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A non-metallic element (symbol Si) and the most abundant element contained in the earth's crust. In the human body it's found in only trace elements as silica (silicon dioxide), despite the small overall amount present, it's essential for cell growth.

It can inhibit the greying of hair, keep the skin smooth and supple and prevent brittle nails. For these reasons it's included in many cosmetic formulas.

Natural silica, present in the body, shouldn't be confused with breast-implant silicone, which is an industrial polymer containing controversial hydrocarbons suspected of being carcinogenic.

Silica and silica gel have been reported as being beneficial in treating many disorders, including bronchitis, colitisgastritis, receeding gums, heartburn, ulcers and varicose veins.

The best natural sources of silica include barley, beetroot, horsetail herb, millet, oats, onions and whole wheat; and silica supplements are available from health shops. For more information on nutrition, see 'Nutrients A to Z' by Dr. Michael Sharon (Prion Books)

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