If you ask a majority of scientists, doctors and public health officials about colloidal silver, you’ll likely be given a stern look along with the following advice: you should not use colloidal silver because it is unsafe and ineffective.
While many medical professionals and researchers vehemently denounce the consumption of colloidal silver, you’ll also find many consumers who see it as an effective home remedy for an assortment of ailments, from common infections to more serious diseases.
Hundreds of consumers have lauded colloidal silver as a miracle ingredient that healed them when nothing else could. In their eyes, it is the ultimate remedy, as well as a natural alternative to antibiotics that treats bacterial, viral and fungal infections. There are also stories of people relying on it to cure their sick pets after the local vet failed to find a solution.
If you are curious about colloidal silver, it’s important to learn about what colloidal silver is and the risks it may pose. Being informed will help you make the best choice — and we’re here to help.
What Is Colloidal Silver?
Simply put, colloidal silver is a holistic health product that contains microscopic particles of pure silver suspended in demineralized water or another type of liquid. Prior to the invention of modern antibiotics, colloidal silver was used to fight infections and other conditions.
Silver is one of the elements you might have seen on a periodic table during a chemistry or biology class (the symbol is Ag). It is a transition metal, meaning it is great at conducting electricity and heat. Usually particles of silver are gathered as a byproduct of refining other metals such as copper and lead.
The “colloidal” part of colloidal silver refers to how the product is submicroscopic silver particles suspended in another substance, usually a water-based solution. In this case, the particles are the colloid and the water is the substance in which it is suspended.
Colloidal silver products, commonly marketed as silver water, often come in a liquid form or “hydrosol” that can be ingested. It can also be applied topically, typically with colloidal silver gel, with a nasal spray, and even colloidal silver eye drops are available from select manufacturers.
There are also gels marketed as first aid colloidal silver-based ointments similar to NEOSPORIN. Some consumers go so far as to try injections on themselves or pets.
There are other types of silver that have similar effects and are subject to the same regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]:
- silver salts
- silver proteins
- mild silver protein
- strong silver protein
- ionic silver
- silver chloride
- silver cyanide
- silver iodide
- silver oxide
- silver phosphate
People often use “colloidal silver” as an umbrella term for all of these silver-containing materials, even the ones that don’t have the aforementioned colloidal structure.
Is Colloidal Silver Safe to Use?
Most medical professionals and scientists consider colloidal silver to be unsafe and ineffective for the widespread health claims that manufacturers typically make. As far as your body is concerned, silver provides no known advantages, nor is it considered to be an essential mineral. Despite its well-documented risks, colloidal silver is technically legal, but the product is more regulated and scrutinized than most other legal supplements.
Nonetheless, manufacturers and consumers commonly refute the cautionary stance of medical professionals with their own ambitious health claims or anecdotal experiences. For example, dozens of silver companies have claimed or implied their products are cure-alls with nearly limitless health benefits, offering anti-bacterial, antifungal and anti-viral properties.
Some of these health claims have included:
- effective against diseases such as AIDS and cancer
- able to treat parasites, acne, warts, hemorrhoids, enlarged prostate, etc.
- an antibiotic that fights bacteria and cures infections, colds, and flus
- can treat partial-thickness burns and bug bites
- can be used as a dietary supplement
- can treat “silver deficiency,” which is not a real health issue
But you shouldn’t take these extravagant health claims without a healthy dose of skepticism. There is no scientific evidence to support the theory that colloidal silver products are a safe and effective treatment for these conditions.
Colloidal silver products that are marketed as a product that prevents or treats disease without receiving FDA approval are “misbranded.” In this case, the term means the FDA believes the labeling on the product is misleading or false.
To avoid lawsuits and circumvent FDA regulation, silver distributors may instead employ a “structure/function claim” such as “immune support.” Legally speaking, colloidal silver can also be marketed as a dietary supplement.
As for consumers, many people claim to have benefited from colloidal silver without experiencing any serious side effects. Receiving more than 300 reviews and ratings from users on WebMD, colloidal silver has maintained nearly perfect scores in the areas of “effectiveness,” “ease of use” and “satisfaction.”
A common theme regarding colloidal silver is that it’s more natural and affordable than prescription drugs. One younger woman, who claimed to be a professional nurse, said, “…big pharma would go broke if everyone used this.” She argued that the “right” type of colloidal silver — “electrically stripped silver in water stored in glass” — should effectively treat any ailment, and with no risk of blue skin.
“Mine is made by my doctor, in his office, by his generator,” she wrote. “I do not buy online or purchase from stores, you don’t always know what you are getting with that and he gives me a phenomenal price.”
Outside of user reviews on various online health forums, however, there are also thousands of consumers who trust the research against colloidal silver. Many people are critics who argue that colloidal silver is nothing but dangerous quackery.
Colloidal Silver Side Effects: What are the Risks?
Both consumers and manufacturers of colloidal silver products boast about the endless health benefits of this substance, but there’s little to no peer-reviewed research backing up the boisterous health claims.
There is, however, substantial evidence and case studies suggesting that colloidal silver can have a negative impact on your health. The most well-documented risk is the development of a disease called argyria.
Argyria: The Colloidal Silver Blues
There is evidence that proves colloidal silver consumption can lead to argyria, a disease where the skin permanently becomes bluish-gray. This condition is extremely rare and occurs only in a fraction of people who expose themselves to colloidal silver. Nonetheless, anyone who takes even a small amount of colloidal silver is at risk of developing the condition.
While argyria isn’t considered to be an extremely serious or fatal health problem, the blue-gray discoloration that it leaves behind could be permanent. Here are a few case studies, as well as profiles of people who have been outspoken about their experiences with the disorder:
- “System argyria associated with ingestion of colloidal silver,” Dermatology Online Journal, 2005
- “A Case of Argyria Following Colloidal Silver Ingestion,” Annals of Dermatology, 2009
- “Three systemic argyria cases after ingestion of colloidal silver solution,” International Journal of Dermatology, 2010
- Stan Jones, a former libertarian candidate for senate who consumed silver solution in anticipation of Y2K causing a shortage of antibiotics
- Paul Karason, who had dark blue skin up until his passing
- Rosemary Jacobs, who developed grey skin after a doctor prescribed her silver nose drops
Fortunately there is one documented case of treating the skin discoloration symptom. In 2011 doctors operated a laser to treat a 49-year-old man who had ingested a colloidal silver solution daily for a year. After seven sessions of laser treatments his skin returned to normal.
It’s not clear, however, if this procedure would be effective in all cases of argyria. Further research is needed.
During the last few decades hundreds of consumers have filed lawsuits against colloidal silver companies. These cases have become so common that many law firms have pages on their websites dedicated to colloidal silver-related grievances.
Colloidal Silver and Some People Have a Toxic Relationship
As if the risk of argyria wasn’t enough to dissuade people from consuming colloidal silver, there is also evidence that the ingredient can be toxic. Injecting colloidal silver into the bone marrow of dogs caused some of them to die or at least develop conditions such as anorexia and anemia.
There’s a chance that consumption of colloidal silver can cause irreversible health problems. Research shows that excessive doses of silver particles can catalyze kidney damage, liver problems and neurological issues like seizures. Furthermore, according to a press release issued by Harvard University, silver supplements can also lead to stomach distress and headaches.
Interactions with Other Medications
Even if we dismiss the potential health risks associated with colloidal silver, there’s also widespread concern that this substance can have a negative interaction with other medications. Evidence suggests that colloidal silver leads to poor absorption of certain prescription medications, such as certain antibiotics and thyroxine, which is commonly used to treat thyroid deficiency.
Colloidal Silver Benefits: Why Do People Use it?
Despite the mounting research that suggests colloidal can cause various health problems, many people still swear by colloidal silver products as a cure-all for several ailments. Although the purported benefits of colloidal silver have not been well-documented in scientific research, you can find plenty of blog posts and colloidal silver reviews by users who have found this substance to be a miracle cure of sorts.
While it’s important to heed the associated risks put forth by many medical professionals and scientists, it’s also hard to fully ignore the endless barrage of positive claims from users who have decided to integrate colloidal silver into their wellness regimen.
Ionic Colloidal Silver Can Be Antimicrobial
Ionic colloidal silver can be antimicrobial and slightly anti-fungal, according to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. One theory is that colloidal silver damages the cell walls of harmful bacteria by attaching to proteins. It’s possible that the positive effects some consumers report are due to the antimicrobial and antibacterial activity.
Colloidal Silver for Purifying Drinking Water
Not everyone uses colloidal silver as a supplement or alternative medicine. Because of its ability to combat bacteria, it has the potential to be an ingredient for water filtration and purification. A Ghana-based business created the CT Filtron, a ceramic water filter that contains colloidal silver particles. According to a report by the Stepping Stones for Africa Foundation, the device is backed by academic research and endorsed by reputable organizations such as UNICEF.
Topical Treatment May be the Best Option
While there is limited research on the health benefits of colloidal silver, there is reason to believe it could be a helpful ingredient in certain topical concoctions. Manufacturers claim that topical silver ointments contain antimicrobial properties and can treat skin wounds and conditions like acne, but what does science have to say?
A 2007 study published in the International Wound Journal found that silver-containing dressings could act as an effective barrier and treatment for infection, though other commonly used topical antimicrobial agents remain more effective.
On the other hand, a more recent clinical study found that colloidal silver did not show any antimicrobial effect on microorganisms, calling this specific claim into question and labeling the antimicrobial potency as misleading.
Trace amounts of colloidal silver can be found in various acne treatments and cosmetics, and is generally seen as safe if used topically and in small amounts. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH), topical silver has appropriate uses in bandages and dressings used to treat burns, skin wounds or skin infections. It can also be found in certain medicines used to prevent conjunctivitis in newborns.
Freedom vs. Safety: The Silver Lining
The scientific community has taken a stand against colloidal silver. It carries well-documented health risks, and there is no evidence it provides any benefits.
On the other hand, it might be unfair and insensitive to dismiss thousands of consumers who believe colloidal silver is helping them maintain excellent health. For every case of argyria, there are dozens of people who have consumed silver products for years without any reported side effects.
At the end of the day colloidal silver is legal, and it doesn’t seem like it will be banned any time soon. People are free to take certain risks with their health, and researchers are free to tell them it’s a horrible idea.
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