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Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements

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Silicon

What is silicon? Why do we need it?

Silicon is a non-metallic element, a mineral present in the earth's soil. Although it does not play an essential part in the human diet, it is the most abundant mineral in the earth's crust.

It is extremely hard, and is often found in rock crystals such as quartz and flint. Many plants absorb silicon into their fibers, which are consumed by people as part of a regular diet.

Silicon is believed to play a role in the production and maintenance of connective tissue. In addition, silicon has been found in areas of bone that are undergoing the mineralization process, which may indicate that it plays a role in bone formation and function. As a result, some practitioners have recommended silicon supplements to treat conditions such as osteoporosis, and to help speed the healing of sprains and strains.

In herbal remedies, silicon is used to promote strength in the hair, skin and nails. It helps maintain the elasticity of the skin, and may slow down the aging process.

How much silicon should I take?

Because silicon is considered a nonessential element, scientists haven't established a recommended daily allowance or optimal intake. However, the average American diet is believed to provide between 5 and 20 milligrams of silicon per day. Most silicon supplements provide between 1 and 2 milligrams of silicon.

What forms of silicon are available?

Silicon can be found in some whole-grain breads and cereals, certain vegetables (such as potatoes and carrots), and beer. A modified form of silicon, silicate, is sometimes added to processed foods. Most silicon supplements are derived from sugar cane, alfalfa, and the herb horsetail.

What can happen if I take too much silicon? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

There are no known side-effects associated with ingesting high amounts of silicon. However, inhaling large quantities of silicon can cause a respiratory disease called silicosis. As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with silicon. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking silicon or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.

References

  • Carlisle EM. Silicon as a trace nutrient. Sci Total Environ 1988;73:95-106.
  • Hass EM. Staying Healthy With Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts Press, 1992.
  • Nielsen FH. How should dietary guidance be given for mineral elements with beneficial actions or suspected of being essential? Journal of Nutrition 1996;126:S2377-85.
  • Nielsen FH. Ultratrace minerals. In: Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, et al (eds.) Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 9th edition. Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins, 1998, pp. 283-303.
  • Rico H, Gallego-Lago JL, Hernandez ER, et al. Effect of silicon supplement on osteopenia induced by ovariectomy in rats. Calcif Tissue Int 2000;66:53-55.

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