Colloidal silver has been touted as ‘cure all’ in complementary health circles for decades. It is purported to be beneficial in the treatment and management of conditions ranging from yeast and viral infections, including HIV, to diabetes and cancer. Despite these claims there is no clinical evidence to conclusively substantiate the supposed benefits of colloidal silver. It is used for various medical purposes in the treatment of superficial skin infections, as a wound dressing and as a caustic for warts and corns. However, the consumption of colloidal silver for its health benefits is not only questionable, but can also lead to some serious side effects. Unfortunately colloidal silver is still being sold globally as a “safe” nutritional product.
Silver in the Human Body
There is about 1mg (milligram) of silver in the adult human body but it is not considered to be an essential nutrient. Consuming any product with silver, like colloidal silver, may therefore at best be unnecessary. However, it is known that silver can be distributed through the bloodstream and deposited in tissues throughout the body.The highest concentration of deposited silver is noted in the skin, mucous membranes (tissue lining the inside of the mouth, eyes and other cavities), liver and spleen. It can also be deposited in significant amounts within the muscles, kidneys and the brain.
Dangers of Silver
Contrary to claims that colloidal silver is safe, there is significant evidence to prove the contrary. The main effect is a permanent discolouration of the skin known as argyria in small to moderate doses. It is not a new finding regarding silver toxicity. In fact argyria was reported as a consequence of silver toxicity in medical journals from as early as 1941 (Argyria : The Pharamacology of Silver, Southern Medical Journal). It is also known that silver toxicity can be lethal in higher doses. Colloidal silver alone is not to blame. Sometimes workers exposed to silver in the industrial environment may also suffer with the ill-effects of silver toxicity.
Reports have indicated that ingesting doses of about 4 grams to 40 grams of silver can cause argyria. Higher doses of 50 to 500mg/kg can be lethal. Many other minerals, even essential micronutrients, are known to be toxic in high dosages and silver alone should not be singled out for its toxicity. Unlike many of these other nutrients however, silver appears to be unnecessary for health and well being. The danger with using products like colloidal silver is often associated with home made variations. Electronic devices that can make colloidal silver within the home environment means that controlling the quantities of silver within the mixture cannot be controlled.
Symptoms of Silver Toxicity
In most cases, colloidal silver usage is not to the point where it can lead to fatal complications. Instead it is more likely to cause a condition known as argyria. The video below outlines a case of argyria caused by long term use of colloidal silver as reported by CNN in 2007.
- Blue-grey to slate grey skin colour.
- Brown-grey to blue-grey gums.
- Internal organs may appear blue when seen during surgery or a post-mortem.
- Black tears are a rare complication of silver toxicity.
Long Term Colloidal Silver Use
There is no known permanent and effective treatment for the symptoms of argyria. Various treatments may help mask the effects of the condition or even minimize some of it. However, the discoloration of the skin, mouth and eyes are permanent. It leads to a lifetime of social stigma and has a major psychosocial impact on the person. In the light of these potential dangers, it has to often be asked whether using colloidal silver, given the lack of clinical evidence surrounding its efficacy, is worth the potential risk.
In all likelihood colloidal silver will continue selling in the South African market for many years to come as it has across the globe. Therefore it is important for consumers and patients to understand the dangers of using this substance given the lack of proper regulation banning its sale and use. Even without these potential dangers, patients with life threatening ailments like HIV/AIDS and cancer need to realise that there is as yet no clinically significant alternative to the medical treatment of these diseases.