What is Colloidal Silver?

Of all the colloidal materials, none is so popular in online search as colloidal silver. Colloidal tin, colloidal copper, and other colloidal materials simply do not get searched as often as colloidal silver.

So, what is colloidal silver? Why are so many people trying to learn about it?

What is Colloidal Silver?

Colloidal silver was first patented in the 1920s as an antimicrobial. Silver (Ag) is an element that has been long considered a precious metal, along with gold. Aside from uses as currency and in jewelry, silver solutions and compounds have been used for medical purposes including as disinfectants and microbiocides. Silver has also been added to bandages and dressings, and to the coating of medical instruments.

Silver is a remarkable metal in that it is virtually non-toxic to the human body (as with any substance, excessive consumption can lead to health problems), but is absolutely lethal to around 650 kinds of bacteria and viruses.

The “colloidal” in colloidal silver refers to the overall mixture (otherwise known as a colloidal suspension) of insoluble positively charged particles dispersed within a liquid. The particles can neither settle at the bottom of the mixture, nor float to the top to be considered a colloid. A colloid’s particles can’t be filtered out either—at least not by ordinary filtering.

While colloidal silver is most often sold as a liquid, there are other forms of colloids, like solids, gels, emulsions, and aerosols, among others.

Whipped cream, for example, is a colloid in the form of foam, while butter is a colloid in the form of a gel, and milk is an emulsion.

You can easily tell a colloid from a solution by means of the Tyndall effect. When light is shone into a colloid, it’ll display the Tyndall effect, which will make the beam of light visible in the colloid since the light is scattered by the suspended particles. The way your headlights look through fog is another example of the Tyndall effect.

Colloidal silver products typically are marketed as dietary supplements to be taken orally, but may also be sold as injections or as a topical cream. So how long has colloid silver been around?

Colloidal Silver in History

While silver has been touted as having medical applications for thousands of years, physicians looking to employ its effectiveness as a germicide and disinfectant used it largely in the early 20th century, before modern antibiotics.

During early usage, doctors touted colloidal silver as a cure-all, with benefits from simply boosting your health to magically treating tumors.

With the introduction of modern antibiotics in the 1940s, colloidal silver fell out of common use until the 1990s, when it began to be marketed as an alternative or homeopathic medicine that has largely been ignored by mainstream pharmaceuticals and modern medicine, or criticized as a hoax. One major reason it is experiencing a resurgence is the increasing failure of today’s conventional antibiotics due to drug-resistant bacteria. Also, modern colloidal silver is safer (it does not have side effects like kill a person’s probiotic bacteria) and are much more effective than the silvers of 100 years ago.

Colloidal Silver is currently largely sold as a dietary supplement, but may see another rise in popularity in the future.

With modern antibiotics, the strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are growing in number, and a recent study published by Science Translational Medicine by a biomedical engineer at Boston University has described the way silver can target and destroy bacteria. His work shows that silver could, when used to boost an antibiotic, could help the drugs kill somewhere between 10 and 1000 times as many bacteria.

Combining colloidal silver with a synthetic antibiotic in a way that will boost the effective “killing” rate of antibiotics may help tackle the emerging worry of drug-resistant bacteria, which we will reexamine a little later.

Most dietary supplements, like iron or vitamin D, are used to boost very specific areas of the body’s health, but most people aren’t entirely clear on how colloidal silver effects the health of the user.

What is Colloidal Silver Used For?

Silver has been used for medical purposes in many forms. Silver coating medical implements can help deter fatal infections contracted while in the hospital, and topical silver has been used as an antibacterial cream to treat infected wounds.

The FDA has approved several topical preparations of silver sulfadiazine to treat second- and third-degree burns, an example of silver being used in mainstream medicine.

Silver has also been used in X-ray technology, and was the standard before the introduction of digital X-rays. It’s still very popular in developing countries for its accuracy and cost effectiveness.

Reportedly, colloidal silver has been used to aid in the treatment of bacterial and viral infections, including MRSA, AIDS, HIV and even cancer. Colloidal silver has also been said to help prevent eye infections in infants when colloidal silver eye drops are used, a treatment that dates back to the early 20th century.

Colloidal silver has been used to treat various other ailments, including food poisoning, Lyme disease, gum disease, and rosacea. Users of colloidal silver have reported using it as a decongestant, or gargling with it to treat strep throat.

Some have claimed to use colloidal silver to help heal small wounds, to treat unsightly scar tissue, or to treat other skin conditions including rashes and even acne.

Aside from being used as an antimicrobial, colloidal silver has also been used to treat other infections that result from yeast, parasites and fungi.

Some expectant mothers have reported taking colloidal silver to aid the baby’s growth and health, as well as aiding in the delivery and recovery. Of course, as with all supplements, it’s important to seek a medical professional’s advice, as some evidence exists that colloidal silver may pose a risk to the unborn child, and may cause fetal abnormalities.

Because the alleged benefits of colloidal silver have little presence in studies done by medical journals, the actual benefits of colloidal silver, and its effectiveness in curing certain diseases or conditions is strictly based on user’s experiences with the supplement. Many people swear by it—saying that they’ve used it for decades without a single problem, and never been healthier.

Sellers of colloidal silver recommend starting slowly when the subject of dosage comes up. They recommend you conservatively start with one to three teaspoons once a day, to avoid one of the possible side effects of antibiotics—the Herxheimer Reaction.

Manufacturers of colloidal silver have been known to claim the product is a cure-all that boosts the immune system, and the effectiveness of the treatments has been subject to criticism. Concerns have also been raised about possible side effects of colloidal silver.

Does it Have Side Effects?

According to the Merck manual, Silver is not a heavy metal. However, some silver compounds made using older technology or made with impurities can gradually build up in the human body. Extreme build up can result in Argyria, a skin condition that was once considered permanent.

Argyria is a blue or gray discoloration of the eyes, nails, gums, or skin. While Argyria isn’t a serious medical condition, it is a cosmetic concern, because the pigmentation doesn’t dissipate without laser therapy, which can be costly.

In an extreme case, an American man’s skin turned blue after consuming colloidal silver. However, this man made the colloidal silver himself with distilled water, salt, and silver, and used a silver topical salve as well.

Silver is only toxic in high doses, so while taking colloidal silver, it is unlikely that you will develop Argyria.

The newest forms of silver (“structured silver”, “silver aquasol”, “silver hydrosol”) do not have a problem creating argyria because of their purity and chemistry. It is critical when choosing a silver product to do your research if you plan to ingest the silver, and it is highly recommended that you do not consume home-made colloidal silver as commercial products made under cGMP (Certified Good Manufacturing Practice) undergo rigorous quality control.

Another possible side effect of consuming colloidal silver is a Herxheimer Reaction, which is an immune system response when large amounts of toxin are released from pathogens that have been killed.

The body can be overwhelmed by the amount of toxins and may utilize secondary organs like the skin, lungs, and sinuses to eliminate the toxins. The reaction can range in severity depending on the length of time and seriousness of the infection. The Herxheimer Reaction is classically associated with the treatment of syphilis with penicillin, but is not uncommon when taking colloidal silver.

Manufacturers recommend that while taking colloidal silver, increasing your intake of water to help flush out toxins may help avoid this side effect, as will gradually building up your tolerance to colloidal silver.

If There’s Side Effects, Why Use Silver At All?

Silver is actually not very toxic at all, so the risk of severe medical effects is minimal when inhaled, ingested, or applied externally. Silver and silver nanoparticles (like those in colloidal silver) have long been used to cover the surfaces of medical implements to prevent the growth of bacteria or viruses.

“Superbugs,” like the staph infection known as MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, are resistant to many, if not nearly all, antibiotics. For people who have severe allergies to commonly prescribed antibiotics like penicillin, amoxicillin, cephalexin, and tetracycline, it can be difficult (and expensive) to find an antibiotic that they can take safely that will be effective against the infection.

For these people, any infection at all, even as simple as a sinus-infection, can be a scary specter. Silver colloids in a topical form can easily treat externally based infections, like a skin infection, or even an ear infection, without the risk of an allergic reaction.

And unlike pharmaceutical synthetic antibiotics, the chance of bacteria and viruses developing a resistance to silver is virtually nonexistent.

Critics of colloidal silver argue that it may actually be too effective at killing bacteria. The human gut is full of “friendly” bacteria like acidophilus, that when killed, disrupts the natural balance of digestion in the body. This can result in symptoms like diarrhea, which is why your doctor often recommends that you consume plenty of yogurt when you start a dose of antibiotics, to replace any good bacteria you kill off.

However, structured silver does not harm the good bacteria due to the water-based molecules’ inability to penetrate the lipid bi-layer of good bacteria. This lipid outer coating acts as a fatty protective shield not only against the harsh environment of the digestive tract, but also against the structured silver.

So, How Does It Work?

This video from the Silver Health Institute explains silver’s method of action very well, plus introduces how not all colloidal silvers work the same way (structured silver vs simple ionic/colloidal silvers):

Silver is actually not toxic (some compound materials that contain silver can be poisonous, but pure metallic silver is non-toxic), so the risk of severe medical effects is minimal when inhaled, ingested, or applied externally. Silver and silver nanoparticles (like those in colloidal silver) have long been used to cover the surfaces of medical implements to prevent the growth of bacteria or viruses.

“Superbugs,” like the staph infection known as MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, are resistant to many, if not nearly all, antibiotics. For people who have severe allergies to commonly prescribed antibiotics like penicillin, amoxicillin, cephalexin, and tetracycline, it can be difficult (and expensive) to find an antibiotic that they can take safely that will be effective against the infection.

For these people, any infection at all, even as simple as a sinus-infection, can be a scary specter. Silver colloids in a topical form can easily treat externally based infections, like a skin infection, or even an ear infection, without the risk of an allergic reaction.

How Do I Take Colloidal Silver?

The dosage of colloidal silver isn’t an exact science yet. More research needs to be done to determine a minimum or maximum dose. However, the manufacturers and promoters of colloidal silver recommend starting conservatively at one to three teaspoons once a day.

Once you’ve acclimated to taking colloidal silver, the manufacturers say that it’s all right to up the dosage to an amount that works for you. Some users report taking as much as 16 ounces of colloidal silver a day to knock out a cold.

Despite what other users claim to take, it’s always in your best interest to consult your family physician on whether it would be beneficial for you to take colloidal silver as a dietary supplement, and what dosage you should take. Your healthcare provider is the best source of information on any and all supplements you take, and you should always consult them before making any changes.

If your physician recommends that you take colloidal silver, there are a number of ways that it can be taken. The most common ways are orally, through inhalation, or topically. The method of consumption depends on what the user is taking the colloidal silver for.

For those seeking colloidal silver’s purported immune system boost, or to battle an internal infection or cold, oral consumption of colloidal silver seems to be the preferred method.

For external infections or skin conditions, topical colloidal silver gels are what users recommend. And finally, for respiratory infections like bronchitis, aerosols are a preferred method of application.

Making a Decision

There are known antimicrobial properties to silver that humankind has taken advantage of over the centuries, from lining jugs with silver to keep water potable, to dropping a silver coin in a bottle of milk to keep it from spoiling, to today’s silver-lined catheters that better protect against infections.

While these applications are well documented, the recent resurgence in the popularity of colloidal silver as a dietary supplement and homeopathic medicine is growing. Without more studies being done to fully assess the benefits of colloidal silver, it’s impossible to say for certain if all the claims about it are true—negative or positive, but clinical trials and laboratory research is promising when using today’s best silvers.

Users of colloidal silver rave about its usefulness and the health benefits they have received. In the end, the only real way to know if taking colloidal silver can help you is to try it for yourself in connection with your healthcare provider.