It’s a wonder these days that anyone ever gets sick. If you look through magazines, watch infomercials on TV or cruise the Internet you can have your pick of cure-alls. A variety of dietary supplements, oxygenated waters or natural sea salt preparations all claim to cure every ailment known to humankind. Colloidal silver is one of these supposed panaceas. The term colloidal just means that the particles of silver are so small that they do not settle out of the solution. According to the advertisements, these particles are microscopic in size but they are very large in terms of their healing abilities. Bronchitis, colds, food poisoning, gonorrhea, meningitis, pink eye, shingles, tuberculosis, staph and strep infections, herpes and of course cancer and AIDS all yield to the power of colloidal silver.
“The greatest disease fighter known to man, will kill by suffocation over 650 viruses and bacteria,” goes the claim. As with many of these hyper-hyped “cures” promoters have taken a smidgen of scientific fact and have blown it out of proportion. In this case, the scientific fact is that silver does have antimicrobial properties. Russian peasants used to keep water fresh by "silvering", meaning that they would leave silver coins in cisterns and jugs. Herodotus described water carts taken to war by the kings of Ancient Persia in which water from the Choaspes River was "ready boiled for use and stored in flagons of silver."
The surface of metallic silver will always harbour some silver oxide, a result of reaction with oxygen of the air. Small amounts of silver oxide dissolve in water and the silver ions in solution can indeed disrupt the metabolism of bacterial cells. Some water filters today contain small amounts of silver oxide to prevent bacterial contamination within the filter and silver nitrate is sometimes used in eye drops administered to new born babies to prevent conjunctivitis, an infection that can be acquired by passage through the birth canal. But these applications are a long way from curing AIDS or cancer.
There is no evidence that taking colloidal silver orally has the claimed beneficial effects. There is evidence that it can cause harm. Before antibiotics, silver nitrate nose drops were commonly used in the battle against infection. But not for long. Doctors discovered that their patients weren’t getting any better, but they were turning grey. They were afflicted by a condition known as argyria in which silver compounds deposit in the skin. This can happen with colloidal silver as well. Some people have become permanently discoloured in their quest for health. As a result the sales of non-prescription colloidal silver products which make health claims have been banned. Manufacturers still manage to skirt the law by selling their products as dietary supplements without making any direct claim on the label. They also sell machines that can be used to make colloidal silver preparations at home.
It is interesting that while some are hawking silver as a remedy, others are trying to eliminate its dietary use. In California there is a movement afoot to ban silver cake decorations because of the potential toxicity of the silver they contain. This is as silly as treating gonorrhea with colloidal silver. And if it passes, what’s next? Clamping down on all those people in California who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth?
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