.
The use of horsetail as a medicinal herb, which grows in areas of wet soil, dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was used to stop hemorrhaging and external bleeding and to treat tuberculosis and kidney disease. Native Americans also used this herb to treat urinary tract infections. Today, the stems of this medicinal herb are consumed as food while others choose to drink it as a tea.
Just as the ancient Greeks and Romans knew the great medicinal benefits of silica, researchers continue to study how silica and horsetail contribute to the health of your bones, brain, kidneys, hair, skin, and nails.
How does silica benefit your bones?
To provide further insight on how silica helps with bone formation, Edith M. Carlisle, Ph.D. published a 1981 study, “Silicon: a requirement in bone formation independent of vitamin D 1” in which she concluded that “silicon had an effect on collagen to make the bone matrix more calcifiable.” Her findings confirmed the earlier findings of Schwartz and Milne’s 1972 study and Sandstead’s findings in 1974. It wasn’t until 1993 that further research was reported on the role of silicon in bone health. In the 1993 study, it was reported that “silicon reduced bone resorption and increased bone formation in the animal model of postmenopausal osteoporosis.”
Further studies on the effects of silica and bone health have found that “higher dietary silicon intake in men and younger women may have salutary effects on skeletal health, especially cortical bone health, that has not been previously recognized.” Although post-menopausal women who were not on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) did not appear to benefit from this study, it is believed that their lack of improvement is due to the amount of estrogen present in their bodies. Estrogen increases the intestinal absorption of calcium. Therefore, more research is needed to determine if there is a link between the benefits of silica and the estrogen levels of post-menopausal women.
Silica may also convert to calcium in the body. Master herbalist Dr. John Ray Christopher documented his success of using the silica found in horsetail as a calcium supplement. This belief was previously documented by the 1975 Nobel prize nominee, C. Louis Kurvran who documented the similarities of silica and calcium. Those in alternative dentistry, follow the teachings of herbalist Doug Simons who found that silica-rich horsetail, mainly Equisetum Hymale, is capable of strengthening and regenerating cavity-worn teeth.
How is silica neuroprotective?
Heavy metals in the body are toxic and can lead to neurodegenerative diseases. High levels of aluminum have been linked to Alzheimer’s. In a recent publication by Natural News, horsetail “allows your body to remove aluminum, a toxic metal, from your blood by forming large hydroxyaluminosilicate [sic] molecules, which your kidneys can easily filter out of your blood. The result is that you urinate out the aluminum from your body.”
While some studies have reported that silica can aid in the elimination of aluminum from the body, there have been other studies that have not been successful in proving this theory. Some Australian and British researchers believe that they have discovered the reason for the discrepancy in test results.
According to these researchers, the majority of the studies on silica have been performed on monomeric silica, orthosilicic acid, to bind the aluminum. But silica also occurs naturally as an oligomeric form, which has a much higher aluminum-binding ability than the monomeric form. When their hypothesis was tested, they were able to conclude that “oligomeric silica is highly effective in preventing the absorption of aluminum through the gastrointestinal tract.”
Additionally, the silica-rich plant horsetail shows anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Other than metal toxicity, chronic inflammation can also lead to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. An NCBI study was able to show that a horsetail extract, called AEGH (aqueous extract of giant horsetail) had “an interesting anti-inflammatory potential in an acute model of inflammation, as well as immunomodulatory effect on both B and T lymphocytes, with an action independent of cytotoxicity.”
As an antioxidant, a 2010 study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, “showed the effects of horsetail extract on sunflower oil and soybean fats. In both tests, free radicals were suppressed. Not only that, but horsetail extract was also able to keep a line of cancer cells from proliferating.”
How does silica promote kidney health?
Silica has been used as a diuretic. In an NCBI study, horsetail extract “produced a diuretic effect that was stronger than that of the negative control and was equivalent to that of hydrochlorothiazide without causing significant changes in the elimination of electrolytes.” Because of its urine-promoting effect, many herbalists have used horsetail as a remedy for kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
There is also some evidence that silica can rebuild tissue caused by inflammation. In one study that analyzed the effects of horsetail on diabetic rats, the horsetail extract exhibited anti-diabetic activities and helped to regenerate the pancreas.
How does silica promote healthy hair, skin, and nails?
Hair, nails, and skin rely on silica for health and strength. For this reason, many beauty supplements include silica or horsetail among their active ingredients. It is also relied upon as a treatment for alopecia or hair loss.
As an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, silica-rich horsetail helps to purify the blood thereby increasing blood circulation to all areas of the body. Because hair growth relies on blood flow to stimulate the hair follicle, it is believed to be a great remedy for adding shine, improving hair strength, and re-growing lost hair.
A study on the effects of silicon on skin, conducted on a group of healthy participants aged 40 – 65, concluded that “there was a significant improvement in the skin surface characteristics and in its mechanical properties.” It was also observed in this same study that the participants had a significant improvement in the strength of their hair and nails. In another experiment, which solely focused on hair, 48 volunteers were studied over a period of nine months. The result was that the participants who were given the silicon supplements experienced improvements in hair strength and breakage resistance.
Whether it’s consumed for health reasons or for improving your beauty regimen, silica and horsetail provide benefits that strengthen, purify, and regenerate tissue in the body. It’s important to note that neither silica nor horsetail should be used if you’re taking water pills as they can act as a diuretic. Diabetics who are on medication will also want to take heed as silica may also lower blood sugar levels.
Looking healthy comes from being healthy. Consuming horsetail and other silica-rich foods will help to detox your system, strengthen your bones, improve brain health, and diminish age-related symptoms that affect your outer appearance. When taken along with a healthy diet, silica may prove to be your fountain of youth.
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