Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Silica – Hair, Bones, Joints and More

What can I eat or supplement to make my hair grow (fill in the blank) thicker, longer, stronger? There is no one answer for that question. First, you need a varied, nutritious diet, exercise, enough sleep - a healthy lifestyle. But there are some assists...©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Silica (silicon dioxide) is a necessary nutrient – particularly for your skin, hair, fingernails, bones, and joints. It makes all of the above stronger when it is abundant in your diet.

You get the silica in your body from plants, from the soil they are grown in, and from water. Plants take orthosilicic acid from the soil (this is the form which is soluble in water). Silica is deposited in various parts of plants. Some plants like grasses (grains), cucumbers, beans, take up more silica than others.
Silica inclusion from a grass leaf.
Silica in various forms has been demonstrated to make hair stronger and possibly thicken hair shafts, to make fingernails stronger, and to improve elasticity and smoothness of skin. Hair shafts in one study of women with fine hair increased by about 8% in diameter in a study of choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid supplements (10 mg/day).  One example is BioSil brand. Silica increases bone strength and density as well.

“Silica” is required for the body to manufacture collagen in skin and hair and fingernails as well as in the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans which attract and hold large amounts of water in skin and cartilage.

Choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid is the form with clinical, double-blind, placebo-controlled tests to demonstrate that it works and does not have harmful side effects. Other forms of silica can be effective (you can read reviews and testimonials online about silica supplements to this effect). But we like to say that many similar anecdotes do not scientific data make. You have to put these things to a measurable test and make them prove their worth – or fail trying.
If you are thinking of taking horsetail (Equisetum) extract for silica, you might want to consider this; horsetail can sicken or kill grazing animals who eat too much of it. It contains toxic alkaloids - the amounts of which are determined by the species. It may also contain trace amounts of nicotine. People take horsetail as a silica supplement and get along fine, and it is possible to remove the toxic alkaloids. But I wouldn’t recommend it to my family or friends, knowing that it has toxic potential because I don’t know how any particular formula is processed.
Algae (diatoms)?
I have also read of people ingesting diatomaceous earth for hair growth (diatoms are algae with silicon dioxide in their cell walls – diatomaceous earth is a powder consisting of diatoms). While there are “food grade” versions of this product available and are assumed to be safer, swallowing diatoms is a lot like swallowing sand. It could work well, or you could end up with tummy upsets, so proceed carefully if you are using this as a supplement rather than to eliminate snails from your garden. I regularly encounter diatoms that are as wide or long as 2 or 3 human hairs. Diatoms are very sharp if broken, they may not dissolve in stomach acid. Eat diatoms at your own risk.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Food sources
Food is a good bet! Foods and beverages with high silica content; beer and high-silica mineral water are about equal. Beer is full of grain extracts which are silica-rich, already soluble in water and ready to go. We get silica from ordinary drinking water too - the amount varies with location.

Solid food silica sources which are well-absorbed by the body include whole grains or bran (in whole grain bread, rice, oatmeal or cold breakfast cereals), green beans, and raisins. Also beans or lentils, cucumbers, leafy green vegetables, nettle tea (nettles in general are high in silica).

With the exception of green beans and raisins, silica from fruits and vegetables is not as readily absorbed as that from grains. For example, bananas are very high in silica, but your body cannot access most of it. Nettle tea is an interesting possibility. Nettle leaves and stems contain large amounts of silica. Any silica that makes it into the tea will be the water-soluble (highly use-able) form. Nettle tea is also a diuretic, so use it with caution if you have kidney troubles.

You get 20-30% of your intake of silica from liquids, and in liquids silica must be the soluble form (which is also the most available to your body) or you’d see sandy-looking crystalline bits in there. That being said, the digestive system is probably able to break some insoluble silica into soluble silica (see "source" #1 below).

To get more silica in your diet, consider drinking plenty of water, including tea and coffee, and eating whole grains and green beans. 
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
The average drinking water (from groundwater or river water in the US) contains 15-17 parts per million of silica (one part per million is one milliliter per liter) – that’s about 14-17 milligrams per liter. It is thought you need 10-25 milligrams silica per day as a minimum. One liter per day (just over one quart or 4 cups) of water may provide you with that minimum.

Adding supplements is a personal decision and should be considered carefully – not all supplements are safe for all people and it’s probably safest to find supplements which have been tested for efficacy and side effects.

Summing up: Silica strengthens your hair, nails, skin, and bones. It may help your joints stay well-cushioned and lubricated. It’s a necessary nutrient, it’s widely available in nutritious foods and beverages. Yet another case in which eating well and drinking plenty of water makes your skin, bones and hair healthy.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Dietary silicon intake and absorption
Jugdaohsingh R, Anderson S, Tucker KL, Elliott H, Kiel DP, Thompson R, Powell J. 2002 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 75 887-893.

Barel A, Calomme M, Timchenko A, De Paepe K, Demeester N, Rogiers V, Clarys P, Vanden Berghe D. 2005. Effect of oral intake of choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid on skin, nails and hair in women with photodamaged skin. Archives of Dermatological Research 297, 147-153.

Wickett R, Kossmann E, Barel A, Demeester N, Clarys P, Vanden Berghe D, Calomme M. 2007.
Effect of oral intake of choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid on hair tensile strength and morphology in women with fine hair. Archives of Dermatological Research 299, 499-505.


  1. Hi. Have you stopped posting new articles? All the articles I see are from 2011 to 2012. This is a very educative blog and its always great to read something new all the time.

  2. What about bamboo? There are a number of teas and supplements touting is high level of silica.