Silicon builds strong bones

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Silicon is better known for building chips than bones

Public awareness of osteoporosis has increased over the years. Many people are now aware that calcium is the essential nutrient for building strong bone and vitamin D is needed for better absorption of calcium from the diet. However, bones are not only built from calcium. Healthy bones also depend on many other essential nutrients including magnesium, vitamin K, boron, vitamin C, copper, zinc manganese, and silicon [1]. Among these nutrients, silicon (Si) is one lesser known contributor to bone health. In fact, more is known about silicon as the building block for computers and semiconductors than its critical role in bone development.

Why is silicon so important for bones?

Silicon deficiency can lead to poorly formed bones that are soft and fragile. Image Source: Flickr/Wellcome Images.

Silicon is required in the early formation of bone where it plays a fundamental role in collagen synthesis in bone matrix formation [2]. Animal research has shown that chicks fed with silicon-deficient diet developed soft bones regardless of vitamin D levels [2]. Without silicon, there will be no bone matrix that acts as scaffolding for calcium- and phosphate-rich mineral to be added in the formation of the hard, yet resilient, tissue of healthy bone [3]. Hence, a silicon deficiency can lead to poorly formed bones that are soft and fragile.

A population-based study has examined the association between silicon intake and bone mineral density (BMD) in 1251 men and 1596 pre- and postmenopausal women. It was found that increasing silicon intake in the diet was associated with larger BMD in the hip and spine, especially among men and younger women. The findings from this study confirmed the importance of silicon for human bone building [4].

Where do we get silicon from?

Silicon is, in fact, the second most abundant element in the Earth’s Crust after oxygen. As such, drinking water, particularly mineral water, which derived its silica from rocks and soil minerals, is one potential dietary source of silicon. Drinking water and other fluids provide the most readily bioavailable source of silicon in the diet. An estimated 55% of silicon intake comes from beverages [5]. Nevertheless, the silicon content in drinking water varies widely depending on the geology of its source [6]. Therefore, solid food remains an important source of silicon in our diet.

Water derives its silica from rocks and soil minerals. Drinking water is our main source of silicon.

Like drinking water, silicon in food is derived from soil. Plants take up and accumulate silicon from soil and soil solutions that becomes incorporated as part of the plants’ structural component conferring strength and rigidity to their stalks. Therefore, plant-based foods are naturally high in silicon. Most of the silicon from our foods comes from cereal/cereal products (14% of total silicon intake) and vegetables (8%) [5]. The following table shows a list of food items that are high in silicon [6].

Foods high in silicon
Food Groups Products Comments
Cereals Whole grains (barley; oats; brown rice; rice bran and wheat bran); breakfast cereals; bread/flour; biscuit; pasta Silicon is almost solely present in the outer skin (husks/hull) of the grain. Oat bran has the highest Si content.
Legumes Lentils;soya;tofu Soy and soy products are good sources for silicon.
Fruits Bananas; pineapples; and mangoes;Dried fruits Low in bioavailability. Very little silicon in bananas can be absorbed by the gut.
Vegetables Kenyan beans; green beans; runner beans; spinach and coriander N/A
Beverages Beer;coffee Silicon came from barley and hops used to make beer.
Seafood Mussels N/A

Various grains

Grains and grain products are important sources of silicon in our diet

How much silicon is needed?

The recommended daily intake of silicon has not been established [5]. Nonetheless, it is suggested that an intake level of 40mg/day is needed for bone health [1]. This is based on the observation that among those who consumed >40 mg/day has a 10% larger BMD than those who consume much lower silicon daily (<14mg/day) in a population-based study [4].

The average daily dietary intake of silicon is 20-50mg among European and North American population. Traditionally, the daily silicon intake of Asian population is much higher (140-200 mg/day) with grains, fruits, and vegetables forming a larger part of the diet. Not surprisingly, Asian countries such as China and India also have the lowest prevalence of hip fractures compared to all Western developed countries [6]. However, with the rapid development of Asian countries over the last few decades, the diet has also become increasingly Westernised and shift toward increased reliance upon processed foods, edible oils and animal-source foods [7]. This has contributed towards the decreasing intake of silicon from whole-grains and vegetables. Many Asian countries are now facing a rapid increase in the incidence of hip fracture [8], with dietary change a potential contributing factor.

Foods (cropped)

A whole food plant-based diet can supply the most silicon for building strong bones and prevent osteoporosis.

Therefore, the formula to ensure sufficient intake of silicon for bone health is to maintain a healthy diet high in whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, and low in meat and processed foods.

Who needs silicon supplement?

Research has shown that post-menopausal women are particularly at risk of deficiency in silicon with only about 18mg/day of average intake [9]. Also, post-menopausal women may not absorb silicon as well as younger women. Hence, post-menopausal women may require silicon supplementation as a preventive measure against osteoporosis. The recommended silicon supplementation for post-menopausal women is 20-30 mg/day [1].

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A 12-month randomized controlled trial has shown that daily supplementation of silicon can confer additional benefits to calcium and vitamin D3 for improvement of the BMD. This is demonstrated by the increase in the markers of bone formation and higher BMD at the femoral neck after 12 months of treatment when compared to only calcium and vitamin D3 treatment [10]. A review of the current research on the potential role of silicon in the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis found that “there is evidence that moderate silicon supplementation has a beneficial effect on bone mineralization and bone density, that is, independent of other factors [11].

Conclusion

Silicon is a mineral that has been increasingly recognised as an essential nutrient for bone health. It is needed for bone formation and a deficiency can lead to soft and fragile bones. Dietary sources of silicon include mineralised drinking water, grains/grain products, vegetables and certain fruits. Therefore, a diet high in whole grains, plant-based produce and low in animal proteins can ensure sufficient silicon intake to build stronger bones. Post-menopausal women, however, rarely meet the recommended dietary intake of 40mg/day of silicon. Silicon supplementation of 20-30 mg/day can be beneficial for post-menopausal women to prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of hip fractures.

Silicon supplementation of 20-30 mg/day can be beneficial for post-menopausal women to prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of hip fractures

References

[1]         C.T. Price, J.R. Langford, F.A. Liporace, Essential Nutrients for Bone Health and a Review of their Availability in the Average North American Diet., Open Orthop. J. 6 (2012) 143–9. doi:10.2174/1874325001206010143.

[2]         E.M. Carlisle, Silicon: A requirement in bone formation independent of vitamin D1, Calcif. Tissue Int. 33 (1981) 27–34. doi:10.1007/BF02409409.

[3]         U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Basics of Bone in Health and Disease, in: Bone Heal. Osteoporos. A Rep. Surg. Gen., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, Rockville, MD, 2004: pp. 16–38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45504/ (accessed January 10, 2017).

[4]         R. Jugdaohsingh, K.L. Tucker, N. Qiao, L.A. Cupples, D.P. Kiel, J.J. Powell, Dietary Silicon Intake Is Positively Associated With Bone Mineral Density in Men and Premenopausal Women of the Framingham Offspring Cohort, J. Bone Miner. Res. 19 (2003) 297–307. doi:10.1359/JBMR.0301225.

[5]         and the S. Pannel on Micronutrients, Subcommittees on Upper Reference Levels of Nutrients and of Interpretation and Use of Dietary Reference Intakes, C. on the S.E. of D.R. Intakes, Arsenic, Boron, Nickel, Silicon, and Vanadium, in: Diet. Ref. Intakes Vitam. A, Vitam. K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, Zinc., National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, 2001: pp. 502–553. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK222322/#ddd00735 (accessed January 10, 2017).

[6]         R. Jugdaohsingh, Silicon and bone health, J. Nutr. Health Aging. 11 (2007) 99–110. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc2658806/%5Cnhttp://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2658806&tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract.

[7]         F. Zhai, S. Du, Z. Wang, J. Zhang, W. Du, B. Popkin, Dynamics of the Chinese Diet and the Role of Urbanicity, (1991). doi:10.1111/obr.12124.

[8]         D.K. Dhanwal, E.M. Dennison, N.C. Harvey, C. Cooper, Epidemiology of hip fracture: Worldwide geographic variation., Indian J. Orthop. 45 (2011) 15–22. doi:10.4103/0019-5413.73656.

[9]         S.A. Mcnaughton, C. Bolton-Smith, G.D. Mishra, R. Jugdaohsingh, J.J. Powell, Dietary silicon intake in post-menopausal women, (2017). doi:10.1079/BJN20051548.

[10]      T.D. Spector, M.R. Calomme, S.H. Anderson, G. Clement, L. Bevan, N. Demeester, R. Swaminathan, R. Jugdaohsingh, D.A. Vanden Berghe, J.J. Powell, Choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid supplementation as an adjunct to calcium/vitamin D3 stimulates markers of bone formation in osteopenic females: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial., BMC Musculoskelet. Disord. 9 (2008) 85. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-9-85.

[11]      C.T. Price, K.J. Koval, J.R. Langford, Silicon: A review of its potential role in the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis, Int. J. Endocrinol. 2013 (2013).

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