Evidence Based
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Colloidal Silver: Uses and Health Risks

Written by Mathew Eng, PharmD | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Mathew Eng, PharmD | Last updated:

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While colloidal silver might be touted as a powerful cure-all in folk medicine, it lacks any clinical evidence and can pose a serious health risk. Find out what colloidal silver is, what its purported health benefits are, and the dangers of taking it.

What is Colloidal Silver?

Colloidal silver is a liquid that contains very small silver particles. Colloidal silver is sold as a dietary supplement with claims that ingesting it can help in a variety of conditions, including infections, inflammation, and cancer. However, there is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims [1].

In reality, colloidal silver can cause serious side effects with lasting consequences. According to the FDA, colloidal silver products are not considered safe or effective and the organization is cracking down on companies that make false claims about their products [2].

Silver itself has no known biological role in the body and is not an essential mineral for nutrition. In fact, there are no FDA-approved oral medications or over-the-counter products that contain silver [2].

The only medical use for silver is as a topical agent or coating for medical devices. We’ll discuss these uses later on in the article [3, 4].

Are There Benefits to Silver?

Research shows that silver serves no purpose when ingested by mouth. It is not an essential mineral like some other types of trace metals. Instead, silver taken orally can buildup in the tissues of the body, potentially leading to side effects [5].

The supposed health benefits of colloidal silver likely stem from the antibacterial properties that silver does have. Studies do show that silver is toxic to certain types of bacteria, due to silver’s ability to damage the cell membranes of bacteria. For this reason, silver is sometimes used topically for certain conditions [6].

However, there is no evidence that silver has any antibacterial effects (or any health benefits at all) when ingested by mouth.

Medical Uses of Silver

There are no medical uses for silver that is ingested by mouth. The following details some medical uses of topical silver, which should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.

Silver sulfadiazine (SSD), is a topical antibiotic that is often used on burn victims to help prevent infection. However, with the development of newer and more effective therapies, the use of silver sulfadiazine may be declining [7, 8, 9].

There are also several medical dressings containing silver that are approved by the FDA to promote wound healing and to prevent infection. Certain medical devices, such as breathing tubes and catheters, can also be coated with a silver alloy. However, there is conflicting evidence on whether these silver products are effective [10, 11, 12, 13].

Dangers of Colloidal Silver

The ingestion of colloidal silver can cause several health risks.

Argyria

The most prominent effect of silver ingestion is a condition called argyria, which causes the skin to become a bluish-gray color due to a buildup of silver in the tissues of the body. This skin discoloration can be permanent and there is currently no cure for this condition [14].

Other than skin discoloration, argyria generally does not cause other symptoms and is not considered life-threatening. However, there is some limited evidence that suggests this condition may lead to kidney injury and damage to the DNA [14, 5].

Toxicity to the Gut

Ingesting colloidal silver may be harmful to the stomach and intestines, according to animal studies. In multiple rat studies, silver nanoparticles disturbed their gut flora. Damage to the gut flora may cause problems with the gut immune response [15, 16].

Drug Interactions

If you take colloidal silver for any reason, let your doctor know in case there are any serious interactions with your other medications.

Silver may have serious drug interactions with certain medications when taken orally. For example, research shows that silver can inhibit the absorption of antibiotics (tetracycline and quinolone), which decreases their effectiveness. Other serious drug interactions with silver are possible [17].

About the Author

Mathew Eng

Mathew Eng

PharmD
Mathew received his PharmD from the University of Hawaii and an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Washington.
Mathew is a licensed pharmacist with clinical experience in oncology, infectious disease, and diabetes management. He has a passion for personalized patient care and believes that education is essential to living a healthy life. His goal is to motivate individuals to find ways to manage their chronic conditions.

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