New research in lab mice shows that when silver is added to antibiotics, the prescription drugs pack a more powerful punch.
In an article published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, lead researcher Jose Ruben Morones-Ramirez explains that silver wreaks havoc on bacterial cells and allows antibiotics to penetrate them more easily.
“Silver can be seen as the Trojan horse or vehicle that opens the door to antibiotics to enter the cell and cause further damage,” Morones-Ramirez said in a statement to the news media. “It's as if we have had a 'super' antibiotic cocktail behind a first aid kit where the key is made of silver.”
It's an important discovery because our arsenal of bacteria-fighting antibiotics has been dwindling as the microbes develop a resistance to common medications.
In the experiments on mice, researchers induced urinary tract infections, systems infections, and infections caused by bacteria build-up in a catheter. Some of the mice received no treatment, some received just silver, some received just antibiotics, and the rest received silver-antibiotics cocktails. The results showed that the cocktails worked best.
Morones-Ramirez, a professor at Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in Mexico, said he is optimistic that researchers conducting clinical trials on humans will reach similar conclusions. Success there would have broad implications for the healthcare industry, which is burdened by patients with chronic illnesses who require recurring hospitalizations because of antibiotic-resistant infections.
In particular, the silver-antibiotics cocktails could prove beneficial for people with compromised immune systems, healthy patients with urinary tract infections, and those with infections in the lungs, ears, and bones, Morones-Ramirez said.
Although silver is a precious metal, adding it to antibiotics likely would not increase the cost of the medications, Morones-Ramirez said. “Actually, the antibiotic is much more expensive than the silver required to enhance it,” he told Healthline.
He noted that his work shows silver is safe when injected at the levels he tested. The payoff is huge—the metal boosts the antibiotics' power by as much as 1,000 times, he said.
Acccording to Morones-Ramirez, people have known about the antimicrobial benefits of silver since ancient times. “The word 'silverware' comes from silver where the Romans and Greeks saw that people who ate with silver utensils got less sick with stomach infections,” he said. “The Romans would put silver coins in water barrels to keep water sterile.”
Today, many products contain silver, including athletic and camping underwear used to block body odors from bacteria in human sweat. Some bandages and gauzes also contain silver. Colloidal silver, or silver salts, can be purchased online or at health food stores.
However, in a ruling issued in 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it was not aware of any substantial scientific evidence that supports the use of over-the-counter colloidal silver or silver salts for the treatment of diseases. At the time, the FDA called for further research into its use.
A representative of the FDA did not return Healthline's request for comment.
Although there had previously been little research to demonstrate that silver has an antimicrobial effect, Morones-Ramirez said, “Our work shows clearly that it does and also serves as a way to potentiate antibiotics that we currently use. I believe the piece is a strong bridge to incorporate silver in clinical therapies after some more work regarding toxicity and pharmacokinetics (what the body does to a particular drug).”