Silicon is one of the most prevalent elements on earth; it makes up more than a quarter of the earth’s crust, mostly as silicon dioxide. Silicon is hypothesized to play an essential role in the body, but this is uncertain. Silicon supplements are currently marketed for improving the health of bone, skin, hair, and nails. The substance silicone, once used in breast implants, also contains silicon, but in an unusual synthetic form.

Requirements/Sources

Scientists have found it difficult to determine whether silicon is an essential nutrient in humans, and if it is, to identify the necessary daily intake.1 Silicon is found whole grains, some root vegetables, and beer. Silicon-containing chemicals are also added to prevent caking in products such as salt and baking soda. The average intake of silicon is approximately 10–40 mg daily.

Therapeutic Dosages

When used as a supplement, common recommended dosage levels range from 10 to 30 mg per day.

Therapeutic Uses

Silicon is a constituent of the enzyme prolylhydrolase, which helps the body produce collagen and glycosaminoglycans. In addition, silicon is directly found in protein complexes that include glycosaminoglycans. These substances are essential for healthy bone, nails, hair, and skin.

Animal studies hint that silicon deprivation causes bone weakness as well as slowed wound healing.2-6 Artificial bone grafts containing silicon have been used successfully in surgical repair of damaged bones.7-11 Furthermore, in a major observational study, higher intake of silicon was associated with stronger bones.12 Based on these findings, silicon has been proposed as a bone-strengthening substance for preventing or treating osteoporosis. However, only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove a treatment effective. (For information on why such studies are essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?) Only one such study has been performed on silicon as a treatment for osteoporosis, and it found equivocal results at best.19

One double-blind, placebo-controlled study did find potential benefits with a proprietary silicon supplement for aging skin, brittle nails, and brittle hair.5 Fifty women with sun-damaged skin were give either 10 mg silicon daily (as “choline stabilized orthosilicic acid”) or placebo for 20 weeks. Measurements of skin roughness and elasticity showed improvement in the silicon group as compared to the placebo group. Brittleness of hair and nails also improved. However, this study, performed by the manufacturer of the product, did not meet the highest standards of design and reporting. Another study of the same product demonstrated stronger and thicker hair over a nine month period in women with fine hair compared to placebo.20

Silicon has also been claimed to help prevent atherosclerosis, but there is no meaningful evidence to support this claim.

Another potential use of silicon relates to the aluminum hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease, the theory that aluminum toxicity is prominent contributor to the development of this condition. On some websites promoting silicon supplements, it is said that increased dietary silicon decreases aluminum absorption. However, whether or not silicon actually has this effect remains unclear.13-17 Furthermore, the hypothesis that aluminum is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease has lost ground in recent years.

Safety Issues

Silicon is thought to be a safe supplement when used at doses similar to the average daily intake. Based on conservative evaluation of data from animal studies, it has been estimated that even a much higher dose of 13 mg per kilogram of body weight should present little to no risk. (For an adult of average weight, this works out to 760 mg daily.)18 However, maximum safe doses in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease have not been established.