Side Effects of Silica Supplements

There is not enough evidence available to determine potential short-term or long-term silica side effects. If you work in an environment where you're exposed to crystalline silica, such as agriculture, manufacturing or construction, you might be at risk of severe lung damage or cancer.

The herb horsetail is a primary source of silica for supplements.
Credit: Madeleine_Steinbach/iStock/GettyImages

Why Take Silica Supplements?

Silica is a naturally occurring element found in abundance in the earth's crust. The FDA has approved this compound, which is also known as silicon dioxide or silicon, for use in food products in very small amounts. Less than 2 percent of the total weight of a food product can consist of silica.

As a food ingredient, this compound helps prevent caking. It may also be used in dietary supplements for a similar purpose. Additionally, many companies offer silica pills and tablets that claim to improve the health of your hair, skin and bones.

Read more: 9 Ways to Keep Your Skin Looking Great

A study conducted on over 3,000 women and published in March 2012 in the journal Bone has found that silica helped improve bone mineral density by interacting with estrogen in the female body. However, more evidence is needed to fully show just how beneficial silica supplements can be for bone health.

Another study, which was published in June 2016 in Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia, suggests that silica may help build stronger nails and prevent hair loss. Additional research is needed to confirm these findings, though.

Other claims have insufficient research to back them up. Some of the unsubstantiated claims for silica pills state that this compound may help with:

  • Alzheimer's disease

  • Heart disease

  • Sprains and strains

  • Digestion problems

Read more: The 12 Most Overrated Supplements

Silica Side Effects and Risks

The above studies haven't reported any side effects associated with silica supplements. However, they also mentioned that further research is needed to test their safety and efficacy. Additionally, the FDA does not review or test supplements, so there is no guarantee that these products are as safe or as effective as manufacturers claim.

If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, it's better to avoid silica pills or tablets. Small amounts of this compound occur naturally in foods and beverages, such as coffee, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, in which case they're considered safe for consumption. In general, it's recommended to avoid taking supplements when pregnant unless your doctor instructs you to use them.

While dietary silica is considered safe, it's important to know that crystalline silica is not. In fact, crystalline silica may cause lung damage, which can lead to death. Crystalline silica exposure is common in the manufacturing, agriculture and construction industries. This fine dust is created when sawing through materials like glass or bricks.

The Dangers of Crystalline Silica

According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, on-the-job exposure to crystalline silica may result in lung damage. When inhaled, this compound affects the lungs, causing scarring and nodules to form. If the nodules grow too big, you may experience breathing problems. Over time, exposure to crystalline silica may cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and lung cancer.

Exposure to crystalline silica may also cause a condition known as silicosis. This disorder has three stages: chronic silicosis, accelerated silicosis and acute silicosis.

As the Center for Construction Research and Training points out, chronic silicosis occurs within approximately 10 years of exposure to low concentrations of silica. Accelerated silicosis occurs in about five to 15 years of exposure to high levels of crystalline silica. The acute form may develop when you're exposed to this compound for one to three years. This condition progresses rapidly and can be fatal.

Crystalline silica exposure is more likely to affect those who work in certain industries, such as construction. Activities that involve drilling, sawing, grinding, cutting and crushing of rock, concrete, bricks, glass, stones or mortar pose the greatest risk.

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