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Silver - The Dark Side of a Health Craze

Ads for it litter the Internet and alternative health magazines. "Phyto-silver" (such as in the product previously sold by Seasilver USA until the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on them in June, 2003), colloidal silver, metallic silver, and silver salts are being promoted as the new germ-killing regimen. These writers and silver manufacturers cite hundreds or even thousands of years of "safe use" of silver for fighting germs and enhancing health. "Seasilver" was sold by a "multi-level marketing" (MLM) organization, so that the claims of efficacy were magnified by thousands of people who really wanted to believe in what they are selling to their friends and neighbors.

Silver is toxic!

Claims that it is safe have come primarily from the companies that make silver products - hardly a trustworthy source of unbiased information. Silver in any form is a bio-accumulative toxic metal, like mercury, lead, and arsenic. Its action as an antibiotic comes from the fact that it is a non-selective toxic "biocide."

It is known - and acknowledged - that long-term use of colloidal silver or silver salts deposits metallic silver under the skin, turning people's skin an ashen-gray color, an affliction known as argyria (see reference below). Argyria is considered permanent. It also accumulates in internal organs, continually exposing the cells of those organs to silver, wreaking unknown havoc, and it is likely that it actually interferes with the body's normal immune processes.

The former manufacturer of one of these products - Seasilver - actually claimed at the time that silver is an "essential" nutrient. This was an outright falsehood. The human body has no need or use for silver. The health claims made by the company - that it was an effective treatment for 650 different health problems - were so outrageous that they received a "cease and desist" order from the Federal Trade Commission in June, 2003, and now the company, allegedly "reconstituted," sells an innocuous product made from Aloe Vera, fruit juices, Pau D'Arco Extract, and some obscure sea herbs.

Silver as a historical antibiotic

Silver was used through the ages as a germ-killing agent because at those times they had few other choices. There were no antibiotics, and no natural germ-fighters had been discovered. Because people in general did not know that it was important to take large amounts of vitamin C (most people still don't), their immune systems were severely compromised for much of their lives. Thus silver was considered a life-saving medicine. Silver nitrate drops were used to prevent eye infections in newborns, for instance.

Silver was (appropriately) essentially dropped from use in the U.S. with the introduction of antibiotics and biochemical antiseptics, but suddenly gained popularity again in the 1990s. The FDA proposed banning silver in over-the-counter products in 1997, and issued a final rule in 1999, but never acted on it.

The silver manufacturers claim that they are not subject to any federal laws about safety because silver was used before the Food and Drug Act - that they are grandfathered. Of course this begs the question: so were lead and mercury preparations and many other extremely toxic "medicines" that have since been banned from commerce.

Silver has no purpose in the human body

Silver is not used in any known physiological process in the human body. It is treated by the body as a toxic metal, chelated and removed extremely slowly by proteins called metallothioneins. This removal process can easily be overwhelmed, leading to argyria. Silver has an affinity to cell membranes, including those of nerve cells, where it deposits permanently as silver sulfide. This is a typical pattern of heavy metal toxicity.

Colloidal Silver proponents claim their product is safe

The people who promote colloidal silver claim their products are safe because their silver is "different." The people who promote silver proteins and metallic silver say the same thing about their products. Think about these claims in the context of the previous paragraph. Whether the silver enters the body as a colloid in suspension or as metallic silver or as integrated into a protein, the human body treats it the same way - as a foreign object made of a toxic metal - and the removal process is the same.

Silver causes immune dysfunction

When the human immune and detoxification system encounters a foreign, non-metabolic metal such as silver, it goes into overdrive in its attempt to detoxify and remove it, as described above. Glutathione, the primary detoxifying antioxidant, is utilized in this process. If the person has a chronic illness such as hepatitis C, the glutathione that had been utilized in detoxifying free radical toxins is now siphoned off into silver detoxification. The result could be a sudden progression of the disease, the exact opposite of what the silver proponents claim. This actually happened to one of my clients: he took colloidal silver and his ALT and AST counts suddenly increased, indicating disease progression.

Silver is unnecessary

To put this debate more in perspective, even if it were safe, silver is also completely unnecessary. If people were to take sufficient vitamin C and other immune support nutrients, their immune systems would be strong enough to fight off most bacterial and fungus attacks. People who take large quantities of vitamin C each day rarely get ill, and when they do the course of the illness is much shorter and milder. For extremely virulent diseases, there are safe natural antibiotics and anti-fungal agents that are much more powerful and potent than silver that are derived from food and medicinal herbs.

Andrographis, resveratrol, green tea extract, turmeric extract, oregano oil, and olive leaf extract are good examples of natural antibiotics that also have other, health-promoting features. Both green tea extract and turmeric extract are also potent selective chemotherapeutic agents for cancer - they cause cancer cells to self-destruct - and they are also powerful anti-inflammatory aids. Oregano oil and olive leaf extract have been shown to effectively kill pathogenic bacteria, viruses, funguses, and protozoa such as malaria, and they have been helpful in treating the opportunistic infections of AIDS victims.

This is one of the few times when I believe the government should act to ban a health "supplement." Silver is fine for coins and jewelry (although for earrings it should have a stainless steel hook for pierced ears). But silver compounds should not be sold in products that people consume. I believe silver is a clear and present danger to anyone who consumes it. Furthermore, having this "supplement" available provides ammunition for the drug companies and other anti-natural supplement forces for full FDA regulation of supplements, which would kill the entire natural supplement industry.

There are so many fanatics of colloidal silver products that I occasionally get offensive email regarding this article. I think it is important for you to see the kinds of arguments that some promoters of these products have used to fool people into using them, so here is one recent example, from a fellow named Geoffrey Leigh:


Cutis 2000 Nov;66(5):373-4 Abstract quote

The onset of argyria following the use of dietary supplements containing colloidal silver protein is presented. The patient was using a silver-containing product for cold and allergy prophylaxis.

We review the past and present medicinal roles of silver and include a differential diagnosis for argyria. The hyperpigmentation of argyria is usually permanent, and it follows a sun-exposed distribution.

Dietl HW, Anzil AP, Mehraein P., Brain involvement in generalized argyria,  Clinical Neuropathology 1984 Jan-Feb;3(1):32-6

Cutaneous argyria was diagnosed in a 59-year-old woman. Manic depressive psychosis developed at about the same or a short time thereafter. The patient died 6 years later from a ruptured aortic aneurysm. At autopsy silver deposits were seen in skin, mucous membranes, heart, kidney, and liver. In the central nervous system the leptomeninges and choroid plexuses contained silver granules.

HEALTH & CONSUMER PROTECTION DIRECTORATE-GENERAL, Opinion On Toxicological Data on Colouring Agents for Medicinal Products: E 174 Silver, pages 6-8.

In man, the toxic effects of silver can be divided into acute and chronic effects. Therapeutic IV administration of 50 mg or more is lethal, provoking pulmonary edema, hemorrhage, and necrosis of the bone marrow, liver, and kidneys (Fowler and Nordberrg, 1986). Repeated exposure to silver salts or colloidal silver causes argyria, a deep blue-gray discoloration of the skin (particularly evident in sun-exposed areas) and gums caused by deposits of silver sulfate or metallic silver (Greene and Su, 1987; US Department of Health and Human Services, 1990.). Apart from the direct effects of these deposits, the discoloration is also due to silver-induced stimulation of the melanocytes leading to an increased production of melanin (Fung and Bowen, 1996). Argyria also involves the tissues of the eyes (cornea and anterior lens capsule), the respiratory system, the liver, and the kidneys (Fowler and Nordberg, 1986). Silver deposits can also result in neurologic deficits. Westhofen and Schafer (1986) reported the case of a 55-year-old woman who developed progressive hypogeusia, hyposmia, vertigo, cutaneous hypoesthesia, and weakness after 9 years of self-administered silver salts to treat oral mycosis. Subsequent examinations of this patient revealed silver sulfate deposits in the perineuria of peripheral nerves, as well as in the basal membranes, macrophages, elastic fibers, and muscle fibers. Topical application of silver in man also causes immune system changes with leukopenia secondary to bone-marrow depression (Caffee and Bingham, 1982).

FDA Final Ruling, 1999

Food and Drug Administration
21 CFR Part 310
[Docket No. 96N-0144]
Over-the-Counter Drug Products Containing Colloidal Silver Ingredients or Silver Salts
AGENCY: Food and Drug Administration, HHS.
ACTION: Final rule.
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.

FTC Crackdown on SeaSilver USA:

Wadhera A and Max Fung M, Systemic argyria associated with ingestion of colloidal silver, Dermatology Online Journal 2005; 11 (1): 12

Over the last few decades, there have been several reported problems associated with silver ingestion, including intestinal ulcers and argyria. With the availability of more effective pharmacologic alternatives, physician-directed use of silver-containing products has significantly declined. However, recently many health-food manufacturers have promoted colloidal-silver-based products as cure-alls. With the proliferation of the Internet, it has become much easier for these manufacturers to market their products to unsuspecting consumers using unsubstantiated claims of effectiveness against major illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, arthritis, and infectious diseases.

Westhofen M, Schafer H., Generalized argyrosis in man: neurotological, ultrastructural and X-ray microanalytical findings.", Arch Otorhinolaryngol 1986;243(4):260-4

Our findings indicate that the affinity of silver for membrane and neuronal structures and the deposition of silver as an insoluble compound (Ag2S) induce the progression of clinical disease.

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