Colloidal Silver

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Colloidal Silver

Common Names

  • Silver Proteins
  • Colloidal Silver Proteins
  • Colloidal Silver Water

For Patients & Caregivers

How It Works

Colloidal silver cannot cure cancer, AIDS, or diabetes. Taking too much colloidal silver by mouth can cause skin discoloration, seizures, and kidney damage.

Colloidal silver is a suspension of tiny silver particles in a liquid. Silver compounds are used externally to stop or prevent infections but recently, many people have started taking colloidal silver as an alternative medicine. It is being promoted as a cure for cancer, diabetes, and AIDS although there is no proof it works in humans. Our body does not need silver to function normally. Silver actually denatures proteins and can make many enzymes lose their effects.

Long-term oral use of silver can make the skin turn bluish-gray or gray-black in color. It can also cause seizures and kidney damage. Pregnant women should not consume colloidal silver as it has harmful effects on the fetus.

Purported Uses
  • Immunostimulation
    No scientific studies support this use.
  • Diabetes
    There are no data to support this use.
  • AIDS
    There is no scientific evidence to support this use.
  • Cancer
    This use is not supported by scientific studies.
  • Infections
    Silver compounds have been used as topical antiseptics, but there are no scientific studies to support the oral use of colloidal silver for treating infections.
Patient Warnings
  • According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are no safety or effectiveness data on dietary supplements containing colloidal silver.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned companies marketing products, including colloidal silver, with false claims of preventing or treating the coronavirus disease COVID-19.
Do Not Take If
  • You are pregnant (colloidal silver can cause developmental abnormalities in the fetus).
Side Effects
  • Reported (Oral): Accumulation of silver in the body causes argyria, a bluish-gray discoloration of the skin, which is typically permanent.
  • Reported (Oral): Myoclonic seizures were reported in a 75-year-old man following self-medication with silver.
  • Reported (Topical): Topical use of silver nitrate for burns may cause methemoglobinemia.
    Exposure to high concentrations of silver, such as in an industrial setting, leads to systemic toxicity.
  • Pauci-immune crescentic glomerulonephritis: In a 47-year-old woman with a T-cell lymphoma following self-medication with a remedy containing colloidal silver. The patient was treated with intravenous methylprednisolone and intravenous cyclophosphamide and recovered independent renal function.
  • Leukocytoclastic vasculitis: In a 19-year-old female after ingesting colloidal silver, warranting hospitalization. Symptoms resolves after discontinuing colloidal silver.
  • Optic neuropathy: In a 57-year-old woman following use of colloidal silver, by ingestion and by direct application to the skin, nasal mucosa and ear canal, for various ailments. Cessation of colloidal silver prevented progression of neuropathy.
  • Peripheral neuropathy associated with argyria: In a 40-year-old woman after consuming colloidal silver for months prior to the onset of symptoms. She was treated with IV immunoglobulin with reported improvement as the sensory level regressed down to her knees and she was able to ambulate independently. But no further improvement was observed following plasma exchange.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with complex cytogenetic abnormalities resulting in death: In a 72-year-old male with a history of stage II prostate cancer treated with radical prostatectomy, following habitual ingestion of colloidal silver as nutritional supplement for over 10 years.
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For Healthcare Professionals

Clinical Summary

Colloidal silver consists of silver particles suspended in a liquid. It is often produced by home-made generators. The use of silver medicinals to treat disorders such as epilepsy, gonorrhea, and colds was not uncommon until the mid-20th century. However, silver was replaced by safer therapies in the recent decades. It is not an essential mineral and does not serve any physiological function in the body. It denatures proteins by binding to their reactive groups and can inactivate some enzymes by forming hemisilver sulfides with sulfhydryl groups of the enzymes (1).

A small study did not find any benefits of a colloidal silver nasal spray in improving recalcitrant chronic rhinosinusitis (14). Whereas silver compounds are still used in external preparations as antiseptics, there has been a growing interest in using the colloidal form, orally, as an alternative medicine. In vitro studies indicate antitumor effects (8), but no human data support the use of oral colloidal silver. Despite lack of evidence, it is being promoted as a cure for AIDS, cancer, and diabetes.

Long term use can cause silver deposition in the skin and mucous membranes leading to an irreversible condition called argyria, characterized by bluish-gray to gray-black pigmentation (7). Other adverse effects include seizures (6). Pregnant women should not consume colloidal silver as it can cause developmental abnormalities in the fetus (1).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned companies marketing products, including colloidal silver, with false claims of preventing or treating the coronavirus disease COVID-19 (15).

Purported Uses
  • Immunostimulation
  • Diabetes
  • AIDS
  • Cancer treatment
  • Infections
Mechanism of Action

Silver is unstable in suspension form and can bind to proteins. Silver compounds form hemisilver sulfides with sulfhydryl groups that leads to inactivation of enzymes. Silver also has the ability to bind amino, carboxyl, phosphate and imidazole groups (1). Studies have shown that silver accumulates in rat liver and binds with various tissues and basal membranes. It also affects the activities of lactate dehydrogenase and glutathione peroxidase and the peroxidation of membrane lipids (4).

Warnings
  • According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are no safety or effectiveness data on dietary supplements containing colloidal silver (7).
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned companies marketing products, including colloidal silver, with false claims of preventing or treating the coronavirus disease COVID-19 (14).
Contraindications

Pregnant women should not use colloidal silver as it can cause developmental abnormalities in the fetus (1).

Adverse Reactions
  • Reported (Oral): Accumulation of silver in the body causes argyria, a bluish-gray discoloration of the skin, which is typically permanent (2) (3) (7) (9) (10) (11) (12) (16) (17) (18).
  • Reported (Oral): Myoclonic seizures were reported in a 75-year-old man following self-medication with silver (13).
  • Reported (Topical): Topical use of silver nitrate for burns may cause methemoglobinemia.
    Exposure to high concentrations of silver, such as in an industrial setting, leads to systemic toxicity (1) (5).
  • Pauci-immune crescentic glomerulonephritis: In a 47-year-old woman with a T-cell lymphoma following self-medication with a remedy containing colloidal silver. The patient was treated with intravenous methylprednisolone and intravenous cyclophosphamide and recovered independent renal function (19).
  • Leukocytoclastic vasculitis: In a 19-year-old female after ingesting colloidal silver, warranting hospitalization. Symptoms resolves after discontinuing colloidal silver (20).
  • Optic neuropathy: In a 57-year-old woman following use of colloidal silver, by ingestion and by direct application to the skin, nasal mucosa and ear canal, for various ailments. Cessation of colloidal silver prevented progression of neuropathy (21).
  • Peripheral neuropathy associated with argyria: In a 40-year-old woman after consuming colloidal silver for months prior to the onset of symptoms. She was treated with IV immunoglobulin with reported improvement as the sensory level regressed down to her knees and she was able to ambulate independently. But no further improvement was observed following plasma exchange (22).
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with complex cytogenetic abnormalities resulting in death: In a 72-year-old male with a history of stage II prostate cancer treated with radical prostatectomy, following habitual ingestion of colloidal silver as nutritional supplement for over 10 years (23).
References
  1. Fung MC and Bowen DL. Silver products for medical indications: risk-benefit assessment. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1996;34(1):119-126.
  2. Gulbranson SH, et al. Argyria following the use of dietary supplements containing colloidal silver protein. Cutis 2000;66(5):373-374.
  3. McKenna JK, et al. Argyria associated with colloidal silver supplementation. Int J Dermatol 2003;42(7):549.
  4. Shinogi M and Maeizumi S. Effect of preinduction of metallothionein on tissue distribution of silver and hepatic lipid peroxidation. Biol Pharm Bull 1993;16(4):372-374.
  5. Fung MC, et al Colloidal silver proteins marketed as health supplements. JAMA 1995;274(15):1196-1197.
  6. Mirsattari SM, et al. Myoclonic status epilepticus following repeated oral ingestion of colloidal silver. Neurology 2004;62:1408-10.
  7. US FDA. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?…. Accessed April 21, 2020.
  8. Franco-Molina MA, Mendoza-Gamboa E, Sierra-Rivera CA, et al. Antitumor activity of colloidal silver on MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2010 Nov 16;29:148.
  9. Brandt D, Park B, Hoang M, Jacobe HT. Argyria secondary to ingestion of homemade silver solution. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005 Aug;53(2 Suppl 1):S105-7.
  10. Chang AL, Khosravi V, Egbert B. A case of argyria after colloidal silver ingestion. J Cutan Pathol. 2006 Dec;33(12):809-11.
  11. Kim Y, Suh HS, Cha HJ, et al. A case of generalized argyria after ingestion of colloidal silver solution. Am J Ind Med. 2009 Mar;52(3):246-50.
  12. Chung IS, Lee MY, Shin DH, Jung HR. Three systemic argyria cases after ingestion of colloidal silver solution. Int J Dermatol. 2010 Oct;49(10):1175-7.
  13. Stepien KM, Morris R, Brown S, Taylor A, Morgan L. Unintentional silver intoxication following self-medication: an unusual case of corticobasal degeneration. Ann Clin Biochem. 2009 Nov;46(Pt 6):520-2.
  14. Scott JR, Krishnan R, Rotenberg BW, Sowerby LJ. The effectiveness of topical colloidal silver in recalcitrant chronic rhinosinusitis: a randomized crossover control trial. J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017 Nov 25;46(1):64.
  15. USFDA. Coronavirus Update: FDA and FTC Warn Seven Companies Selling Fraudulent Products that Claim to Treat or Prevent COVID-19. March 9, 2020. Accessed April 21, 2020.
  16. Fernandez-Flores A, Nguyen T, Cassarino DS. Mucocutaneous Hyperpigmentation in a Patient With a History of Both Minocycline and Silver Ingestion. Am J Dermatopathol. 2017 Dec;39(12):916-919.
  17. Schrauben SJ, Bhanusali DG, Sheets S, Sinha AA. A case of argyria: multiple forms of silver ingestion in a patient with comorbid schizoaffective disorder. Cutis. 2012 May;89(5):221-4.
  18. Butzmann CM, Technau-Hafsi K, Bross F. “Silver man” argyria of the skin after ingestion of a colloidal silver solution. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2015 Oct;13(10):1030-2.
  19. Rezk T, Penton J, Stevenson A, Owen-Casey M, Little M, Cunningham J, Salama AD. Pauci Immune crescentic glomerulonephritis in a patient with T-cell lymphoma and argyria. BMC Nephrol. 2016 May 17;17(1):49.
  20. Mohan N, Gomez C, Khawar N, Narula P, John M. Colloidal Silver Ingestion Associated with Leukocytoclastic Vasculitis in an Adolescent Female. Am J Case Rep. 2019 May 23;20:730-734.
  21. Newlands SJ, Betts TD, Stack RR. Colloidal silver optic neuropathy. N Z Med J. 2018 Oct 5;131(1483):63-65.
  22. Naddaf E, Dyck PJ, Jannetto PJ, Murray DL, Dyck PJB. Peripheral neuropathy associated with silver toxicity. Neurology. 2019 Mar 5;92(10):481-483.
  23. Keung YK, Wang T, Hong-Lung Hu E. Acute myeloid leukemia with complex cytogenetic abnormalities associated with long-term use of oral colloidal silver as nutritional supplement - Case report and review of literature. J Oncol Pharm Pract. 2020 Jan;26(1):212-215.
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