- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

LONDON A glass of beer a day is one of the best ways in which young women and men can ensure that they have strong and healthy bones, research at a British medical school suggests.
Specialists at King's College and St. Thomas's Hospital in London have found that a person's intake of silicon, a mineral absorbed from the soil by plants and most especially by cereals such as wheat and barley, can be directly linked to bone strength. At the same time, they have discovered that beer is one of the richest sources of silicon in the modern diet.
"Silicon is a potentially very important element in bone function, and there is no doubt that beer is a very good source of silicon," Jonathan Powell, a senior lecturer in nutrition and an honorary senior lecturer in medicine at King's College said yesterday.
"The average intake of silicon is 30 mg a day, and half a pint of beer will give you 6 mg 20 percent of that," he said. "Moreover, not only is beer a relatively high source of silicon in our diet, the amount we absorb from it is more than from other foods."
Scientists reported 30 years ago that chicks deprived of silicon developed bone deformities, but the element's importance in human bone development has, until now, remained largely unexplored.
Recently, however, Dr. Powell and his colleagues demonstrated that silicon stimulates the formation of collagen, the living material that gives bones their framework, strength and flexibility.
Now, in collaboration with specialists at Harvard University and Tufts University in Boston, they have established that there is a "significant positive association" between the density of bone and silicon intake in men and in women who have not reached menopause.
The study measured the density of bones in the hip and spine in more than 1,200 men and 1,500 women, and analyzed this in relation to the amount of silicon they consumed. The results were presented at a scientific meeting in Brussels last week.
In women beyond menopause any beneficial effects of higher silicon consumption appeared to be overwhelmed by other physiological effects leading to bone thinning and osteoporosis, Dr. Powell said. Nevertheless, silicon intake at an earlier age was likely to be relevant to a woman's health before the menopause and her chances of developing osteoporosis later in life.
"We know," he said, "that a risk factor for osteoporosis or low bone mineral density later in life is one's peak bone density the amount of bone laid down by around 35 years of age. So ensuring that this is as high as possible, through exercise and good diet, may lessen the extent of problems later."
Martin Hodson, an authority on silicon and cereals who works at Oxford Brookes University, said the finding of high silicon levels in beer "made a lot of sense." Silicon was deposited in large amounts in the [husks] of barley, he said, having first leached into water from the soil and then been taken up by the plant. It would dissolve back into any surrounding fluid during the beer-making process.
Nonalcoholic beer was just as rich in silicon as alcoholic versions, and certain mineral waters contain high amounts of silicon, Dr. Powell said.
"In the past our daily fluid intake of two liters of water would have easily delivered us our 30-40 mg of silicon a day. But modern tap water is treated with aluminum, which takes the silicon out of the water," he said.

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