Prof. Jonathan J. Powell

Silicon, ethanol and connective tissue health: a case for moderate beer consumption

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A role for dietary silicon in optimal connective tissue health has long been proposed. Bone has been identified as a target organ by our group for silicon accumulation and bio-activity. Recently we have extended our investigations into the effect of dietary silicon on cardiovascular health and demonstrated that silicon deficiency leads to a reduction in aortic circumference. Beer contains high levels of well absorbed silicon and interestingly, moderate intake of alcoholic beverages, such as beer, is well reported to affect bone mineral density (BMD) positively. Subsequently, such associations had been questioned as confounding lifestyle factors.  But working with colleagues in Aberdeen, we recently confirmed that this (alcohol-BMD relationship) is real and independent of lifestyle factors. Moreover, mechanism-based acute ingestion studies identified a novel effect of ethanol, but not silicon, in inhibiting bone resorption. In contrast, cellular and animal studies have suggested more of a metabolic role for silicon (i.e. it is “bone forming”).   Thus, the moderate ingestion of beer could have two complimentary effects on bone health: ethanol would inhibit bone loss, while silicon would enhance bone formation and given the enormous estimated healthcare costs associated with osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and other connective tissue disorders, it is of critical importance that the “beneficial” effect is fully understood and further work on beer, silicon and health is clearly warranted.

 

Short biography

Jonathan was appointed as Head of Section and Director of Studies at MRC HNR (Cambridge) in October 2003 and visiting Chair in the School of Medicine at Kings College London.  He was made a Fellow of Hughes Hall College, the University of Cambridge, in 2008. His major research interests are the biology and biochemistry of minerals, especially silicon and iron, and the absorption and immune-potentiating activities of nanominerals in the gastrointestinal tract.  His work through dietary silicon has also evolved an interest in oral delivery of organic silicon.  Diseases of interest are iron deficiency anaemia and Crohn’s disease, as well as ulcerative colitis, liver disease and osteoporosis. His previous positions were Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Medicine at Kings College London, from April 1999, Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept. of Immunology and Rheumatology, University of California at Davis, California, USA from April 1998 and MRC fellow/Honorary Lecturer, Dept. of Gastrointestinal Research, Rayne Institute St Thomas Hospital, London, from August 1995.

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