Real Concerns About Colloidal Silver

By Tom Grier

As with any chronic illness, when chronic Lyme patients don't get better with traditional medicines, many will turn to alternative treatments. One of the most popular alternative treatments that Lyme patients have turned to is colloidal silver.

In the strictest sense, colloidal silver is simply a suspension of silver metal particles so small that the slightest agitation will keep the microscopic particles in suspension. But recently, many products containing silver salts and silver ions have also been sold under the designation of "colloidal silver." Regardless of the accuracy of the label, any product containing silver in any form can potentially cause permanent side effects, and the claimed medical benefits touted for nearly a century as yet remain unproven.

One of the weaknesses of the human body is that it has very poor mechanisms for the elimination of most metals. Whether the metal is lead, mercury, silver, or even iron, our cells are not biologically equipped to scavenge these metals and efficiently ferry them out of our bodies. So, the older we get, heavy metals, including silver, tend to accumulate in our cells.

If a patient exceeds the amount of iron they need in their diet, iron will accumulate inside their cells and eventually cause cellular damage. Usually, the accumulations will be in the heart and liver and, if left untreated, the condition will cause advanced heart disease and liver failure. This condition is called hemachromatosis. Although there is no cure for hemachromatosis, there is a fairly effective treatment - the patient must be bled weekly. Our only mechanism for eliminating iron in our body is through bleeding and the sloughing off of cells in our GI tract. This is why men have higher iron counts than menstruating women.

Likewise, when silver is taken into the body in any form, silver can and will accumulate in our cells. When the silver moves into our skin and forms organo-silver compounds and silver salts, the condition is known as argyria. Unfortunately, argyria is untreatable; unlike iron we cannot deplete silver stores by any known process!

The unseen problem with argyria is that once the process begins, there is no stopping it. Unlike hemachromatosis, which has a treatment, there is no effective treatment for argyria. Silver will continue to deposit in the skin for the rest of the patient's life.

In a patient with argyria, even the silver contained in old-fashioned eye drops and nose drops will continue to accumulate in the skin. What is so insidious about the process is that there may be no warning signs or symptoms that this process is happening. Things can be fine until one day a patient goes out into the sun and notices that the skin is ever so slightly ashen colored where they received the most sun. This subtle change in skin color will worsen with time and with subsequent exposures to the sun.

Many silver compounds are photo-sensitive. This is why silver salts are used in black and white film emulsions. When photographic paper is exposed to light, the white paper begins to turn gray. If the process isn't stopped with powerful chemicals, the entire paper will turn black. This is caused by light energy hitting the silver-salt crystals and causing the silver metal to coalesce into metal deposits. Unfortunately, the exact same process can happen in human skin, and the result can be bluish-gray splotches of skin!

What are the health benefits of colloidal silver?

The FDA, as of September 16th, 1999, has ruled that most products sold as drugs containing silver will no longer be given safe and effective status. This means that several currently available medicines, including salves, ointments, crèmes, and colloids containing silver salts and/or silver metal, will no longer be given drug status and must be withdrawn from market. The reason was simply that the FDA could not find enough proof their health claims were true and that the products' benefits exceeded their risks. (See FDA reference below)

This means that any manufacturer of colloidal silver who makes any kind of medical claims for its products is now subject to prosecution under the FDA federal guidelines of making unsubstantiated medical claims. If manufacturers want to make medical claims for their products and market them for a specific medical condition, the manufacturers must now submit a "New Drug Application" (NDA) with the FDA and prove both safety and efficacy of the product.

Silver-containing products are still sold as food supplements and as such, fall under FTC guidelines of truth and accuracy in labeling, but no health claims are allowed under the current FDA or FTC laws. Any manufacturer, including home-marketed products, can be held accountable if it makes claims of treating any medical condition.

FDA Ruling on Colloidal Silver Products

SUMMARY:The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a final rule establishing that all over-the-counter (OTC) drug products containing colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts for internal or external use are not generally recognized as safe and effective and are misbranded. FDA is issuing this final rule because many OTC drug products containing colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts are being marketed for numerous serious disease conditions and FDA is not aware of any substantial scientific evidence that supports the use of OTC colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts for these disease conditions.

DATES:This regulation is effective September 16, 1999.

The Federal Register of October 15, 1996 (61 FR 53685), FDA published a proposed rule to declare that all OTC drug products containing colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts are not

Generally recognized as safe and effective, and are new drugs and misbranded within the meaning of section 201(p) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the act) (21 U.S.C. 321(p)). Colloidal silver is a suspension of silver particles in a colloidal base. In recent years, colloidal silver preparations of unknown formulation have been appearing in retail outlets. These products are labeled for numerous disease conditions, many of which are serious diseases. The dosage form of these colloidal silver products is usually oral, but product labeling also contains directions for topical and, occasionally, intravenous use.

FDA has not approved a new drug application (NDA) for any colloidal silver product. None of the silver salts evaluated as part of FDA's OTC drug review was found to be generally recognized as safe and effective for its intended use(s). FDA is not aware of any substantial scientific evidence that supports the use of OTC colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts for disease conditions. The agency invited any interested parties to collect and submit any existing data and information that support the safety and effectiveness of colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts for any of the uses not already evaluated under the OTC drug review. Interested persons were invited to submit written comments on the proposed regulation and on the agency's economic impact determination by January 13, 1997.

What are the anecdotal claims of colloidal silver?

In over a dozen articles in the lay press touting the benefits of colloidal silver, the same claims are made over and over. Most repeat the same identical references, and most use the same explanations of action. Most of the claims made by colloidal silver manufacturers and distributors are similar to these claims that were made by the KAIRE Corporation, which was a multi-level sales organization that specialized in the sales of health supplements. This is an excerpt from their literature before they disbanded their sales organization:

Now let me address some of these claims:

There are many people selling colloidal silver based on anecdotal claims of effectiveness. I won't discount these anecdotal claims except to say that they are unsubstantiated by any reputable research. The references used to support colloidal silver effectiveness are so repeatedly misquoted and misused that they often lack any resemblance to the original articles. I would urge anyone who wants to pursue colloidal silver therapy to go back and read the original articles and see how misquoted they are. Take, for example, a quote repeatedly used to support the idea that the government admits our food supply is devoid of therapeutic levels of vitamins and minerals.

"[Erosion and unwise farming methods] have led to mineral-depleted soils resulting in mineral-deficient plants, livestock, and people . . . . .the alarming fact is that food now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals are starving us - no matter how much of them we eat. No man of today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply his system with the minerals he requires for perfect health because his stomach isn't big enough to hold them. . . Laboratory tests prove that the fruit, vegetables, grains, eggs, and even the milk and meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago. . . . It is bad news to learn from our leading authorities that 99% of the American people are deficient in these minerals [74th Congress, 2nd Session, 1936]."

The cited quotation was taken from a promotional tape called "Dead Doctors Don't Lie" and it is a genuine quote from the 1936 Congressional session, but it did not, as colloidal mineral promoters usually imply, arise from a government research study. In fact, it is merely a reprint of a baseless opinion piece that originally appeared in the June 1936 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, and was placed into the Congressional record by a Florida senator. A magazine article that was essentially an advertisement for vitamins was read into the record and is now quoted as being a government study.

If you go back far enough and dig hard enough, virtually all of the other references that are used to support colloidal silver's health benefits are eventually found to be without any sound scientific merit, including the often referenced sensationalized article in the March 1978 "Science Digest", which was written like a science fiction story based on completely erroneous research.

Time and space prevent me from going on, but I feel strongly that colloidal silver is at best worthless, and at worst capable of causing permanent skin discoloration. Before you believe the claims of the individuals selling these products, please read Rosemary Jacob's story of her experience with argyria and the battle that she has had in getting to the truth about colloidal silver and other silver containing nostrums.

If we are to learn anything from history, it should be not to repeat our mistakes. In the 1930s, many people believed what was written in magazines about popular cures and products, and profiteers used the people's willingness to believe to sell worthless and often dangerous products.

Today, much of the medical misinformation is being distributed on the Internet and by anecdotal personal testimonies propagated by multi-level sales organizations. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder to separate junk science from credible research, but every major claim I have investigated about colloidal silver has been false and misleading. Colloidal silver is not a very effective antibacterial agent, and it can turn your skin a permanent blotchy gray color. Any medical claims made by manufacturers are now subject to FDA investigations.

References:

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  23. Science Digest March 1978 - 57-60 "Our Mightiest Germ Fighter!"
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