Colloidal silver is a controversial alternative medicine.
Its advocates claim that it’s an effective treatment for all sorts of infections and diseases, ranging from the common cold to cancer.
However, most medical experts and researchers say that it’s ineffective and may lead to serious side effects.
This article explains what colloidal silver is, then details its uses, health claims, and risks.
Colloidal silver is a popular remedy in alternative medicine.
However, colloidal silver has been declared unsafe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1999. In fact, the FDA deemed that all over-the-counter products that contain colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts are not generally recognized as safe or effective (
Since then, the FDA has not approved any new colloidal silver drugs on the market. However, this product is still commonly sold as a dietary supplement (
Any company that produces silver products that are labeled or promoted to prevent or cure disease must undergo FDA approval prior to marketing. Otherwise, the product is considered misbranded and is subject to regulatory action (3).
Colloidal silver is approved for topical application on skin infections, skin wounds, and in bandages and dressings for the treatment of burns. However, colloidal silver drugs that are marketed for oral intake are not legal for sale (
Consumption of colloidal silver is associated with many serious health risks, such as argyria, neurological damage, and liver and kidney harm. It also reduces the absorption and efficacy of certain drugs, such as antibiotics and the thyroid medication thyroxine (
Ultimately, any colloidal silver product intended for oral use isn’t safe or recommended.
The FDA considers colloidal silver unsafe due to its many side effects if taken orally, but it’s approved for topical use.
“Colloidal silver” is the term used to describe tiny particles of silver suspended in a liquid (
The size of the silver particles in colloidal silver varies, but some are so tiny that they’re referred to as nanoparticles. This means that they’re less than 100 nanometers in size and invisible to the naked eye (
Historically, silver was used as an all-purpose remedy for various infections and illnesses due to its antimicrobial properties. In fact, the earliest recorded use of silver as a medical treatment dates back to the Han Dynasty in China (1500 B.C.) (
However, colloidal silver was quickly abandoned in the early 20th century when antibiotics were discovered and found to be more effective than colloidal silver in the treatment of health conditions and disease (
Since the 1990s, colloidal silver has started to regain popularity as an alternative medicine, with advocates claiming that it can replace antibiotics or other medical therapies to treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections (
A smaller number of people go as far as to assert that it helps treat conditions like Lyme disease, tuberculosis, HIV, and even cancer. However, no research supports these claims.
Today, those who use colloidal silver take it as an oral dietary supplement or apply it directly to their skin.
Colloidal silver is a suspension of silver particles in a liquid. It’s an ancient remedy that was once used to treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, though it’s recently gained popularity as an alternative medicine.
Though it’s discouraged for oral use, colloidal silver can still be found in liquid and spray form. Most products contain very low doses of colloidal silver, usually ranging from 10–30 parts per million (ppm) (
You’ll usually find it labeled as:
- colloidal silver spray
- silver hydrosol
- colloidal silver nebulizer
- silver water
- silver sol
Typically, colloidal silver products are sold as homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy is based on the premise that very low doses of a substance can produce health benefits, though little research supports this (
Additionally, silver is commonly added to bandages and dressings to help with wound and burn healing. Common brands names include Acticoat, Allevyn Ag, Aquacel Ag, Biatain Ag, Flamazine, Mepilex Ag, and Silvercel (
Finally, silver is found in other commercial products, such as cleaning agents, agricultural treatments, and personal hygiene products like shower gels and deodorants (
Colloidal silver is commonly found as a dietary supplement in liquid or spray form. Bear in mind that it’s not recommended for oral consumption.
Colloidal silver is said to have broad antibacterial and antiseptic effects when taken orally or placed on a wound.
It’s unknown exactly how colloidal silver works. However, research suggests that it attaches to proteins on the cell walls of bacteria, damaging their cell membranes (
This allows silver ions to pass into bacterial cells, where they interfere with metabolic processes and damage DNA, leading to the cell’s death (
Silver is also thought to interfere with proteins found within viruses, which may prevent the virus’s replication (
Research suggests that the effects of colloidal silver vary depending on the size and shape of the particles of silver, as well as their concentration in a solution (
In theory, a large number of small particles has a greater surface area than a lower number of large particles. As a result, a solution that contains more silver nanoparticles may release more silver ions (
Silver ions are released from the silver particles when they come into contact with moisture, such as body fluids. They are considered to be the biologically active part of colloidal silver that gives it its antimicrobial properties (
However, it’s worth noting that colloidal silver products aren’t standardized and may have serious side effects. Due to their ability to incite oxidation and cell damage, they may also harm healthy human cells (
Further, silver nanoparticles and silver ions that are ingested can accumulate in your organs. Prolonged use of and exposure to colloidal silver may lead to a condition known as argyria, which results in your skin turning blue-gray due to a buildup of silver (
Commercially available colloidal silver solutions vary widely in their production methods, as well as the number and size of their silver particles. In many cases, these products are sold as dietary supplements and make false, misleading health claims (
Colloidal silver’s mechanisms aren’t fully understood. However, it’s thought that it binds to bacterial cells and damages their cell walls and DNA, resulting in cell death.
Proponents of colloidal silver claim that it can prevent, cure, and treat many diseases and ailments.
While test-tube research has shown that colloidal silver kills a wide range of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, it has yet to be proven in human studies due to the risks associated with ingesting colloidal silver (
Further, no human data supports consuming colloidal silver to treat or prevent medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, HIV, digestive issues, and other illnesses (
A major issue is the misinterpretation of the results from test-tube and rodent studies. Although a study may suggest that colloidal silver kills certain strains of bacteria in a lab setting, this finding can’t be applied to humans (
To date, the only effective use of colloidal silver in humans is topical application to wounds and burns. Even then, its benefits are widely debated (
Colloidal silver is said to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, but no research supports these benefits. As such, this product shouldn’t be used to treat medical conditions.
You’re environmentally exposed to extremely small amounts of silver every day. It’s present in very tiny amounts in drinking water, the food supply, and even the air you breathe (
As a compound, the silver found in the environment is thought to be quite safe.
However, the environmental and health risks of silver nanoparticles aren’t well understood, and ingesting colloidal silver is considered unsafe.
The biggest risk associated with chronic exposure to colloidal silver is a condition known as argyria, whose name comes from the Greek word “argyros,” meaning silver.
Argyria is a condition that turns your skin a blue-gray color due to the buildup of silver metal particles in your body and skin. Silver deposits may also occur in your intestines, liver, kidneys, and other organs (
You are most at risk of argyria if you’re taking a silver-containing dietary supplement or work in a job that exposes you to large amounts of silver (
To develop argyria, you likely have to ingest silver compounds over a long period of time. However, the exact amounts and timeframe aren’t known (
The real risks of ingesting silver nanoparticles, which are present in colloidal silver products, are also unknown. However, since these particles may easily pass into various organs like your gut, skin, or lungs, they’re considered a probable health risk (
Numerous case studies have found that silver intake from colloidal silver dietary supplements may lead to argyria (
While argyria isn’t inherently harmful, it’s irreversible and likely permanent. That said, since little research is available on the side effects of colloidal silver, there may be other unknown side effects.
If you use silver frequently on an open wound, you may experience localized argyria due to a buildup of silver in the surrounding tissue — though this condition is rare (
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you should keep your daily silver exposure to no more than 2.27 mcg per pound of body weight (5 mcg per kg). Yet, since that’s hard to measure, it’s best to avoid unnecessary exposure to silver (19).
Ingesting colloidal silver puts you at risk of argyria, a condition that turns your skin bluish gray and is usually permanent.
Colloidal silver products vary widely in their composition and are usually labeled with false health claims.
To date, no research supports the use of oral colloidal silver in the prevention, treatment, or cure of any health condition or disease. In fact, it’s considered unsafe and ineffective by the FDA.
Further, colloidal silver may lead to unwanted side effects, such as argyria, neurological impairment, and organ damage (
The only exception is in the topical treatment of wounds and burns, which should be closely monitored by a doctor.
Considering the risks and lack of proven benefits, it’s best to avoid consuming all colloidal silver products.
Colloidal silver carries serious health risks if taken orally, so you should avoid it.
Colloidal silver is a solution that contains very small pieces of silver. Silver has been used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years.
Today, colloidal silver is used as an alternative medicine to ward off bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Its proponents claim that it treats various diseases, such as cancer, HIV, Lyme disease, and diabetes.
However, no scientific research supports this. In fact, the FDA considers colloidal silver unsafe for human intake due to its harmful effects and buildup in the organs.
Due to its lack of effectiveness and potential side effects, it’s best to avoid colloidal silver.
Just one thing
Try this today: Not all alternative medicine therapies are unsafe, though the best course of action if you have a serious health condition is to consult your doctor for a treatment regimen.