Blossom—who has a very different media diet—also keeps colloidal silver handy. She mostly uses it for cuts and scrapes on herself and her dog. “It works incredibly effectively and quickly,” she says. “I've been using it for years.” Like Javier, she thinks the most important thing she can do for her health isn’t to heed the FDA’s warnings but to trust her instincts and her own research. “I don’t subscribe to what the FDA says, nor do I subscribe to what the medical community says, generally,” Blossom says. “I don’t think they are pure in their intentions.”
But in 1999 (and again 10 years later), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a press release stating that there was no evidence to suggest a clear health benefit for colloidal silver. Rather, there’s evidence of some risks associated with using colloidal silver.
The exact way colloidal silver works is not fully understood. However, it’s thought that silver can bind to bacterial cells and damage their cell walls and DNA, resulting in cell death.
Twenty-four different ingestible liquid products containing colloidal silver were listed on the first page of the search results; only products on this first page of the results that had at least 10 consumer reviews were included for analysis. These criteria yielded 12 colloidal silver products with a combined total of 606 individual customer reviews (mean, 50.5 reviewers per product). The mean consumer rating of these 12 products was 4.38 of a possible maximum rating of 5 stars.
But does colloidal silver really strengthen your immune system? Is it actually safe for everyday use? Keep reading if you’re considering using colloidal silver.
Commercially available colloidal solutions can vary widely in the way that they are produced, as well as the number and size of the silver particles they contain.
Silver has been a favored defense against infection since ancient times. Pliny the Elder reported in AD 78 that silver slag, the gunk left over from smelting silver, “has healing properties as an ingredient in plasters,” and Cyrus the Great, king of Persia from 550 to 529 BC, stayed healthy by drinking only boiled water stored in silver flagons. (According to Herodotus, mule-drawn carts laden with silver urns followed King Cyrus “whithersoever” he went.) During the Middle Ages, monks popularized the use of silver nitrate, a salt formed by reacting silver with nitric acid, to treat ulcers and burns. Relative to other premodern health tips, these were actually pretty good ideas, because—as scientists discovered once they finally figured out germ theory—silver does have germ-fighting abilities. The exact mechanism by which it attacks bacterial cells still isn’t clear, but scientists have some guesses. Silver is most toxic to microbes in its ionized form—AG+, same as in those silver nitrate salts—which seems to deactivate important microbial enzymes and potentially screw with DNA replication.
Agyria isn’t reversible. Argyria by itself isn’t dangerous, and is defined as being “medically benign.” Of course, any skin discoloration isn’t exactly a welcome side effect.
However, the amount of nanoparticles in a colloid solution can vary, and a recent study found colloidal silver to be ineffective at killing viruses, even in test-tube conditions (9).
But the colloidal silver solutions were problematic too. It’s very difficult to control or analyze how much of the silver is ionized, so a patient has no way of knowing how much active silver they’re ingesting or applying—rendering it either useless or, on the other extreme, so potent it results in argyria. So colloidal silver was mostly abandoned by the medical establishment, which moved on to safer and more effective applications of silver, such as in wound dressings or as an infection-fighting additive to joint replacements. Recent tests of modern colloidal silver products found they had no significant antimicrobial properties and left most bacteria unscathed (even after six minutes).
Clinical trials are ongoing into the use of oral colloidal silver, as well as the use of negatively charged silver nanoparticles for topical use on wounds.
However, due to the risks associated with ingesting colloidal silver, the effects of doing so have not been tested as an antibacterial treatment in humans (12).
Fast forward to 2013, when Gwyneth Paltrow came on Dr. Oz's show to talk about how she keeps herself and her family happy and healthy. Colloidal silver was one of her four wellness tips—she said she regularly sprays it under her tongue and on airplane seats to keep viruses away. "This has a ton of data behind it," Oz agreed, having apparently forgotten the blue man he doubted. Oz told Paltrow he uses colloidal silver as a daily throat spray, and so do his kids. "This was the first antibiotic," he said.
Colloidal silver is often touted as an antibacterial agent and a topical wound dressing. Some people claim it can cure a cold faster, heal the body better, and even treat cancer or HIV.
This has translated to its use in some healthcare products like wound creams, wound dressings and medical equipment (7, 11).
The availability of colloidal silver solution as a health and personal care product is concerning. With the use of an online marketplace, colloidal silver can be easily obtained, and consumers can be influenced by the favorable product reviews. It is important that a patient’s medical history include information about over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, and complementary and alternative medications. The most common adverse effect of long-term colloidal silver ingestion is argyria. Advising patients against further use can prevent worsening of skin discoloration and development of renal, hepatic, and neurologic problems that have been reported after long-term ingestion of colloidal silver.4 In addition, the FDA warning made 16 years ago should be reemphasized and consideration should be given to adding colloidal silver to the list of the agency’s Unapproved Drugs Initiative since it poses a potential safety risk and lacks evidence of being effective.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) warns that people taking colloidal silver may be actually risking their long-term health for a product that doesn’t improve immunity or promote healing.
Some studies have suggested that different types of silver nanoparticles may help kill viral compounds (13).
Even so, colloidal silver never left the drugstore shelves. In 1999 the FDA declared that over-the-counter products containing colloidal silver ingredients were “misbranded” and “not generally recognized as safe,” banning its sale as an OTC drug. But in practice that just means it sits on a different shelf in the pharmacy, as a supplement now instead of a medication.
The use of silver taken by mouth can’t be recommended. Over time, colloidal silver can build up in the tissues of your body and give your mucous membranes and skin a grayish appearance. This is a symptom of a condition called argyria.
No studies have investigated the effects of ingesting colloidal silver on viruses in people, so it lacks evidence to support its use in this way.