Beer – it's not just the alcohol that goes to your head. (Photo by Fabrice ROSE)
This post is the long overdue conclusion to my silicon experiment. The idea was to replicate a study that found improved skin quality, nail thickness and hair growth using a bioavailable form of silicon known as choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid (ch-OSA).
For two and a half months, I mixed five drops of Natrol's BioSil product with juice. This was equal to 5 mg of ch-OSA, which is only half the dose used in the original study. In an update post, I wrote that there might have been a slight increase in the thickness of my nails. I did not see an increase in the speed of growth, however. Hair growth and skin quality were also unchanged.
I then increased the dose to 10 mg for the next two months. To make the experiment more scientific, I began cutting my nails every 14 days to see if there was any change in how quickly they grew. Again, there was no significant change in skin, nail or hair quality.
After the bottle of BioSil was finished, I continued the experiment with Jarrow's JarroSil product while keeping the amount of orthosilicic acid at 10 mg. There's not much difference in price between the two products, but one thing Jarrow definitely has over Natrol's orthosilicic acid is the taste: BioSil tastes pretty horrible, while JarroSil doesn't really taste much of anything.
I now have several months of experimentation behind me with JarroSil. After a month or so of taking 10 mg daily, I began a routine where I take the product for two weeks and then have two weeks off, all the while keeping an eye on hair and nail growth and skin quality.
Even though I had pretty high expectations from ch-OSA, given that it had the science behind it and people seemed to have good experiences with it in general, I can't say I noticed any improvements. Hair thickness has not increased, at least not visibly, and my skin looks the same regardless of whether I'm using the product or not. On some weeks I think my nails grow faster than on others, but this seems to be independent of silicon.
One reason for not seeing any positive results may be that the original study was done on middle-aged women. Perhaps the benefits of orthosilicic acid supplementation come with age. Another possible explanation is that dietary intake of orthosilicic acid also plays a role. The European Food Safety Authority has estimated that the typical dietary intake of silicon is 20-50 mg. Maybe I already get enough bioavailable silicon from my diet, and the extra 10 mg did not yield any additional benefits.
Speaking of bioavailable silicon, did you know that the best dietary source is beer? According to one study, beer contains a little less than 20 mg of silicon per liter on average, regardless of the type or geographic origin of the beer (link). The actual amount varies between 9 and 39 mg per liter.
About 80% of the silicon is in the form of orthosilicic acid, which is the bioavailable form. The absorption of silicon from beer is 55%. This means that a can of beer (330 mL) contains, on average, about 7 mg of silicon. Of this, about 5.6 mg is orthosilicic acid, about 3.5 mg of which is absorbed.
There is no data directly comparing the bioavailability of ch-OSA and orthosilicic acid from beer, but since the urinary excretion rates of the two appear to be similar, we can assume their absorption is also similar. Thus, two cans of beer would give roughly the same amount of orthosilicic acid as used in the study.
Jarrow and Natrol mention only that silicon is poorly absorbed from many food sources and that orthosilicic acid is easily polymerized, which dramatically reduces its bioavailability (the choline is added to prevent the polymerization). This is indeed true, but they neglect to mention that not all dietary sources of silicon are poor. Beer seems to be the best one, but even water and mineral water contain 2-5 mg of orthosilicic acid per liter (link).
Since beer is one of my vices, I think I get enough orthosilicic acid in my diet anyway, so I won't be investing into supplemental forms anymore. However, if your dietary intake is low and you're looking for ways to increase hair or nail thickness, supplementing with JarroSil or BioSil may be worth a shot.
Even though my conclusion to the experiment is that I did not notice any visible results, I'm not disregarding orthosilicic acid as worthless. In fact, a new study confirms some of the findings of the study on photoaged women (link):
Forty-eight women with fine hair were given 10 mg Si/day in the form of ch-OSA beadlets (n = 24) or a placebo (n = 24), orally for 9 months. Oral intake of ch-OSA had a positive effect on tensile strength including elasticity and break load and resulted in thicker hair.
It may be that some of the effects are more preventative rather than visible improvements. In the above study, for example, the increased thickness was in comparison to the placebo group, not the beginning of the experiment. Both groups saw decreases in hair strength; the supplemented group simply experienced a smaller decrease.
The next time someone argues that drinking is bad for the skin, you can counter them with the high silicon content of beer.
For more information on hair and skin, see these posts:
The Forgotten Anti-Aging Classic: Retinoids Are the Skin's Best Friend
Topical Vitamin C for Skin: Re-examining the Case
Lutein for Skin Elasticity, Hydration and Photo-Protection – Experiment Begins
Coconut Oil Is Better than Olive Oil for Atopic Dermatitis