Visit the WebMD page on colloidal silver and you’ll see the assertion that is standard among scientists, doctors and public health officials:
People should not consume colloidal silver because it is unsafe and ineffective. Even a small amount can cause your skin to permanently turn grey or blue.
At the bottom of this article that vehemently denounces the substance, there is a link to WebMD user feedback on colloidal silver. On this page the consumer sentiment is the complete opposite: fervent support.
Hundreds of commenters have lauded colloidal silver as a miracle ingredient that healed them when nothing else could. In their eyes it is the ultimate supplement, as well as a natural alternative to antibiotics and other forms of traditional western medicine. There are also stories of people relying on it to cure their sick pets after the local vet failed to find a solution.
Some consumers have purchased “generators” and produced their own goods out of their homes. There are even licensed health care practitioners who prescribe colloidal silver to their patients.
Despite receiving more than 300 reviews and ratings, colloidal silver has maintained nearly perfect scores in the areas of “effectiveness,” “ease of use” and “satisfaction.” Based on the limited amount of identifying information people have chosen to display publicly on WebMD, it seems most users are middle-aged men and women.
A common theme is choosing something natural and affordable over 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.”
There is no scientific evidence to suggest the substance is effective in treating any illness or providing health benefits. Outside of the WebMD reviews there are thousands of consumers who trust the research against colloidal silver. Many of these people are critics who argue that colloidal silver is nothing but dangerous quackery.
If you are curious about colloidal silver, we recommend reading up on the topic and consulting several doctors before even considering trying it. Being informed will help you make the best choice.
What Is Colloidal Silver?
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 silver is 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 silver is the colloid and the water is the substance in which it is suspended.
Colloidal silver products often come in a liquid form or “hydrosol” that can be ingested and applied topically or as a nasal spray. There are also gels marketed as first aid 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
- silver ion
- silver chloride
- silver cyanide
- silver iodide
- silver oxide
- silver phosphate
People often use “colloidal silver” as an umbrella term for all of these materials, even the ones that don’t have the aforementioned colloidal structure.
Colloidal Silver Generators
Concocting your own colloidal silver is especially dangerous. Take the case of “Papa Smurf,” a man who turned blue from consuming homemade silver. Even colloidal silver companies say homemade substances can be unsafe — although it’s obvious that part of their motivation is to ensure people continue buying their products instead of making silver at home.
Generally it is manufacturers and a minority of doctors who purchase colloidal silver generators. The contraption works by running a current of electricity through particles suspended in water. To reduce health risks and produce silver that is allegedly effective, the machine requires a certain water purity, silver concentration and particle size.
Because of the need to combine water and electricity, this process carries a high risk of electrocution. Manufacturers such as Sovereign Silver utilize a certified facility to maintain an adequate level of safety.
Again, producing colloidal silver at home is extremely hazardous.
FDA Ruling on Colloidal Silver Products
Despite its well-documented risks, colloidal silver is legal. Nonetheless, the product is more regulated and scrutinized than most other legal supplements.
In 1999 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] ruled that, to market colloidal silver as a product that prevents or treats disease, manufacturers need to submit a new drug application [NDA] and receive approval.
Colloidal silver products that do not obtain this approval are “misbranded.” In this case the term means the FDA believes the labeling on the product is misleading or false.
Keep in mind that the FDA is lax compared to regulatory bodies in other countries. Europe, for example, has banned hundreds of controversial ingredients that are legal in the U.S. When the FDA does take a strong stance against an ingredient, there is usually a ton of evidence against it.
The “Structure/Function” and “Immune Support” Loopholes
According to Sovereign Silver, it is illegal for silver brands to make “health claims” such as declaring that their products can impact a disease or condition. To avoid lawsuits and circumvent FDA regulation, silver distributors may instead employ a “structure/function claim” such as “immune support.” As long as the statement is “truthful and not misleading,” it is completely legal to say a silver product can improve body and immune system functioning.
Legally Speaking, Colloidal Silver is a Dietary Supplement
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 stipulates that the term, “dietary supplement,” may include products with a mineral as its dietary ingredient. Because silver is a mineral, colloidal silver is often sold as a dietary supplement. For vendors this approach is much easier than seeking approval to register their silver products as drugs.
Unsubstantiated Claims Silver Companies Have Made About Their Products
Dozens of silver companies have claimed or implied their products are cure-alls with nearly limitless health benefits. 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.
- cures infections, colds and flus
- can treat burns and bug bites
- can treat “silver deficiency,” which is not a real health issue
These claims are now illegal. There is still no scientific evidence to support the theory that colloidal silver is safe and effective.
Lawsuits Against Colloidal Silver Companies
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.
Some of these lawyers provide free consultation for consumers who have been diagnosed with argyria. The attorneys most likely make this offer because they are confident they can win most cases against silver companies.
In several cases these lawsuits crippled popular colloidal silver businesses. NutraSilver, for instance, shut down following a suit from a woman who developed argyria after ingesting their products for years.
Here are a few more notable cases:
- In 2001 the Federal Trade Commision [FTC] took action against ForMore, Inc. for unsubstantiated health-related claims regarding their colloidal silver products.
- 2015 personal injury case: Melissa M. Gongaware vs. Beneficial Solutions
- complaints sent to the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority vs. Colloidal Health Solutions, Salud New Zealand and Liquid Pearl
Argyria: The Colloidal Silver Blues
There is evidence that proves colloidal silver consumption can lead to argyria, a disease where the skin permanently becomes blue or grey. Argyria 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.
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 of argyria. In 2011 doctors used 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.
More Research and Scientific Communities Against Colloidal Silver
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.
Despite its history of being used for sinus conditions, a study showed that colloidal silver nose drops are not effective.
The following is a list of government and nonprofit health organizations that have cautioned against the consumption of colloidal silver:
- Federal Trade Commission [FTC]
- Mayo Clinic
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]
Ionic Colloidal Silver Can Be Antimicrobial
Ionic colloidal silver can be antimicrobial and slightly antifungal, 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 this antimicrobial quality.
Colloidal Silver for Purifying Drinking Water
Not everyone uses colloidal silver as a supplement or alternative medicine. Because of its antimicrobial qualities, 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.
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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