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 Minerals: Silicon 
Silicon is another mineral that is not commonly written about as an essential nutrient. It is present in the soil and is actually the most abundant mineral in the earth's crust, as carbon is the most abundant in plant and animal tissues. Silicon is very hard and is found in rock crystals such as quartz or flint. Silicon dioxide (SiO2) is an "active" form of silicon and is used to make glass. Silicon molecules in the tissues, such as the nails and connective tissue, give them strength and stability. Silicon is present in bone, blood vessels, cartilage, and tendons, helping to make them strong. Silicon is important to bone formation, as it is found in active areas of calcification. It is also found in plant fibers and is probably an important part of their structure. This mineral is able to form long molecules, much the same as is carbon, and gives these complex configurations some durability and strength. It represents about 0.05 percent of our body weight.

Silicon is currently considered a research macromineral, as it has been since the early 1970s. Studies have revealed retarded growth and poor bone development in young rats fed a silicon-deficient diet. Rabbits showed more atherosclerotic arterial plaques when fed diets low in silicon. I am sure that we will find further information regarding silicon and its functions in coming years.

Sources: Silicon is widely available in food. It is part of plant fibers (though not of cellulose) and is found in high amounts in the hulls of wheat, oats, and rice, in sugar beet and cane pulp, in alfalfa, and in the herbs horsetail, comfrey, and nettles. Horsetail, Equisetum arvensa, is a common source used to make supplemental silica. Silicon is also pre-sent in lettuce, cucumbers, avocados, strawberries, onions, and dandelions and other dark greens. The pectin in citrus fruits and alginic acid in kelp also contain small amounts of silicon. Hard drinking water may also be a good source.

This mineral is lost easily in food processing. Only about 2 percent of the original silicon is left in milled flour. Soil may also become deficient in silicon, and it is not being replaced; this loss could affect inherent plant structure.

Functions: Silicon promotes firmness and strength in the tissues. It is part of the arteries, tendons, skin, connective tissue, and eyes. Collagen contains silicon, helping hold the body tissues together. This mineral is also present with the chondroitin sulfates of cartilage, and it works with calcium to help restore bones.

Silicon is also thought to radiate or transmit energy in its crystalline structure, as in quartz crystal. It is thought by some to be able to deeply penetrate the tissues and help to clear stored toxins. The "silicea" tissue salt, a homeopathic remedy, is described poetically as acting like a "microscopic surgeon."

Uses: Silicon is often used in herbal remedies to promote strength in the hair, skin, and nails. It helps maintain the elasticity of the skin, so it may be one of our antiaging nutrients. Other possible uses of silica or silicon that are under investigation are to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease, to treat arthritis and other joint or cartilage problems, gastric ulcers, and other conditions where tissue repair and healing are needed. Silicon is thought to help heal fractures and may have some role in the prevention or treatment of osteoporosis.

Deficiency and toxicity: There is little information on these areas, especially for toxicity. Deficiency problems are under investigation. Results of studies on animals suggest that silicon may be essential in humans. Decreased growth and deficient bone and tooth structure were found in rats with silicon-deficient diets. Silicon deficiency may increase atherosclerosis and heart disease; however, or it may not be a cause and effect relationship, but rather a result or association of these diseases. It would seem that the essential strength and stability this mineral provides to the tissues should give them protection from disease. Other research reveals that silicon levels affect physical endurance, with low tissue levels correlating with lowered stamina.

Requirements: There is no RDA for silicon since it is not considered essential. The average diet provides about 1-1.5 grams of this mineral, but eating a diet high in processed foods and avoiding the basic vegetable and grain foods may diminish our intake of silicon. To get extra silicon, eat more whole grains and fresh vegetables or use herbs, such as horsetail, or alfalfa or comfrey tablets.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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