Life in a silicon valley

Who cared about silicon in Romanticism?

The history of silicon as an element started in 1822, when Jons Berzelius, a Swedish chemist, carried out a reaction between silica, which was thought to be an element then, and hydrofluoric acid (HF), which resulted with silicon tetrafluoride (SiF4), which was then reduced with potassium (K) to finally receive silicon (Si).

Globally omnipresent element

In terms of the distribution in the earth's crust, silicon takes the second place, constituting app. 27.7% of the litosphere and being second only to oxygen, the content of which is estimated to be app. 46.6%. It is present only in its bound form as silicates and aluminosilicates and as free silicon dioxide (SiO2). Free silicon can be obtained as a result of the reduction of SiO2 with metallic magnesium or aluminium.

Not without reason is silicon often compared with carbon – its role in the inanimate world is as significant as that of carbon in the animate world.

This results from its omnipresence and functions fulfilled by it. From silica SiO2 and its polimorphic varieties, such as quartz, tridymite, crystobalite, to silicates and aluminosilicates, it is a structural ingredient of most rocks which form the crust.

In surface waters, silicon compounds present there as a result of erosive processes (weathering of rocks, washing out of minerals) take form of solutions as well as colloids and suspensions; their final form depends on many factors, including water temperature, composition, and pH. Silicon levels in natural waters are app. 10 mg/dm3.

Why do chickens have stiff spine?

In animal bodies, silicon is present in all tissues and fluids. Percentage content of silicon in invertebrates is significantly greater than in vertebrates – as a natural element, silicon is an ingredients of all types of covers, shields, and shells, which are a kind of barriers protecting from external dangers.

Good examples are frustules of diatoms, organisms living in seawater, which are constructed of silica. When dying, diatoms fall to the bottom of a sea and, with time, they form layers of diatomaceus earth used to produce dynamite.

Research on chickens indicated that silicon has a great influence on the correct development of their skeletons and the increase in their mass. Adding silicon to their food resulted in the better development of joint cartilages, increase in the surface of the comb, and the increased levels of hexamines in cartilage. Diet scarce in silicon slowed down their development and resulted in the dehydration of long bones even up to 35%.

Silicon and its compounds function as reinforcing material also among plants. Silica is present in stalks of grass, horsetail, corn, reed, and bamboo. Relatively large content of silica can also be found in herbs, such as alchemilla, tussilago, carex, elymus, polygonum, nettle, common mullein, galium, galeopsis, iceland moss, and trigonella.

No one likes sand storms

As an isolated pure element, silicon is not toxic, contrary to some other chemical compounds which contain silicon, such as fluorosilicic acid and its salts. Silicon dioxide is not neutral for the human body either; after a prolonged exposure, it can cause changes in lungs, urinary organs, the digestive system, and the cardiovascular system.

A significant risk for health is posed by working in the conditions with high levels of dusts in the air (mines, quarries, extraction and processing of talc and asbestos, which contain silicon, construction industry, ceramic industry, processing of iron and steel). After a prolonged exposure, talc, asbestos, and dusts containing quartz can lead to occupational diseases such as asbestosis, talc pneumoconiosis, silicosis, and anthracosis.

The situation is even worse because asbestos dusts are present in the air in industrialized areas and in large urban agglomerations. It should be underlined that asbestos has been entered in the list of substances with epidemiological carcinogenic effect on people in the conditions of exposure at work.

One grain does not do harm

Although it is only app. 0.007% of a human body mass, silicon is one of key microelements which condition of correct physiological processes.

Below, we present some advantages of this element. The effect of silicon and its compounds on the human body is exceptionally pronounced; some aspects of this effect are still examined in advanced medical research, e.g. the role of silicon in fighting tumours.

Silicon valley of success

Silicon takes part in so many processes, including those inhibiting ageing, that it should be hailed as an element of health and longevity.

Blood circulation system:

  • reduces permeability of vascular walls and restores their flexibility
  • reduces risk of atherosclerosis
  • increases blood coagulability

Skin, hair, nails:

  • prolongs firmness of skin and mucous membranes
  • maintains correct flexibility of epidermis and collagen and elastin fibres in skin
  • helps prevent cellulite and premature skin ageing
  • has medicinal effect in hair loss, fragility of nails, varicose veins, simple acne, acne rosacea, mycoses, dandruff, psoriasis, and pelioses (bloody subcutaneous haemorrhages, extravasions)
  • removes irritations and inflammations on skin, particularly in the areas of neck and mouth, improves the appearance of skin, and prevents premature skin flaccidity

Bones and muscles:

  • takes part in the synthesis of collagen and correct development of skeleton
  • prevents osteoporosis and arthrosis
  • improves the condition of connective tissue and strength of osseous tissue
  • accelerates synostosis

Urinary system:

  • removes inflammations in the bladder
  • prevents crystalisation of mineral elements in urinary tracts

Wound healing:

  • stimulates muscle growth and wound healing
  • accelerates scarring

Ageing processes:

  • inhibits ageing processes

Detoxication effect:

  • removes toxic substances from cells

Menstruation problems:

  • prevents excessive menorrhoea, metrorrhagia, and bleeding during pregnancies

Who would have thought that this is also a consequence of silicon deficiency

Silicon deficiency can also accelerate the process of osteoporosis or deformation of joints and connective tissue, and even cause gum inflammation. Prolonged deficiency of this element is a cause of eyelid inflammation, choroiditis, conjuctivitis, and nose and gum bleeding.

Silicic acid as a sponge

One cannot discuss positive effects of silicon and omit a great role of silicic acid; it has been confirmed that silicic acid is present in connective tissue, skin, hair, nails, joint cartilages, bones, sinews, vascular walls, and trachea.

A great advantage of this compound, which is present in the form of a colloid, is its ability to store water in tissues, what influences their correct functioning. Silicic acid retains calcium in bones, regenerates connective tissue, accelerates the healing of wounds, bedsores, and bites, and improves the appearance of skin, hair, nails, and teeth. Daily demand for silicic acid is 20 ÷ 40 mg, and for silicon 20 ÷ 30 mg.

Why you don't need to eat sand

Silicon and silicic acid are present in foodstuffs and plants. The main source of silicic acid is whole grain, i.e. oat, barley, bran, and grain husks.

Silicon can be found in vegetables (carrot, parsnip, beetroot, cucumber), fruit, bamboo shoots, meat, wholemeal bread, oatmeal, wheat bran, herbs - horsetail, nettle and tussilago, drinking water, beer, chicken skin, corn, and fish.

Did Cleopatra sometimes bathe in herb infusions?

Medicinal herb baths are a very important element which influences proper functioning of the whole organism. This is particularly important for people in whom the absorption of silicon compounds through the digestive tract is not sufficient.

Herbs, such as horsetail or nettle, prepared and applied regularly in an appropriate way in the form of a bath accelerate wound healing, improve the appearance of skin, hair, and nails, and reduce wrinkles. In order to prepare a herb bath, you need app. 2 litres of herb infusion, cold extract, or decoction. To prepare it, you should take 8-10 tablespoons of horsetail for 2 litres of water and let it simmer for 2 hours.