Silica, or silicon dioxide, is a natural compound made of silicon and oxygen. Some supplements with this compound claim that silica benefits your skin, hair and nails, while other research says it has the ability to prevent degenerative diseases, improve immune function and support bone health.
The potential benefits of silica supplements range from the ability to improve skin appearance to reducing hair loss and improving bone health.
What is Silica?
Silicon dioxide, otherwise known as silica, is a natural compound made of silicon and oxygen that has three main crystalline varieties: quartz, tridymite, and cristobalite, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. It's often used in industrial settings.
Chronic exposure to inhaling crystalline silica dust can lead to a fatal lung disease called silicosis that sometimes happens in people who work in certain industries such as construction, mining and quarrying, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The silica in food products and supplements contains other forms of silica that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says is safe to use as a food preservative and anticaking agent which helps to avoid clumping. It's also found naturally in many plant-based foods.
According to a January 2013 review published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism, silicon is present in foods derived from plants including, cereals, oats, barley and white wheat flour. The review also points out that silicon levels are lower in animal foods such as meat or dairy products.
Read more: Is Silicon Dioxide a Safe Food Additive?
Benefits of Silica
The potential benefits of silica range from the ability to improve skin appearance to reducing hair loss and improving bone health. Probably, the most talked-about use of silica supplements is to improve and strengthen skin, hair and nails. That's why you see several supplement companies including silicon as one of the ingredients in a proprietary blend advertised to support hair, nail and skin health.
A May/June 2016 review in Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia suggests that silicon is important for optimal synthesis of collagen and for activating the hydroxylation enzymes. This helps with the formation of collagen network, improving skin strength and elasticity. The review also summarizes data that show a significant improvement in the fragility of hair and nails by the participants that took supplements.
Silica may also play a role in the health of your bones. An older March/April 2007 study published in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging, found that silicon has a beneficial role in bone formation and bone health. At the time of this study, no silicon-deprivation studies in humans existed, but they did mention studies done on laboratory animals that found silica-deficiency symptoms such as skeletal abnormalities and defects.
Additionally, a review published in the April 2013 International Journal of Endocrinology, points out that silicon is increasingly recognized as an essential nutrient for bone formation and maintenance. More specifically, they discuss how silicon improves bone matrix quality and facilitates bone mineralization.
Read more: The Dangers and Risks of Taking Silica
Silica Supplement Dangers
If you decide that silica benefits outweigh any side effects, you might be wondering if there are silica supplement dangers. Silica supplements are available in various forms such as pills and drops. The good news about silica supplement dangers is they are minimal to none compared to the toxicity of inhaling crystalline silica dust.
Since there is silica in food such as whole grains, leafy green vegetables and beets, you need to consider the amount you are taking in a supplement. There is no recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for silica.
However, the FDA says silicon dioxide added to food cannot exceed two percent of the food's total weight. And, the International Journal of Endocrinology says the safe upper levels for humans is recommended at a maximum range of 700 to 1,750 milligrams per day, which should minimize any adverse effects.
It's important to point out that the FDA does not review or approve a supplement's marketing claims for safety or effectiveness before the product hits the market. That means you're taking the word of the company selling you the supplement that it will do what they claim it will do. The FDA has requirements and regulations that state companies need to provide safe and accurate labels with no misleading claims, but you're still at the mercy of their advertising.
- U.S. National Library of Information, National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Silicon Dioxide"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "CFR-Code of Federal Regulations Title 21"
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: "Silicosis"
- Nutrition and Metabolism: "Biological and Therapeutic Effects of Ortho-Silicic Acid and Some Ortho-Silicic Acid-Releasing Compounds: New Perspectives for Therapy"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Dietary Supplements"
- Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia: "Use of Silicon for Skin and Hair Care: an Approach of Chemical Forms Available and Efficacy"
- International Journal of Endocrinology: "Silicon: A Review of Its Potential Role in the Prevention and Treatment of Postmenopausal Osteoporosis"
- Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging: "Silicon and Bone Health"
- EvolutionHealth.com: Benefits of Silica