The mineral silicon is gaining in popularity. This makes sense, because silicon is an extremely important substance that helps to keep tendons, ligaments, cartilage, joints, coat and hooves in good condition. More and more products with silicon are therefore available. When purchasing, pay particular attention to the absorbability, because silicon can occur in many forms. And not all of these forms work. How can you know if the silicon is really absorbed into your horse’s blood so that it can do its job?
Silicon is the most abundant mineral in the world. White sand, for example, is packed with silicon. Unfortunately, the silicon from sand cannot be absorbed by animals and humans. By “absorbable” we mean that the active substances actually become available at the intended place in the body. This is also referred to as “bioavailability”. If you feed a supplement that contains silicon, but it does not arrive at the right place, then it is of no use to your horse. So a waste of money.
Chemistry: silicon always in combination with another element
A little chemistry is needed to understand what is absorbable. You should know that silicon never actually occurs alone. It is always in a connection with another element in a molecule. That molecule can be a very large compound, all kinds of so-called ‘polymers’ of silicon are known. But it can also be a small, “monomer” molecule. Such a silicon compound can also be a solid, such as, for example, white sand, or a liquid such as silica or hydrolysed silicon.
Hydrolysis is a process that is also common in the body. In horses (and humans) hydrolysis is part of digestion and energy production in the body cells. Hydrolysis splits biopolymers into smaller biomolecules (monomers). And guess what: we need precisely those monomers for silicon!
Only specific silicon compounds can be included
There are only a few silicon compounds that are actually used by the body. First of all, the silicon molecule must be soluble in water, otherwise it cannot pass through the intestinal wall into the blood at all. Thus, insoluble forms of silicon, such as ordinary white sand, are clearly not suitable for replenishing a silicon deficiency in the body. When the silicon is dissolved (liquid), it must also be able to be absorbed by the cells. That is not always completely the case.
Research has shown that the small molecular forms of silicon (monomers) are absorbed many times better than the polymers. The gastrointestinal tract of horses (and humans) cannot always completely split the silicon molecules contained in food into these small forms. As a result, silicon cannot be effectively absorbed from food; an awful lot is lost. Although plants (eg nettle) sometimes contain a lot of silicon, the bioavailability is often moderate to low. Bananas, for example, contain a lot of silicon, but not in the correct form. Only about 2% of the silicon in bananas is absorbed into the blood. So it makes little sense to feed your horse (or yourself) bananas to supplement a silicon deficiency.
Silica from plants and diatomaceous earth are less easily absorbed
A well-known silicon source is silicic acid, which is found in many plants and also in diatomaceous earth. Silica is the common name for a number of silicon compounds (silicates) that are dissolved in water. This liquid silica is naturally found in grains and many vegetables, for example. For example, it is in beer, in an easily absorbable form. And in diatomaceous earth, which consists of the skeletons of all kinds of fresh and salt water algae (also called diatomaceous algae). Silica is also produced when certain rocks weather under the influence of water. The silicon then dissolves and silica forms. Liquid (dissolved) silica has a maximum biological absorption of 40 – 50%, depending on the exact molecular formula.
The problem with silica is just that its concentration cannot be that high in water. Chemically, that is simply not possible. There can only be a small amount of silicon per liter in water: if you add more, it will no longer dissolve. For example, if you want to get the daily dose of silicon from beer, you have to drink two liters a day! There are silicic acid supplements with a higher concentration of silicon, but they contain mainly larger molecules, which are difficult to absorb. In supplements, plant silicic acid is often “stabilized” with choline. You call it Ch-OSA. The absorbability of this is only around 17%. You have to give a relatively large amount of this stabilized silica for a good result.
Hydrolysed silicon: absorbable and concentrated
Silicon is actually a very foreign substance, which is only water soluble in low concentrations (up to 9 mmol / liter). But because it is such an important mineral that plays a role in many essential body processes, many horse owners still want to be able to give their horse a good dose of silicon, which also arrives at the places where the silicon is needed. The only way to do this is to give a highly concentrated liquid product in which the silicon particles are as small as possible. The smaller, the easier they are absorbed. Feeding silicon in powder form makes little sense, the particles are a thousand times larger than the smallest possible particles and the supplement will clump in the stomach.
Scientists have therefore developed hydrolyzed silicon. This is liquid and the silicon particles are tiny. They’re in water. It is actually a kind of intermediate form between the solid form and the dissolved form. The silicon itself is a “nanoparticle” that is 40 times smaller than the largest bacterium. As a result, hydrolyzed silicon passes through the intestinal wall without difficulty. And with hydrolyzed silicon you don’t have the problem of dissolved silicon, that very few particles “fit” in the liquid. So it can be very concentrated. Hydrolyzed silicon is the most concentrated and most absorbable form of silicon in the world. It fits exactly with the horse’s enzymatic digestion.
Conclusion: Silicon works when it is tiny and liquid
Research has shown that horses administered silicon were less susceptible to injuries. It also appears to be an important mineral for growing horses. In humans, it has been shown that bone density is greater when our diet contains more than enough silicon. Many horses receive too little (available) silicon through food and drinking water. If you want to give a silicon supplement, you have to make sure that it is easily absorbable. The silicon particles have to be very small for this. The absorbability is highest with silicon in hydrolysed liquid form. Feeding silicon in powder form makes little sense.
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