For centuries, silver has been used to ward off sickness and infection, but should this precious metal have a place in the modern-day natural health arsenal? Is colloidal silver safe?
My experience with colloidal silver
Until a few years ago, I had been suspicious of all the hype around colloidal silver.
Then, when my son was around four, he developed a run-of-the-mill pre-school cough. I treated it with my usual bag of tricks – Chinese herbs, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and dietary modifications.
He responded well, but before he was completely recovered he went on a two week trip with Daddy to England, and the herbs were forgotten. When they returned, the cough was still lingering. It wasn’t deep or alarming, just nagging and disruptive.
My remedies were taking the edge off but not clearing up the cough. I was perplexed.
So upon the recommendation of our holistic pediatrician, I decided to give colloidal silver a try. I was amazed by how quickly and thoroughly my son’s cough resolved. I began to think that colloidal silver may not be mere snake oil after all. But I still wondered, is colloidal silver safe?
A quick history of colloidal silver
In this interesting article about the history of colloidal silver, I learned that silver has been used to prevent and treat infection long before the discovery of germs.
Ancient Romans and Greeks stored perishables in silver containers so they would not spoil.
European royalty were often referred to as “blue bloods” in part because their frequent use of silver goblets, plates, and utensils gave their skin a bluish cast and – according to several sources – may have helped them to avoid common illness. (source)
Since the early 1800’s, silver was effectively and commonly used as an antibiotic substance. The shelf-life of early liquid silver preparations was very short, so physicians needed to mix the solutions to order for injection or ingestion.
With the discovery of sulfa drugs and penicillin, silver quickly took a back seat to the newer drugs that were easier to use and seemingly more effective.
Now due to the concern over the antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and health risks of the antibiotics themselves, more and more holistically-minded folks are turning to colloidal silver once again.
How does silver fight infection?
Silver works as a potent antibiotic substance because when silver ions are absorbed into single-cell bacteria or fungus they interfere with cellular energy production and kill the organism.
The metabolism of these single-celled organisms is different than that of human cells, which explains why silver is not toxic to humans but can wipe out other micro-organisms.
Silver has been shown in clinical studies to kill MRSA, Avian Flu, and SARS among more common, everyday infections of the sinuses, eyes, skin, and upper respiratory tract. Silver can even irradiate some antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. (source)
Silver cannot distinguish, however, between beneficial bacteria and harmful microorganisms, so much like antibiotics it is important to take care not to overuse silver.
Is all colloidal silver the same?
Trying to get to the bottom of this question is like trying to research the best water filter. (If you ever have done so, you know what I mean.)
There are various types of products on the market all labeled as colloidal silver – all touting the benefits and low to non-existent risk of their products, all with their own ‘research’ to back their claims.
Here’s what I know:
Colloidal means that there are particles suspended in the liquid. You don’t want these particles to be too large because the “silver proteins” cannot be utilized by the body due to poor surface area.
Some say that silver ion suspension is just as effective as colloidal silver, whereas others claim that silver ion solutions are a weak alternative to the real deal.
According to Joe Mercola, in true colloidal silver “the majority of the silver content is in the form of silver particles with between 50 to 80 percent particles, while the balance will be silver ions.” (source)
Will colloidal silver turn me blue?
You may indeed turn bluish-grey if you ingest too much large-particle silver protein. This condition, called argyria, is not treatable or reversible and does not have any other known symptoms.
Aside for argyria, excessive consumption of colloidal silver is said to run the risk of kidney damage and neurological problems. After searching extensively, I could find no reports of these issues. Colloidal silver products may also interact with some medications.
You can tell a silver protein solution because it foams when shaken, is usually darker in color, and usually has a very high concentration – typically in the range of 30 to 20,000 ppm. Avoid silver protein. (source)
So is colloidal silver safe?
Personally, I’m not greatly concerned about the risks of turning into a large Smurf or the other vague health risks given for colloidal silver. You can do quite a bit of damage if you ingest too much of anything including aspirin, table salt, or even water. It seems to me that you would have to try really hard to injure yourself with this substance.
If overdose still concerns you though, you can find out how to calculate a safe dose here.
My bigger concern is how colloidal silver affects the gut flora when ingested on a regular basis. While silver is not as much of an atomic bomb as antibiotics, it is a broad spectrum antimicrobial substance. Silver ions cannot distinguish “good” flora from “bad” flora – so any microbe that is sensitive to silver will be killed by it.
For local, topical use on cuts and burns, as an eye drop for eye infections, or for an occasional nasal wash for a stubborn sinus infection, colloidal silver seems smart. This is the brand of colloidal silver we use at my house.
When it comes to deciding on a daily dose of colloidal silver, personally, I skip it. At this time, there’s inadequate understanding about colloidal silver to know for sure if it will adversely affect the body’s defenses in the long run.
I’d prefer to allow my immune system to flex and grow under the guidance of Real food and a few choice immune boosting supplements. Colloidal silver can stand guard in my medicine cabinet for when my body needs stronger reinforcements.