Food Supplements #3: Silica (Kieselerde) and its wonderful effects on health – legendary or just a legend? [English/German]

in health •  10 months ago

Some are beneficial, many are just scam. This is my third post on food supplements.
You may also like:
Food Supplements #1: Should you take DHA during pregnancy?
Food Supplements #2: Collagen – Does it make you beautiful and tough?


Für eine kurze deutsche Zusammenfassung bitte ganz runter scrollen


pic1.jpg
A silica supplement to "save your hair and nails", as sold by Amazon

Intro

After having dealt with collagen, I wanted to examine a supplement that was not again belonging to the beauty/life-style corner… but then I went shopping. And I saw the girl in front of me buying Silica. I had a hard time biting my tongue and then my brain just could not let silica go. And here I am, writing about it…

So what is silica?

“Silica” is a trivial name for silicon dioxide, but it’s most commonly known as quartz, its crystalline form. Quartz is abundant on earth – it’s actually the second most common mineral of our planet.

But there’s not only the crystalline, but also an amorphous silica around, the so-called silica terra. And this compound has a certain biological relevance, as it is built in bones, teeth, nails, hair and skin cells. And it’s apparently also involved in the biosynthesis of collagen (we had that topic already).
And therefore, someone had the glorious (and very lucrative) idea to promote it as a food supplement for all kinds of positive effects related to those body parts.

pic2.jpgfood-grade amorphous silica, sometimes also called "diatomaceous earth". From Wiki, created by SprocketRocket.

Silica as a food supplement

According to supplement-police.com (from what I saw, they are more like a gigantic advertising platform for supplement manufacturers than a “police”), "silica can help to improve skin, facilitate joint strength, aid in digestion, improve the cardiovascular system, and help to revitalize and strengthen the hair."
They also state:
"Silica has dozens of benefits of the body and making sure you consume enough silica is vital to the strength and health of your body." [...]Every year, researchers find more uses and benefits for silica and the number of benefits is only going to continue to rise.

Really?

Legendary vs legend

I did one of my little excursions to pubmed, the database for health-related science, and from what I saw, science is much less enthusiastic about silica than the industry.

Yes, there’s proof that animals that are completely stripped of silica via their diet suffer from skeletal deformities and malformed joints (ref). Also, it is well established that poultry benefit from silica supplementation (ref).
But well, they have to grow feathers that contain a lot of it – we generally don’t.

Regarding humans, researchers doubt if it is even possible to take up insufficient amounts of silica if you eat a halfway regular diet.
For as I wrote above, silica is abundant on our planet – and abundant in plants as well – and thus also abundant in our food. In particular cereals contain high levels of silica, and they are a key element of nutrition all around the globe (ref).
So the question really is not so much if you take up enough, but rather whether taking up even more silica than you need benefits you.

And also this is up to doubt.
There are a some studies linking silica supplementation with positive effects, mostly in patients suffering from osteoporosis and similar diseases.
For skin, nails and hair, there is some data that silica might really make them stronger and “more beautiful” (a scientifically very vague expression), but scientists are saying the data is not yet “conclusive”, i.e. that more and larger studies are needed before these effects can be confirmed (ref)

The toxicity of overdosing silica

On the other hand, there is conclusive evidence that overdosing silica – which can be achieved by taking supplements for a long time – leads to toxic effects in humans.

The biggest problem here is that our body tries to get rid of excessive silica (silica that is not needed) via the kidneys. But with its very low solubility in water, it accumulates there and – over time – forms small kidney stones, which are extremely painful and damaging to the kidneys (ref 1, ref 2).

But also an influence of silica supplements on vitamin deficiencies has been discussed recently, as common herbal preparations are often containing thiaminase and other enzymes that breaks down different vitamins (ref).

The crystalline scam

And then there’s another problem: Many silica supplements contain little amorphous silica, but are mixed with the crystalline stuff, small-grounded quartz sand, that is much cheaper to produce – but fails to exert ANY positive health effects, as it cannot be taken up.
The two forms are not distinguishable with standard analytical methods, so this hasn’t been noticed for some time. But when the German Federal Institute for Material Research and Testing made a survey in 2007, they found quartz and cristobalite sands in 9 of 10 supplements (ref).

Conclusion

On contrary to what manufacturers and advertisements tell you, there is very little scientific evidence that supplementing silica benefits you at all, as you take up all silica that you need with your regular diet. Even if there were positive effects, you’d have to trust the suppliers to be among the 10% that don’t use crystalline silica to produce cheaper.
However, overdosing silica can lead to serious health problems.

My personal advice: Stay away from the stuff, it’s a potentially harmful scam. If you want to take up more silica, take this:

beer-2288121_1280.jpgThis is no joke. Beer is one of the richest dietary source of silica. Plus it is so much more fun. Source


A German Summary - Deutsche Zusammenfassung:

Kieselerde - also amorphes Siliziumdioxid - wird schon seit langem als Nahrungsergänzungsmittel vermarktet. Glaubt man den Produzenten, soll es Nägel und Haare schöner machen, die Hautalterungen verringern, Knochen und Zähne stärken u.v.m. - kurz, ein echtes Wundermittel sein.

Die wissenschaftliche Analyse zeigt ein anderes Bild. Erstens sind die meisten dieser Effekte nicht nachgewiesen, und zweitens ist es kaum vorstellbar, dass man mit halbwegs normalen Essgewohnheiten zu wenig Siliziumdioxid aufnimmt - kommt es doch in großen Mengen in verschiedensten pflanzlichen Lebensmittel, v.a. in sämtlichen Getreidesorten vor.

Darüber hinaus sind toxische Wirkungen einer Überdosierung von Kieselerde gut dokumentiert. So kann der längere Konsum größerer Mengen u.a. zur Bildung von Nierensteinen, aber auch zur verringerten Verfügbarkeit diverser Vitamine führen.

Erschwerend kommt dann noch dazu, dass Ergänzungsmittel schlecht kontrolliert werden - es gelten für sie viel lockerere Regeln als z.B. für Medikamente. Im Jahr 2007 flog auf, dass in 9 von 10 der am deutschen Markt verfügbaren Präperate nur wenig amorphe Kieselerde zu finden war - dafür wurden sie mit kristallinem Siliziumdioxid - besser bekannt als Quarzsand - gestreckt, was bei Standardüberprüfungen nicht weiter aufgefallen ist. Der billigere Quarz ist aber biologisch komplett inaktiv - es ist einfach nur Sand.

Fazit:

Meiner Meinung nach ist daher die ganze Kieselerde-Supplementierungs-Masche einfach nur Abzocke - eine potentiell gesundheitsgefährdende noch dazu. Wer tatsächlich seine Siliziumaufnahme boosten will, sollte besser zum kühlen Blonden greifen - Bier ist eines der Nahrungsmittel mit dem höchsten SiO2-Gehalt - kein Scherz.


Disclaimer: In my blog, I'm stating my honest opinion as a researcher, not less and not more. Sometimes I make errors. Discuss and disagree with me - if you are bringing the better arguments, I might rethink.

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Danke für das weitere Argument, warum Bier einfach ein tolles Getränk ist!

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Oh, da gäb's aus biochemischer Sicht noch viel mehr: Polyphenole, Antioxidantien, Vitamine,...

Es ist zwar nicht so, dass wir groß nach Argumenten suchen müssten, um unser Bier zu genießen, aber mit dem Wissen schmeckt's dann gleich noch ein bisschen besser ;-)

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Oh, da gäb's aus biochemischer Sicht noch viel mehr: Polyphenole, Antioxidantien, Vitamine,...

Gilt das auch für die alkoholfreien Varianten?

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ja selbstverständlich. Würde sogar sagen die sind gesünder, weil der alkohol sicher einen gutteil der positiven Gesundheitsaspekte wieder ausradiert.

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Danke für die Antwort. Ich habe es vermutet war mir aber nicht sicher. Einerseits ist Ethanol klar ein Zellgift, anderseits weiß ich auch das viele "Stoffe" außerhalb ihrer natürlichen Matrix nicht die Wirkung entfalten.

Gut zu wissen, dass es mit der alkoholfreien Variante auch geht. Ist auch für die Autofahrer interessant. :-)

Sometimes I feel angry and disappointed because the system has no rewarding mechanism for those who debunk quackery and save public health:

  • Bastards sell false supplements (for example wrong silica)
  • They earn the money, they make the factory
  • Some enthusiast finds the fraud - gets nothing
  • Factory maybe gets some financial penalties
  • And re-opens with the different name in best case

Imagine the system where debunking of frauds brings the money to those who do debunking. It would be a race to crack them down. And there would be a constant monitoring of all the products.

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Imagine the system where debunking of frauds brings the money to those who do debunking.

Sounds like a GREAT invention. How do we get there - that is the problem.

Thanks for spending time exposing this scam. Its a shame how much this happens in the supplement industry.

Great post, very informative and put together well.

My first thought in seeing that box was, “isn’t that the little packet from shoe boxes that says ‘hazardous to your health’?”

I agree that this supplement is a snake oil scam. You are absolutely right in that silica is so abundant on Earth that it’s in everything we eat and drink. It’s as if they tried to package oxygen in pill form.

The crust is 59% silica, it’s simply everywhere around us. It’s also very common in our drinking water, natural spring water especially. Pretty much all aquifers are some combination of silica based and/or carbonate rock. Water dissolves some amount of silica as it moves through the crust before we pump it out. So unless pure rainwater is your main drinking source, you probably don’t need any extra.

That’s a shame they use crystalline quartz as filler. Eating quartz dust would be akin to eating glass dust, no bueno. Maybe it would be good for exfoliating your intestines?

I just have to point out we can distinguish amorphous silica (opal) from crystalline quartz. You can either use an XRD (X-Ray Diffraction) to determine the degree of crystallinity (hint amorphous silica is very little crystallinity) or you could use an SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) to visually identify each type of silica. It’s actually cheap and easy for a good lab to make the distinction. It would only cost in the hundreds to low thousands for these “nutrition” companies to have them tested at a university lab.

What’s next? Nutritional serpentinite (natural asbestos)? Maybe nutritional orpiment (natural arsenic sulfide)? But I digress, good post!

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Thanks for commenting, and I totally agree with you.

I just have to point out we can distinguish amorphous silica (opal) from crystalline quartz. You can either use an XRD (X-Ray Diffraction) to determine the degree of crystallinity (hint amorphous silica is very little crystallinity) or you could use an SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) to visually identify each type of silica. It’s actually cheap and easy for a good lab to make the distinction.

Yes I know it's easy to distinguish - but those methods aren't normally used in food quality control, as nobody expects quartz in food / food supplements. That's what I ment by "standard methods" - the regulations are so weak that nobody requires them to use the methods - and if they don't have to, they are not doing it, obviously.

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Oh very true! I see your point. Standard methods in geology aren’t standard methods in the “nutritional supplement” industry.

Nice. :)
I am just wondering about the regulations that allow health claims, promoting these products: e.g. In the States the Burden of Proof for false claims rests upon the United States of America, so they would have to investigate all non-direct promotions. - way to much

Based on your post it is definitely peculiar that silica may be declared as a dietary supplement even under Austrian law. Shame on them. :D

Best,
mountain.phil28

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the weak regulations are the problem here. But as we know, there's a lot of pseudomedical stuff that's marketed...think of homeopathics, for example.

Very informative, for example I always knew that taking silica supplements in a waste of money, but I didn't have any idea about possible overdosing and that manufacturers are so shameless that are putting useless silica forms inside!

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Same for me... just learned about the latter stuff while researching.

Großartig! Man sieht sehr klar und deutlich, dass du anständig und gründlich recherchiert hast. Ich finde dass du ein sehr wichtiges Thema behandelst, zumal es viel zu viele Menschen gibt, die jeden Sch*ß glauben der auf irgendeinem Medikament oder so steht. (Im absoluten Gegensatz stehen natürlich die Menschen die sich/ihre Kinder nicht impfen aber darauf will ich gar nicht eingehen) insofern halte ich für äußerst sinnvoll über solche Themen ausreichend zu informieren.
Danke
Flugschwein

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Danke, schön dass es dir gefallen hat.

Gerade bei Ergänzungsmittel und ähnlichem gibt es sehr viel Quacksalberei, weil die ganze Szene sehr schwach reguliert ist - die dürfen praktisch alles draufschreiben. Und Werbung samt sogenannten "Kooperationen" mit Apotheken und Drogeriemärkten tun dann halt ihr übriges.
Die Leute zahlen gern für große Versprechungen, und den Plazebo-Effekt gibt's ja dann zur Not auch noch ;-)

Man, I don't think any supplier could ever convince me to take supplements of silica. Whatever comes in naturally, fine. But I'd never supplement.

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no need for beautiful long hair? ;-)

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Well, I don't keep long hair hehehe xD xD

Sehr interessanter Beitrag!
Mir gefällt die Alternative zur Silica auch deutlich besser ;)

People are ignorant of what they consume. They hardly care about the long-term effect and the toxicity of what they take. Good post

Really awesome post :) Thanks for the info, love it!

Sehr aufschlussreich!

Good informative post. Silica is a sex promoter .its good nutritive supplement. Thanks for sharing the post.

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