If your nails go snap, crackle, and pop, you’re in good company—as much as 20 percent of the population suffers from brittle nails. Though experts don’t know exactly what causes our nails to weaken, peel, or break, they point to harsh detergents and nail polish removers as the likely culprits. Other factors include cold, dry weather and frequent hand washing.
Fortunately, a natural remedy for frail nails happens to be one of the most abundant elements on Earth—silicon.
As an essential trace element in our bodies, this common mineral promotes the formation of two important connective tissue substances, collagen, which gives our skin, hair, and nails strength and flexibility, and glycosaminoglycans, which hydrate the tissue to provide cushioning action. In a study in Finland, researchers found that 50 percent of women given silicon for 90 days reported significantly stronger nails.
But it’s not easy to get that extra dose. Silicon usually binds with oxygen to form organic silica, which the body has trouble absorbing.
The most bioavailable type of silicon is the one normally found in our blood—orthosilicic acid—which is formed when silicon binds to hydrogen atoms.
James Belanger, ND, from Lexington, Massachusetts, recommends taking about 7 mg (10 drops) of orthosilicic acid—commonly found as a supplement—twice a day for at least three months, which is the time it takes for the old nail to grow out and the healthy one to take its place.
If you want to add more silicon to your diet, load up on whole grains, soybeans, and leafy greens and consider supplementing with horsetail and alfalfa. And don’t do it just for your nails.
Getting a little extra silicon also strengthens bones and may reduce the appearance of wrinkles by improving elasticity of the skin. “It’s a great supplement to take, in general, for all of its effects,” Belanger says.
If brittle nails persist, check in with your healthcare practitioner. This symptom can also result from deficiencies in zinc, iron, calcium, and protein and from more serious maladies such as thyroid problems or lung disease.