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6 Colloidal Silver Claims – True or False?
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6 Colloidal Silver Claims – True or False?

A "Trojan molecule" or a bunch of hooey?
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Nurse Practitioner Gail Ingram MS, PC-AGNP discusses a curious comment left on her Facebook page.


 

The comment left by a friend on my personal Facebook page:

Colloidal silver works better than antibiotics it cures malaria, mrsa, pneumonia, staff, strep, it’s a Trojan horse molecule that doesn’t kill your good bacteria making your body less vulnerable to repeat infections look it up. . Functional medicine at its best

Because I’m a good sport and a nerd for research, I heeded the request to “look it up” and decided to publicly share my findings.  Here goes.

Claim #1:  “colloidal silver works better than antibiotics”

I cannot find any literature to confirm this.  In fact, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says:

“There are no high quality studies on the health effects of taking colloidal silver, but we do have good evidence of its dangers.  Claims made about the health benefits of taking colloidal silver aren’t backed up by studies.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that colloidal silver isn’t safe or effective for treating any disease or condition.”

Claim #2:  “it cures malaria”

A 2016 study shows that colloidal silver is effective in killing some species of mosquito larvae.  So, to clarify, colloidal silver doesn’t cure malaria, but it might suppress the mosquito population if used as an insecticide.  More research is needed.

Claim #3:  “it cures … mrsa”

A study published in 2017 shows that colloidal silver applied to wounds doesn’t work as well as FDA approved antibiotics to kill MRSA.  Granted, bacterial counts on the silver treated wounds went down, but not significantly, and not enough to be considered effective.  

In addition to wounds, MRSA is also found in sinuses and nasal passages.  A 2017 review of sinonasal MRSA treatments confirms that the topical antibiotic mupirocin (used off-label) is still the most effective option.  Colloidal silver is showing some promise, but more research is needed to determine safe use and side effects.

Claim #4:  “it cures … staff, strep”

2017 study demonstrates that colloidal silver effectively kills staph and strep organisms in a petri dish.  But experiments carried out in a lab don’t always result in effective, real-life treatments.  When it comes to use on humans, the evidence for effective wound healing is mixed. Studies show there is limited benefit when used to treat burns and in some cases, colloidal silver can make things worse by damaging healthy skin surrounding the treatment area.

As for strep throat, a small 2017 study confirms that colloidal silver has the potential to kill strep throat-causing bacteria.  Unfortunately, the safety profile and side effects are unknown because there have been no human trials.

Claim #5:  “it cures … pneumonia”

Colloidal silver is not used to treat lung infections.  Rather, it is applied to breathing tubes used by patients on life-support machines.  The colloidal silver-coated tubes reduce the number of  deaths among patients who catch ventilator-associated pneumonia.  However, a more recent retrospective cohort analysis shows that patients who don’t develop ventilator-associated pneumonia, but who are using the silver-coated tubes, have a higher risk of death.  Also, patients exposed to the treated tubes die more often from respiratory failure.  Sounds like one step forward, two steps back.

Claim #6:  “doesn’t kill your good bacteria”

Colloidal silver kills both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria.  When colloidal silver is used topically (on the skin or on a tube placed in the airway), the body’s internal balance of bacteria is generally not affected.  However, ingesting colloidal silver likely disrupts the gut flora given that both gram-negative (example: Escherichia coli) and gram-positive (example: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium) bacteria live in a healthy GI tract.  Intravenous colloidal silver bypasses the gut and it’s effects on bacteria is unknown.

“look it up”

I found more interesting information as I continued to dig through the databases.

While drinkable liquid preparations of colloidal silver haven’t undergone scientific testing on humans, individual case studies have been published that describe a side effect where people’s skin turns a bluish-gray tone.  This is known as argyria and researchers warn

“Although argyria results in skin discoloration, it is generally a benign condition. However, there have been a few reported cases of negative effects on night vision, as well as isolated reports of neurological deficits, renal problems, and hepatic complications associated with argyria and silver poisoning.”

Not everyone who drinks colloidal silver turns bluish-gray and it is assumed that the ones who do are drinking poorly prepared batches, in high concentrations, over extended periods of time.  However, one man drank the stuff for only 4 months and it caused a seizure.  He died after living 5 years in a vegetative coma.  Scientists warn:

“Silver products can cause irreversible neurologic toxicity associated with poor outcome…  Colloidal silver crosses the blood-brain barrier and accumulates in neurons and glial cells of the brain and spinal cord.”

Recently, a group of researchers tried to establish if colloidal silver can be used to purify dirty water for drinking in developing countries.  They reviewed all available evidence where human and animal subjects had been exposed to silver particles.  They point out that the DNA of silver jewelry workers show “severe” damage.  The scientists conclude:

“The balance of evidence suggests that there should be concerns.”

In addition to cellular and neurological damage, drinking colloidal silver might affect our gonads.  A 2014 study using rats shows that sperm production declines with increased doses of ingestable colloidal silver.  A 2016 rat study shows that ingesting colloidal silver causes extensive liver damage.  However, results in rats might not hold true for humans.

“Functional medicine at it’s best”

I support Functional Medicine when it is practiced by professionals who have autonomous, unrestricted prescribing authority.  Skillful MDs, DOs, and NPs who offer Functional Medicine as an adjunct to their medicine practice, know when to safely recommend alternative treatments and when to introduce prescription pharmacotherapy.

Lyme

There are injectable forms of colloidal silver available on the internet market and some people claim they provide relief from long-term symptoms of Lyme Disease.  While no human trials have been conducted on these products, animal testing in 1926 and 1931 resulted in instant death as doses were increased.

A current review of alternative Lyme treatments, including IV colloidal silver, reads:

“Providers of alternative therapies commonly target patients who believe they have Lyme disease. The efficacy of these unconventional treatments for Lyme disease [including intravenous colloidal silver] is not supported by scientific evidence, and in many cases they are potentially harmful.”

But that doesn’t deter modern wellness enthusiasts from using intravenous formulations in the hopes to cure everything from Lyme to cancer.

FDA & Colloidal Silver

The FDA warns topical colloidal silver is unsafe for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and babies under 2 months.  All other forms of colloidal silver were pulled from the shelves in 1999 due to consumer safety issues.

 

Drinkable and intravenous forms of colloidal silver are not endorsed or regulated by the FDA and people using them do so at their own risk.

My Thoughts

Like most nurse practitioners, I am open-minded and always hoping to find effective solutions to challenging medical problems.  A colloidal silver-based strep throat gargle sounds interesting but, until there is more evidence to ensure safety, I can’t get behind it.  In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for new research to support it’s use.

 


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