Silica Rich Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Silicon (or silica) is a natural ingredient that can nourish and care for your body. On the other hand, silicone (with an ‘e’) is a synthetic ingredient used in many personal care items and in prosthetic devices such as breast implants.
In this article, we look at the virtues of the natural silicon, which I’ll call silica from now to avoid confusion. Later I’ll provide more details about silicone use in personal care items and why they should be avoided.
Silica is a vital trace mineral required by the body for strong and flexible joints, glowing skin and stronger bones.
It supports the strengthening of connective tissues, bones, nails, hair and skin, and plays a vital role in the prevention of atherosclerosis, skin disorders and insomnia.
Silica is a necessary ingredient in our diet as it increases the absorption and utilisation of vitamin D, glucosomine and calcium, and is great to bind to aluminium in the body for safe excretion. I discovered this a few years ago while researching the best way to clear aluminium from the body of a child who drank coconut water from ‘tetra paks’ lined with aluminium which was the presumed source of aluminium (but could also have been from other sources).
Symptoms of silica deficiency
Along with the poor development of bones, silica deficiency also causes thinning of the hair, brittleness of nails, formation of wrinkles and general premature aging of the skin.
Benefits of Silica
Until recently, silica was not regarded as an important element due to its substantial presence in animal and plant tissues. However, ongoing research is shining a bright light on the health benefits of silica. Here are some of those benefits:
Probably one of the most recognised characteristics of silica is its role in the maintenance of good nail health. Silica improves the quality of nails and helps to protect them against nail infections so your fingers remain strong and healthy.
Silica is necessary for the maintenance of skeletal health by increasing the deposits of minerals like calcium into the bone tissue. Silica also increases the amount of collagen, the protein component of bones, which affects flexibility and increases the rate of healing of bone fractures and dislocations.
Silica supports the collagen and elastin in the skin, thereby preventing skin from getting flabby, and helps to maintain and restore the natural glow of the skin.
Silica encourages the growth of thick healthy hair, increases the lustre and shine of hair, and prevents thinning of hair and alopecia (bald spots) often caused by a lack of nutrients from a processed diet lacking silica.
It has been discovered that silica, through bonding with aluminium, prevents the absorption of aluminium from the gastrointestinal tract, which may reduce the signs and symptoms of aluminium toxicity. Higher amounts of aluminium are found in the brain lesions of patients who had Alzheimer’s disease, so a diet rich in silica may help.
Healthy blood vessels
The formation of plaque in the arteries causes atherosclerosis, which leads to the obstruction of blood flow because the scar tissue and oxidized cholesterol inhibits the circulation of blood. Recent research has revealed that silica can decrease the formation of plaque, and potentially reduce the risk of various cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes.
You may have first heard about silicone when breast implants became popular many years ago. Silicone is a man-made chemical created in the laboratory from a combination of silica mixed with other elements like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The resulting compounds were extensively processed and very different from the original ingredient silica.
Used as either a liquid or a flexible, rubberlike plastic, silicone is used in adhesives, sealants, lubricants, cooking utensils, insulation, breast implants (less so these days), medical applications and are now quite prevalent in many personal care products.
Silicone in these products help to make hair feel smooth and look shiny, skincare products feel silky, colour pigments adhere to skin, deodorants feel velvety and sunscreens resist water and sweat. Look at the ingredient list on products you use and you may find some sort of silicone (with ‘cone’ at the end of the name) in any of the following:
- Anti-aging products
- Anti-perspirants and deodorants
- Creams and lotions, including eye creams and hand and body lotions
- Eye-shadows, blushes, bronzers
- Foundations and primers
- Hair colours and dyes
- Hair styling products
- Shaving lotions and gels
- Shampoos and conditioners
- Shower gels
- Tinted moisturizers
Manufacturers like silicones because they make products glide onto the skin without pulling or tugging. Silicones rest on the surface of the skin, creating a smooth look. They condition hair strands and impart an artificial softness. Silicones make products feel smoother, non-greasy and less tacky, yet are resistant to fading and spreading because they are less likely to wash off.
Despite all these apparent benefits, I suggest you avoid silicones in your personal care products for reasons that follow.
Silica/Silicon vs Silicone
As mentioned, silica has benefits for skin care – but what about when it’s in the synthesised product called silicone?
While silica is a natural ingredient that can nourish and care for skin, silicone is a synthetic ingredient that may provide some short-term benefits but will do nothing to give you better skin in the long run, and may even accelerate the appearance of aging skin.
The most popular silicone in skin care right now is called ‘dimethicone’ (see how the name ends in ‘cone’). Dimethicone forms a slick film over your skin and if it’s in your moisturizers etc, you may be wearing it all day and night. This can interfere with the skin’s natural processes like sweating and sloughing off old dead skin cells. The more you use it, the more it may make fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable.
If you have sensitive skin, it may increase the risk for breakouts. By trapping moisture, you’re also trapping bacteria, sebum, and other impurities, making acne worse.
Silicones like dimethicone are also not good for our planet because they are non-biodegradable, so they must be specially disposed of. But how can they be disposed of properly if we wash them down the drain when we cleanse ourselves? I’ve seen research showing that these silicones end up in large quantities in the oceans where plant life, fish and other sea creatures suffer from this invisible toxic substance. If not for yourself, consider avoiding silicones for our environment
Silicones are not ‘bad’ if they are used in medical devices and cookware, but for skin care? Do you really need a chemical in your products to give the impression that your skin is silky and your hair soft and shiny?
If you want clear, radiant skin then eat a healthy diet and use natural skin care ingredients (like silica) to truly nourish and soften your skin. There’s nothing smoother, silkier and shinier than naturally healthy skin and hair.
There is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for silica because it is not considered essential. The average diet provides about 1 to 1.5g/0.05oz of this mineral. Eating a diet high in processed foods and avoiding basic vegetable and grain foods can diminish our intake of silica. To get extra silica, eat more of the foods listed below or use herbs such as horsetail or alfalfa as a tea or supplement.
- Brazil nuts
- Raw cabbage
- Outer husks of grains/seeds like rice bran, black, brown, red rice, whole quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, teff
- Peels/skins of most fruits and vegetables
When you check the daily recommended amount of silica it is usually reported to be around 10-30mg per day, however when you look at most supplemental forms of silica you will find doses ranging between 40mg to 500mg, suggesting this dosage three times per day to help hair, skin, nails and various health conditions. It seems that the dose also depends on the source of the silica.
For example, many supplements use an herb called horsetail, which is naturally rich in silica and the recommended dose may be around 500mg, but the amount of elemental silica (actual silica in the herb) in 500mg of horsetail may be as little as 20mg, which is then a good supplemental dose.
However, with pure silica gel, the actual amount of silica in the gel is a mystery. From my research, I could not find the quantity of elemental silica in silica gel anywhere. The recommended dose of pure silica gel is often a tablespoon (500mg) three times a day. However, because dosages above 50mg elemental have not been proven to be safe, I suggest being cautious about using pure silica gel.
If you choose to supplement with silica, please consult with your health practitioner to determine the dose and form that best suits your needs.
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.