Supplements labeled “silica hydride” are marketed as a kind of universal cure, said to promote wellness, prevent disease, and potentially cure virtually all illnesses. As a chemical term, “silica hydride” is not well defined, but supplements sold under that name appear to contain a mixture of silicon and oxygen (silica), along with hydrogen (supposedly in the form of hydrides) as well as various minerals. Proponents of this supplement claim that much of human illness results from the presence in ordinary tap water of too many positively charged hydrogen ions. Silica hydride supplements, they say, remedy this by providing negatively charged hydrogen ions (hydride ions). These hydride ions are said to act as powerful antioxidants to increase cellular production of energy and provide many other benefits besides.

From the point of view of standard chemistry, however, the notion of enhancing health through hydride ions is highly problematic. A hydride is a hydrogen ion that carries two extra electrons, making it negatively charged. In its natural state, a hydrogen ion possesses no electrons and, therefore, carries a positive charge. When a hydrogen ion is forced to carry extra electrons, it becomes highly unstable and highly reactive. Hydrides are, in fact, so reactive that as soon as they contact a molecule of water they rip the water molecule to pieces. The result: the hydride disappears, leaving behind hydrogen gas (a substance that, within the body, is relatively inert) and hydroxide ions (the essence of alkalinity, and the active ingredient in Draino). Thus, if “silica hydride” supplements really did provide hydride ions, the ions would instantly disappear the moment they contacted anything moist, such as the mouth, the stomach, or the intestines. During its short existence, the hydride would have no time to act as an antioxidant or perform any other functions. It would simply leave behind a residue of alkalinity, a goal that could be accomplished more easily by, for example, consuming baking soda.

Silica hydride supplements were popularized by the colorful and controversial Patrick Flanagan, an American inventor who was previously responsible for “pyramid power.” In brief, this is the notion (once widely popular in some circles) that it is healthy to sit in or wear pyramidal objects. Flanagan has numerous current interests, one of them being silica hydride. It is his contention that silica hydride supplements enhance health by simulating the especially healthful water naturally consumed by the Hunzas.11

The Hunzas are a real people who live in the tribal areas of Pakistan. They have a long, complex and often tragic history, and at present, they are suspected of harboring Osama bin Laden. In the mythology of the Western healthfood tradition, however, the Hunzas are something else entirely: an emblem of health and longevity.

Based on stories told by a few nonexpert travelers, it became a kind a well-known “fact” that the Hunzas never get cancer and commonly remain spry and healthy long past the age of 100. Whole villages, in fact, were said to be full of people over 140. This cartoonish and ultimately disrespectful caricature of a real people figured prominently in the marketing campaign that made yogurt a common food in America. They were called the “Healthy Hunzas,” and the source of their health was said to be the yogurt that figures prominently in their diet.

More recently, purveyors of silica hydride, Hunza Water, and Hunza Bread claim their products as the source of the Hunza’s healthiness. But, alas, there is no factual relationship between the actual Hunzas and their use as an advertising emblem. The Hunzas are a real people; they get cancer as other people do, and the tales of their amazing longevity were long ago debunked. People who said they were 130 years old on one visit might say they’re 120 on the next visit and 140 when asked the question a year later. This is a phenomenon well-known to anthropologists. In many tribal areas, reported age is a matter of emotion as much as of years; thirty or forty years may be added to a person’s actual age (if, that actual age is even known) to indicate status in the community. Furthermore, bragging about longevity is a normal human trait. The actual life expectancy among the Hunzas appears to be unremarkable.