“Colloidal silver” is a mixture of liquid (usually water) and tiny, microscopic silver particles. The particles are so small (they can be as small as 10 angstroms, or ten ten billionths of a meter) that they do not settle at the bottom but remain dispersed throughout the liquid. Before the advent of modern antibiotics in the 1940’s, colloidal silver was used to treat bacterial and viral infections, among other ailments.
Colloidal silver is often marketed as a dietary supplement, even though it is not an essential mineral. The quality of silver products or home-made batches varies widely. Furthermore, many preparations are contaminated with other substances not listed on the label. However, products that are made under cGMP (Certified Good Manufacturing Practice) regulations are subject to rigorous quality testing, so it is important to only choose high-quality products that are approved and tested according to national standards such as cGMP, Health Canada, or similar bodies.
In 1999, the FDA banned the sale of colloidal silver products that claimed to be effective in preventing or treating disease, but a quick online search reveals that there are many manufacturers who still make such claims, suggesting that colloidal silver can cure any number of ailments: AIDS, cancer, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and so on. Furthermore, there are many individuals who report positive outcomes with their health after using colloidal silver.
Adding to the regulatory puzzle, some colloidal silver products have been granted FDA drug status for extreme infections including MRSA (“superbugs”) while countless silver medical devices are being used in hospitals such as silver catheters and needles. It is likely that there are differences in the effectiveness of different silver products, plus it is possible that companies selling silver as an over-the-counter item (not requiring a prescription) have a product that it more capable than they are allowed to claim.
People who consume large amounts of unsafe silver liquids or who consume it over an extended period of time can develop argyria (ahr-JIR-e-uh), a condition in which silver accumulates in the skin (including the gums), nails, eyes and internal organs. This turns them all a bluish, ashen-gray. This condition is named after Argyris, a figure from Greek mythology who climbed Olympus naked and armed with a silver sword and a silver shield. Once there, he crawled into Athena’s bed and slept with her. The gods cursed Argiris with silver skin to punish him.
While argyria doesn’t pose a serious health problem, it is disfiguring and irreversible. Even if you stop consuming colloidal silver, the argyria does not go away. There is no known treatment for this condition. In rare cases, excessive doses of colloidal silver can cause serious health problems, like kidney failure and brain damage. It can even trigger seizures in people with pre-existing medical conditions. Colloidal silver may also interact with medications, though the extent of possible interactions is not fully known.
For more information about colloidal silver, see this special new page with extended information.