First Do No Harm

Silica

Hyped as Diatomaceous Earth.

If you Google diatomaceous earth, you’ll find the same article reprinted over and over and over. It starts out: In 1939, the Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, Professor Adolf Butenant, proved that life can not exist without Silica.

Since this piece is splattered all over the web, like most viral pieces, the odds of it containing false information are astronomical. First off they spelled the professor’s name wrong. He is actually, Professor Adolf Butenandt. Next, well, “can not” is actually one word: cannot.

I ran to my Encyclopedia Britannica and found this:

In 1929, almost simultaneously with Edward A. Doisy in the United States, Butenandt isolated estrone, one of the hormones responsible for sexual development and function in females.

In 1931 he isolated and identified androsterone, a male sex hormone, and in 1934, the hormone progesterone, which plays an important part in the female reproductive cycle. It was now clear that sex hormones are closely related to steroids, and after Ruzicka showed that cholesterol could be transformed into androsterone, he and Butenandt were able to synthesize both progesterone and the male hormone testosterone. Butenandt's investigations made possible the eventual synthesis of cortisone and other steroids and led to the development of birth control pills.

Nowhere, it seemed, except in this “viral” article is his name connected to silica or silicon. That is until I went to Google Books and found this:

The Nobel Price [sic] winner for chemistry, Professor Adolf Butenandt, provided that life can not [sic] exist without silica. According to his research conducted in 1972, silica is an essential nutrient and must be supplied continuously from food. Silica is also the most common substance in the earth’s crust. Silicon is found in the same element group on the periodic chart as carbon. In the past, this close family relationship to carbon has led many scientists to speculate that a realm of silicon chemistry awaited discovery, however silicon was not a replacement for carbon. However silica is an important element in many body functions like in bone and cartilage growth. Silica is also a natural constituent of blood and urine (<1 ppm). The average human body has about seven grams of silica. Since silica is so common in earth’s crust and in living systems, it has led to the situation that living systems have adapted to the presence of silica very well.

Silica can be found in crystalline and amorphous forms. It has been reported that crystalline form of silica can cause fibrosis of the lungs as inhaled, this is a serious illness called silicosis, which was called at the old times “coal workers disease.” Crystalline silica has very low water solubility. Whereas the amorphous silica is water soluble and biocompatible. The solubility of amorphous silica in water at body fluid pH is commonly determined to be 130-150 ppm (µg/ml). Amorphous silica is known to dissolve in body fluids as silicic acid is removed through the urine. No silica accumulation is observed in organs.  [Sol-Gel Methods for Materials Processing: Focusing Pollution Control, Water Purification, and Soil Remediation (NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security) by By Plinio Innocenzi, Yuriy L. Zub, Vadim G. Kessler, Page 253]

The problem with a “viral” piece on the web is that it is copied word for word and no one ever checks its validity. As you can see from the above, it was actually in 1972 that Professor Butenandt made his claim, and apparently he “provided” which is a huge giant step from “proved.” Though the piece we’ve excerpted from required a proofreader (as do many of our pieces), it does say a few things we’ve already discovered elsewhere, which will be pointed out as we go along.

So, silica, or silicon dioxide, is vital to all life, and as quoted above, it is the most abundant mineral on the earth’s surface. Scientists theorize that silicon based life forms might exit in the universe, as opposed to the carbon based life forms here on earth.

As vital as silica is to health, it is only a trace mineral in the body. As we age, the levels in our bodies drop. Deficiency in silica sounds like a list of aging complaints: thinning hair, thinning nails osteoporosis, arthritis, wrinkles, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. (I’ve placed the last one in italics because this is connected only to a theory which has yet to be thoroughly tested.)

Web sites selling silica recommend one to two heaping tablespoons of diatomaceous earth (silica), right after claiming that our recommended needs are 20-30 mg. At first, this made no sense. Why would anyone take huge quantities of a trace mineral?

I first supposed the only time one would take such an amount would be as a “therapeutic dose.” If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, then perhaps a therapeutic dose is recommended, though it should be noted that our bodies do not absorb all we are taking, especially when you consider the three forms available on the market:

1.    Fossil Shells (diatomaceous earth)

2.    Plankton

3.    Food Sources

The problem with all these is bioavailability. How much do we absorb and how much do we pass? As referenced above in the book Sol-Gel Methods for Materials Processing: Focusing Pollution Control, Water Purification, and Soil Remediation (NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security), in the form of diatomaceous earth, silica is not very bioavailable because it is Crystalline silica. We would get amorphous silica in our water supply (however, most people have soft water which filters out silica) in our foods, and, amazingly enough, in beer.  

Now for the shocker: silica is a de-wormer, or, using a word I just love, it’s parasiticidal. The same stuff people buy to add to their smoothies is sold under a different name, at a higher price, which is used as a pesticide.

To deworm your colon, quite a bit has to pass through the digestive tract, which should be proof enough that just a little is being absorbed.

As we age, we produce less and less stomach acid. Stomach acid is needed to absorb silica by turning it into orthosilicic acid.

While researching silica, I ran across a great article at the Life Extension Magazine that gives us the following:

Now on the market is a liquid, stabilized orthosilicic acid concentrate. A research group from the University of Antwerp in Belgium has published a supplementation study describing a high rate of silicon absorption from a liquid silicon supplement containing 2% silicon in the form of stabilized orthosilicic acid. In the six-month study with calves, the total dietary silicon intake was increased by only 5% in the form of stabilized orthosilicic acid. Even with such a small dose of orthosilicic acid, the supplemented group showed 70% higher blood silicon levels than the unsupplemented group. These higher silicon blood levels also translated into a 12% higher collagen concentration in the skin of supplemented animals compared to unsupplemented animals. This study clearly demonstrated that the bioavailability of stabilized orthosilicic acid concentrate is very high compared to dietary silicon.

Two independent Belgian research groups demonstrated both in a comparative human study that the total silicon absorption by the human body is considerably higher (more than 2.5 times higher) after supplementation of stabilized orthosilicic acid (as present in a product called BioSil) compared to plant extracts or colloidal supplements. In fact, only BioSil supplementation resulted in a statistical significant increase in silicon absorption compared to the placebo. Without exception, each test subject had a similar absorption from orthosilicic acid, whereas large differences among subjects were found for the other silicon supplements.

So, what we have here is the simple fact that the form BioSil produces greater absorption than any other form, including food sources. The next best method of absorption would be to add extra acid to your meal, in the form of apple cider vinegar or Betaine Hydrochloride supplements.

Foods high in silica are (you probably already guessed pears, since it seems to be common knowledge that the “grit” in pears is silica):

  • Beans
  • Beer
  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Brown rice
  • Fruits (especially dried)
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Peas
  • Root vegetables
  • Seafood
  • Soybeans
  • Whole grains

Much of the herbal supplements that have silica come from alfalfa and horsetail, but you can also get silica in hard drinking water and in some processed foods because it’s added as an “anti-caking” or “anti-foaming” agent. On the other hand, most processed foods process out the silica, and modern conventional farming doesn’t replace the minerals they pull from the earth, so a lot of our foods are becoming mineral (and silica) depleted.

Silica’s Function in Our Bodies

Skin: Silica is needed for collagen synthesis while activating enzymes that keep your skin elastic yet strong. Wrinkles are a sign that you are deficient in silica.

Bone: Silica stimulates the bone forming cells and seems to regulate the process by which bones form and repair themselves using nutritional minerals. As mentioned above, silica facilitates collagen synthesis. Collagen is the fibrous protein that makes bones flexible. Silica deficiencies produce brittle bones. Supplementing with silica helps broken bones heal faster.

Tendons (and ligaments): Collagen is a major component of ligaments and tendons.

Joints: Not only does silica play an important role in collagen formation, it is also needed to form cartilage and assists in maintaining water in your joints. We know that inflammation eats away at cartilage and now we know that silica helps to rebuild that cartilage.

Heart and Cardiovascular System: Silica is found in the inner lining of our arteries. Lesions in our arteries cause cholesterol to attach leading to atherosclerosis. In our Cardiovascular Articles we’ve noted that lack of vitamin C is a major cause of these lesions, and we now know that silica also helps in reducing these lesions. Studies show that the aorta and carotid artery (through the neck to the head) of healthy individuals (their arteries are clear of plaque) contain ten times the amount of silica than individuals with atherosclerotic plaque in those arteries.

Hair and Nails: Silica is the major mineral found in hair shafts and nails. Optimum amounts of silica keep hair flexible and shiny while keeping nails hard and strong. If your hair is falling out or your nails are brittle and soft, you might have a silica deficiency.  

Lungs and Sinuses: Silica restores the mucus membrane in the sinuses and respiratory tract.

Teeth: Silica, besides being found in bone tissues is also found in enamel. One great use of diatomaceous earth is in tooth brushing. Add it to your paste or powder for really clean teeth.

Digestion: Silica is one tough fiber. Taking diatomaceous earth internally will keep you regular and kill parasites.

Detoxication: It is thought that silica can help to detox a number of things from the body, such as mercury, aluminum, and it’s even touted as killing e-coli. The research is not completed on this subject.

Sites selling diatomaceous earth tout long lists of benefits and uses for their products, but most are not backed by any solid research.

Drawbacks

Overdoses of silica (or diatomaceous earth) might produce kidney problems, but most feel that you’d have to really overdose, and as stated in our quotation above, “No silica accumulation is observed in organs.”

DO NOT BREATHE in silica or diatomaceous earth. Workers in the not so distant past who worked heavily with silica and breathed in the dust now suffer from serious lung disorders and cancers.

Oh, one more thing. Another line found in a different paper on silica (that seems to have been copied all over the web contains this line (or variations of it): “In 1878, Louis Pasteur believed that the need for silica in treating many diseases, would someday be widely recognized. Various scientists, in the 20th century, supported Pasteur's theory by extensively studying the effect of silica on animal and human life.”

After a bit of research I found that John Emsley, in his book Nature's Building Block: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, states that Pasteur did believe that silica would someday be used in treating many illnesses. [Emsley, John. Nature's Building Block: An A-Z Guide to the Elements. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, Page 386]

Here are two links. The first is to diatomaceous earth and the second is to the only product on the market that has been tested for bioavailability, BioSil™.

Diatomaceous Earth 12 oz: HH Natural Factors Biosil - 30 Milliliter Liquid - Other Supplements


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