Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Beer, Silicon & Bone Density by Professor Jonathan Powell, King’s College, London
The extract below is from a paper presented at the Beer and Health conference held in Brussels in November by the Brewers of Europe. It has long been recognised that excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages negatively impacts upon bone health- as it does for most organs and for overall mortality. However, recent data indicate that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages is positively associated with bone mineral density which is a marker of bone health.

Although a number of biochemical pathways have been described whereby ethanol per se may affect bone health, we have considered the impact of an additional component of alcoholic beverages- and especially beer- namely silicon. It has been argued for many years that silicon is an essential trace element although absolute evidence for its biological role in mammals still remains unproven: in particular biochemicallcellular sites of action remain unknown as do silicon transporters or responsive proteins. In plants and lower animals, however, substantial evidence is beginning to accumulate for silicon biochemistry while, in mammals (including humans), a series of experiments strongly suggest that silicon plays a vital role in bone health. In nature silicon exists almost exclusively bound to oxygen and in the body mostly as soluble silicate, termed orthosilicie acid. This is also the form of silicon that is absorbed from the diet.

Females ingest less than males and older individuals ingest less than younger ones. In the Western world about 20-50mg dietary silicon is ingested per person per day. Cereals are the major source of dietary silicon and beer is especially rich in silicon with values, typically, of 20mg/L and varying from 10-40mg/L. Moreover, silicon occurs in beer in its well-absorbed and bioactive form (i.e. orthosilicic acid). Recent collaborative work with Brewing Research International (UK) indicates that ‘hot mashing’ during the brewing process is chiefly responsible for the release of soluble silicon from the cereal husks into the final beverage.

Professor Powell said: “Recent data indicate that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages is positively associated with bone mineral density – a marker of bone health.

“One of the possible explanations for this benefit is the presence of silicon in beer. A series of experiments strongly suggest that silicon plays a vital role in bone health.

Cereals are the major source of dietary silicon and beer contains high levels in an easily absorbable form. ‘Hot mashing’ during the brewing process is chiefly responsible for the release of soluble silicon from the cereal husks into the final beverage.

Professor Powell was appointed as Head of MicroNutrient Research at the MRC Centre for Human Nutrition Research, Cambridge (UK) on Oct 1 2003. He was also appointed to a visiting Chair of Medicine at Kings College, London, where he retains a research group in gastroenterology and nutrition. His major research interests are the biology and biochemistry of silicon, the gastrointestinal absorption of iron and the absorption and immune-potientating activities of fine and ultrafine dietary particles. Diseases of interest are Crohn’s Disease and osteoporosis.

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