Silver has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. While ancient cultures believed silver had mystical powers to heal and prevent disease, modern day claims about silver’s healing abilities are more modest. Proponents believe that when silver makes contact with moist skin, silver ions are released that can help treat and prevent certain conditions. However, many scientists remain skeptical about silver’s true healing properties. Here we examine the evidence and arguments on both sides of the debate.
Does silver have healing properties? There is debate around silver’s healing abilities. Here are quick answers to common questions:
- Ancient cultures believed silver had mystical healing powers, but modern claims are more limited.
- Proponents believe silver ions released on contact with skin/wounds have antimicrobial effects that can help treat infections.
- Uses of silver include wound dressings, creams/gels, medical devices coated in silver, colloidal silver supplements.
- Evidence suggests silver may help heal some minor burns, wounds, skin conditions. More research is needed on major health uses.
- Critics argue many claims around silver are exaggerated or unsupported. High doses may cause argyria (blue-gray skin).
While silver may have useful topical antiseptic properties, claims it can cure major diseases when ingested lack sufficient evidence. More high quality studies on silver are needed.
History of Silver’s Use in Medicine
Silver’s association with healing and medicine dates back thousands of years:
- Ancient Greek, Roman, Macedonian and Egyptian civilizations used silver for wounds and infections.
- Silver vessels were used to keep water and other liquids fresh.
- Royalty and aristocrats used silver utensils to prevent disease.
- American pioneers dropped silver coins into their water barrels to inhibit bacteria.
By the 19th and early 20th centuries, silver nitrate drops were used in newborns’ eyes to prevent blindness from gonorrhea. Silver compounds were used for wound treatments due to silver’s antibacterial properties.
With the rise of antibiotics, use of silver declined up until the 1990s when interest resurged due to antibiotic resistance concerns.
How Might Silver Work? Antimicrobial Properties
Silver is thought to be antimicrobial in the following ways:
- Silver ions bind to and damage bacterial cell membranes, damaging the cell.
- Silver ions enter the cell and damage intracellular components like DNA and respiratory enzymes.
- Silver has anti-inflammatory effects, helping reduce wound swelling and pain.
However, how significant these antimicrobial effects are, and whether they can truly fight infections, remains debated.
Modern Medical Uses of Silver
Some common modern medical uses of silver include:
- Wound dressings & creams – Silver nanoparticles or silver salts embedded in bandages, dressings or creams can interact with wound fluids and help treat superficial infections. Examples include Acticoat, Silverlon, Silvasorb, Aquacel Ag and Curad Silver Solution bandages.
- Medical devices – Silver coatings on surgical instruments like forceps, surfaces like hospital countertops, and medical devices like urinary catheters and endotracheal breathing tubes may confer antimicrobial benefits.
- Colloidal silver – tiny silver particles suspended in liquid taken orally as a dietary supplement. Promoted to boost the immune system and cure diseases but lacking evidence.
The FDA has approved certain wound dressings containing silver as medical products. However, FDA does not recognize colloidal silver as safe or effective for any health uses.
What Conditions Might Silver Help With?
Silver is thought to possibly help treat the following conditions, although more research is still needed:
- Skin infections – Silver dressings may help heal some fungal skin infections, blisters, skin ulcerations, MRSA infections and eczema.
- Foot ulcers and wounds – For patients with conditions like diabetes, silver wound dressings may aid ulcer and wound healing.
- Burns – Silver sulfadiazine creams may help treat second and third-degree burns when applied topically.
- Eye infections – Silver nitrate drops may protect against gonococcal ophthalmia in newborns, an eye infection that can cause blindness.
However, evidence is still limited on major systemic health uses. Orally ingesting colloidal silver is not considered safe or effective for treating major diseases like cancer, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, diabetes or flu.
Are There Any Side Effects of Silver?
Used appropriately, medical formulations like wound dressings have relatively few side effects. However, some risks include:
- Argyria – With chronic high exposure, silver can deposit in the skin and turn it bluish-gray. This condition called argyria is permanent but mostly cosmetic.
- Allergies – Silver can cause allergic rashes or inflammation.
- Toxicity – High doses of colloidal silver supplements may cause toxicity, with side effects like headaches, stomach pain, fatigue and seizures.
Completely avoiding silver is nearly impossible, as trace amounts are naturally widespread in food, water and other products. But moderating intake of silver forms like colloidal silver supplements is recommended.
Scientific Evidence on Silver’s Effectiveness
What does the scientific research say on silver so far?
- Research shows silver has antimicrobial properties against bacteria, viruses and fungi in lab tests.
- Many studies show some medical silver products like dressings aid wound healing, prevent infections and speed recovery in burns/ulcers.
- Yet evidence is limited for major systemic disease uses. No good research shows ingested colloidal silver cures major illnesses.
- Research quality varies widely. More rigorous, high quality controlled studies on silver are still needed.
Overall, silver likely does have some beneficial topical antiseptic properties. However, many larger health claims around silver lack solid unbiased research to back them up.
Arguments Against Silver’s Healing Properties
Here are some arguments against overblown claims on silver’s healing abilities:
- Many silver health claims stem from anecdotal evidence, lacking scientific support.
- No evidence shows taking colloidal silver cures viral infections like HIV, pneumonia or flu.
- While silver has natural antiseptic properties, they may be too weak to cure serious illnesses or infections.
- Bacteria can develop resistance to silver over time.
- Ingesting silver like colloidal silver supplements can cause argyria and toxicity.
- More high quality clinical trials on silver are needed to truly demonstrate effectiveness.
Ultimately more rigorous research is needed before silver can be recommended as a broad spectrum antimicrobial treatment, especially ingested formulations like colloidal silver.
WHO Guidelines on Silver Use
The World Health Organization has published guidelines on appropriate medical uses of silver:
- Topical silver sulfadiazine and silver nanocrystalline dressings may aid wound healing in burns, skin ulcers and infections.
- These silver treatments are only approved for external application on skin and wounds.
- There is insufficient evidence to recommend ingested/injected colloidal silver for routine antimicrobial treatment.
- Oral silver supplements carry risk of argyria and should be avoided without medical supervision.
The WHO acknowledges silver likely has some antiseptic properties topically, but ingesting silver to prevent or cure major diseases is not recommended due to the lack of evidence for safety and effectiveness.
In summary, silver does appear to have some beneficial topical antiseptic properties that may promote wound and ulcer healing. However, claims that silver can cure or prevent major diseases like cancer, HIV and flu when ingested lack sufficient clinical evidence and can risk patient health. While silver holds promise as a superficial antiseptic, more research is still needed to establish broader antimicrobial claims, especially for ingested colloidal silver supplements.
To responsibly harness any health benefits of silver, doctors recommend limiting use to approved medical formulations like bandages and creams, and avoiding unregulated products like colloidal silver dietary supplements.