Why You Should NOT Use Colloidal Silver Products

Posted on 13 Oct 2009 02:36

Colloidal silver1is just one of many names given to silver supplements, such as ionic silver and silver protein, all of which are marketed with similar claims as dietary supplements and have been claimed to be effective for a variety of health conditions and for general health support.

Among these claims are:

  • cold medicine
  • decongestant
  • immune system support
  • Stress relief
  • Improved Sports Performance
  • Skin Conditioner
  • cancer treatment

The favorite claim by far for silver supplements is that it is an antimicrobial and "kills every pathogen it it tested on". Usually these tests are carried out by "top scientists" in a "major university study".

Silver supplements are thus said to be effective against ear infections, eye infections, heart valve infection, urinary tract infection and even meningitis.

Wait, that's not all. Silver supplements have also been claimed to treat diabetes, tuberculosis, syphilis, scarlet fever, shingles, herpes, pneumonia, and prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate).

Colloidal Silver products have in fact been claimed to treat hundreds of different infections in the body and several sellers of these supplements claimed it to kill "over 650 disease causing organisms" in the body and to treat all known infections caused by disease-causing organisms, including germs, viruses, algae and fungus. One of these companies, "rawhealth.net", claimed that it's product would "eliminate all pathogens in the human body in six minutes or less".

These types of claims are completely untrue and fraudulent. And they are wholly illegal. Colloidal silver had not been proven to treat any of the various disease and conditions it is claimed to treat. Any claims that products containing colloidal silver or silver salts are safe and effective treatments for any condition are false and wholly unsubstantiated.

It is true that silver does have medicinal use. For instance, fabric impregnated with silver is sometimes used as a dressing for wounds to prevent infection and silver sulfadiazine is used to treat serious burns. Silver nitrate is occasionally used to treat warts and corns and can be silver nitrate can be used to prevent the eye condition conjunctivitis in newborn babies.

These medicinal uses go back for centuries but they were always used topically and never taken internally. Modern medicine has eliminated most uses for more effective and safer alternatives.

It is also true silver mixtures do indeed kill a great many microbes.

Very likely, the reader has a similar product in his or here home right now. It's commonly called bleach, or perhaps you just call it Clorox. It's actually sodium hypochlorite and, like silver it really kills the germs. It even kills viruses including the HIV virus. Nobody would mistake it for a ditary supplement and I trust the reader is smart enough not to squirt is up their nose the next time they get a sinus infection.

Hopefully, I don't have to explain that the reason I am comparing silver supplements to household chlorine bleach is because bleach is used to kill pathogens OUTSIDE the body. To state that bleach kills HIV is not to state that it is a TREATMENT for HIV. The same is true for the claims about silver and it's deadly effect on many microbes. and yes, of course, colloidal silvers have also been claimed to treat HIV/AIDS.

Many substances kill microbes. They also kill us if we ingest them.

No, colloidal silver is not as toxic as chlorine bleach but there is NO SCIENTIFIC evidence to support it's safety or effectiveness. Silver has no know function in the body. Although it is sold also as "mineral support" silver is not an essential mineral.

Animal studies have shown that silver builds up in the tissues of the body. In humans, buildup of silver from colloidal silver can lead to a side effect called argyria, which causes a bluish-gray discoloration of the skin, other organs, deep tissues, nails, and gums. Argyria is permanent and cannot be treated or reversed. Other side effects from using colloidal silver products may include neurologic problems (such as seizures), kidney damage, stomach distress, headaches, fatigue, and skin irritation. Colloidal silver may interfere with the body's absorption of some drugs, such as penacillamine, quinolones, tetracyclines, and thyroxine.

Silver Dressings and Silver Coatings

Legitimate research into silver impregnated would dressings and silver coatings for surgical implants have been used by colloidal silver websites as evidence of the oral effectiveness of silver supplements. There is absolutely no relationship between silver in dressings and implants and liquid silver supplements. And while the search for effective anti-microbial coatings for surgical implants is of great importance the use of anti-microbial dressings is for from clear-cut.

Colloidal silver merchants would have us believe that the existence of legal commercial products containing silver is proof that their products are effective and needed. However, the existence of commerical products, whether specialty medical product or over the counter products, is by no means a proof that silver has any special efficacy when compared to standard anti-microbial dressings or topical products. Just like the existence of colloidal silver products on the market for internal use does not mean they work.

There is minimal data about the efficacy AND safety of topical silver products and dressings in wound treatment. It may be said that there is some evidence for the use of these dressings to reduce bioburdern and thus speed healing. However, reducing bioburden is not the same as "treating infection". Although infections may be induced artificially in some studies to test anti-infection dressings topical antiseptics are not meant to be a treatment for infection.

Dressings for wounds that use silver are considered occlusive dressings. These dressings are meant to prevent wound contamination or cross-infection. And to reduce the speed of the bioburden.

Bioburden is usually the focus of investigations. But bioburden, which is most always present in a wound does not automatically indicate infection. If these dressings speed healing it is because the presence of bacteria have an influence on healing rate. And it is not clear whether the mere presence of bacteria, as opposed to an active wound infection, has an effect on healing rate.

Assuming that anti-microbial dressings or topicals do speed healing by reducing bioburden is NOT the same as saying that they would result in a reduced rate of infection in in already infected wounds and although it would seem this would be a foregone conclusion, it is not. There may be a little evidence for it but most of the evidence that points to actual use for these products is for simple aid in healing by reducing bioburden. For example, a simple tube of Neosporin is meant to help prevent infection not to treat a wound infection that is already present.

Yet colloidal silver supplement vendors recommend their products to TREAT infections, even chronic ones, even when it is not "clear cut" in an actual medical setting when silver is used in an actual scientific setting.

Wounds that are actually infected usually require systemic antibiotic therapy. It is not that clear at all what role topical therapies play in wound treating in general and for wounds that "look" infected. Colloidal silver supplements are recommended for both topical AND systemic use. There is no clear agreement concerning topicals in general, let alone silver topicals. For systemic use there is absolutely NO evidence of the effectiveness of any silver product.

In Vitro, in Vivo

In vitro means, basically, in a test tube or petri dish. In vivo means in the body. To say that silver preparations kill strains of bacteria in vitro is not in any way an indication of their effectiveness as a systemic treatment for "infection" used orally. Yet most sites selling silver dietary supplements claim independent laboratory verification of it's efficacy against certain strains of bacteria in vitro. NOT in vivo.

As mentioned above your household is probably full of products that can claim similar efficacy against bacterial strains in vitro.

Perhaps often left unmentioned is the ethics of the wholesale recommendation of regular anti-microbial use. If one believes, despite the complete absence of evidence, that oral colloidal silver products treat infections in the body, then one is advocating the chronic ingestion of "antibiotics" by anyone able to order a supplement over the internet. Given the monumental problem of antibiotic resistance this practice shows at least a complete disregard of medical reality.


The Science Points

Reviews of the scientific literature on colloidal silver products have concluded that:

  • Silver has no known function in the body
  • Silver is not an essential mineral supplement or a cure-all and should not be promoted as such
  • Claims that there can be a "deficiency" of silver in the body and that such a deficiency can lead to disease are unfounded
  • Claims made about the effectiveness of colloidal silver products for numerous diseases are unsupported scientifically
  • Colloidal silver products can have serious side effects
  • Laboratory analysis has shown that the amounts of silver in supplements vary greatly, which can pose risks to the consumer.

The Federal Stance

The Federal Government regulates dietary supplements (including those that contain colloidal silver) primarily through the FDA, but the laws about putting dietary supplements on the market and keeping them there are generally less strict than the laws for drugs. For example, manufacturers of dietary supplements, unlike manufacturers of drugs, do not have to prove their product's safety and effectiveness to the FDA before it is marketed. However, if the product is found to be unsafe after it is marketed, the FDA can take certain actions, such as removing it from the marketplace.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider colloidal silver to be safe or effective for treating any disease or condition. The FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have taken action against a number of colloidal silver companies (including some companies that sell products over the Internet) for making drug-like claims about their products. The agencies have sent warning letters to the operators of many Web sites that market colloidal silver with drug-like claims (i.e., claims that their products diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease).

The Techno-Babble

Most products tend to be an "ionic silver solution" which is silver in a solution rather than suspended silver. Such as the product sold here - (these products also tend to contain much less than the claimed amount of silver.

Notice, upon reading that page, such meaningless techno-babble as "mono-atomic" which is a derivative of the term "monotomic". If you didn't already know these people were full of it well you know it now. They claim their product violates the laws of physics in that they have managed to suspend a bunch of single atoms of silver in a solution without them being attracted to each other to form, gulp, silver particles.

Wait a minute. Read the first line: "Colloidal is a term describing a substance containing particles". So which is it? Are they particles or are they single atoms. Of COURSE they're particles. Yes, yes, an atom is a particle of matter but that is not the sense that the word is used in when referring to solutions. See "van der Waal's force"2 if you don't know what I'm talking about. Not that I do so much either.

I'm not sure that it is even possible to produce single atom particle mixtures as they claim even if they didn't clump together. There is nothing in the definition of a colloid that says it is a mixture of atoms and a true colloid that had a large particle concentration could NOT be crystal clear, as they claim. Nanometer size particles are required.


Anyway, the Food and Drug Administration, on this past October 6th, issued a warning to advize about the risk of permanent discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes that can be caused by these silver supplements. It's called argyria. You may have heard of it and saw pictures. Not only can this turn the skin a bluish or gray color but even the whites of the eyes. Did I mention this was PERMANENT? Well, usually permanent.

Man with argyria, permanent skin discoloration from use of silver containing nose spray

image by Herbert L. Fred, MD and Hendrik A. van Dijk via wikimedia

It is not clear exactly how this occurs but it is believed that the silver combines with proteins to form deposits in the skin. The silver can also increase the body's melanin production which will cause the skin to get darker faster when exposed to light.

Ok, so yes, silver is found in the environment and is therefore to be found in our bodies in trace amounts. But so are such minerals as aluminum, cadmium, lead, mercury, tin, and vanadium (among many others). Although one or two of those may possibly have some tiny role in tiny amounts we think of them as, you got it, POISONS. The body has a hard time getting rid of them when exposed to them in large amounts and they can quickly rise to toxic levels..where they DO have a role, as a destructive force in the body.

Although argyria seems to be harmless (depending on your interpretation of the word) silver itself taken orally has no known biological functions. Silver IS anti-microbial and has some appropriate medical uses, such as medicines, bandages, and dressings used to treat burns, skin wounds, or skin infections, and as medicines used to prevent the eye condition called conjunctivitis in newborn infants. However, there are no legally marketed prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs containing silver that are taken by mouth.

And there is no reason whatsoever to think that silver has any beneficial role when taken this way. Even as an anti-microbial. Here is the thing. The outrageous claims made by some of the silver supplement marketers as to the healing effects of the product are ILLEGAL. Absolutely and positively against the law. And they are BOGUS.

The FDA is taking action on investigating other potential side-effect of these silver products. As if argyria isn't enough.


Selected References

  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. ToxFAQs for Silver. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Web site. Accessed at www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts146.html on July 10, 2008.
  • Colloidal silver. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Accessed on July 14, 2008.
  • Colloidal silver. Natural Standard Database. Accessed on July 14, 2008.
  • Fung MC, Bowen DL. Silver products for medical indications: risk-benefit assessment. Journal of Toxicology. Clinical Toxicology. 1996;34(1):119–126.
  • Gulbranson SH, Hud JA, Hansen RC. Argyria following the use of dietary supplements containing colloidal silver protein. Cutis. 2000;66(5):373–374.
  • Rulemaking history for OTC colloidal silver drug products. Final monograph. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site. Accessed on July 17, 2008.
  • White JM, Powell AM, Brady K, et al. Severe generalized argyria secondary to ingestion of colloidal silver protein. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. 2003;28(3):254–256.

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