Colloidal Silver Won't Do What It Says

The history of medicine is full of remedies once thought effective that later turned out to be bogus or downright dangerous.

But advocates of so-called alternative medicine resurrect such nostrums from time to time, repackage them with new names and claims of health benefits, and sell them for big bucks.

One example is colloidal silver, a suspension of silver particles in liquid, which supposedly creates an environment in which bacteria can't grow.

Colloidal silver is touted as the cure for almost every major and minor illness around.

It's not new: Various silver solutions were used by doctors from about the 1800s through the 1940s as an ingested antibiotic and wound treatment.

They fell out of favor as now-traditional antibiotics were found to be more effective.

Silver suspensions can still be used in burn care, but there are now much better ways to kill bacteria inside a person.

The alternative medicine industry repackaged colloidal silver in the 1990s and began touting it as a cure-all for virtually every disease.

There are also the usual claims that it boosts your immune system and encourages the growth of healthy bacteria, that it promotes general wellness, and that it's a cure for "silver deficiency."

The science-based medical establishment — derided as "Big Pharma" on most silver-promoting sites — maintains that there's no compelling evidence of any benefit from taking silver.

The FDA released a statement in 1999 saying that it didn't recognize colloidal silver as safe. There are no widely accepted scientific studies on the effectiveness of silver.

As a rule, any compound sold as a cure for everything probably doesn't cure anything, and the science is clear that colloidal silver falls into this category.

The claim that it kills "650 different diseases" can be traced to a 1976 article about the topical use of silver, not colloidal silver, according to Science Based Medicine. (Silver is toxic to bacteria cells and is used as a burn treatment. But it's also toxic to human cells, which is why legitimate health practitioners don't recommend its use.)

Taking too much colloidal silver can turn your skin blue.

This is a recognized condition called argyria, a permanent blue-gray discoloration of the skin found in some people who ingested too much colloidal silver.

It's a rare condition, but the website lists nearly a dozen known cases.

  • One of the most well-known is Stan Jones, a libertarian who ran for the U.S. Senate several times. He turned himself blue by drinking mass amounts of a homemade silver suspension, which he consumed in fear that the Y2K bug would make antibiotics unavailable.
  • Another case involved Paul Karason, a man who took silver to treat a skin infection. He became a minor celebrity because of his blue hue.

Silver proponents argue that these cases are outliers involving people who took "unapproved" silver. They also argue that blue skin is a sign the silver is working, with the phrase "blue bloods" denoting royalty because of the blue hue they acquired from ingesting silver. (For the record, this is not the generally accepted origin of the phrase.)

Argyria is a worst-case scenario of silver use. More likely is that you'll spend money on a treatment that has no efficacy.

The best way to avoid many common illnesses is the same as it's always been: Eat healthy, get enough sleep, wash your hands, and skip products that might turn you blue.