People are using colloidal silver instead of antibiotics. Can it actually help?

By Julia Ries | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published March 1, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Despite its popularity, the FDA does not regulate colloidal silver, leaving its purity, safety, and effectiveness unverified.

  • Health officials caution against its use for infections and chronic illnesses due to the absence of regulatory oversight.

People who are interested in alternative medicine are turning to colloidal silver for all kinds of health issues, from acne and eczema to pink eye, urinary tract infections, and head colds. It’s even been touted as a holistic treatment for cancer and diabetes.

While some people believe colloidal silver, which consists of tiny silver particles suspended in liquid, is a “miracle metal,” health officials argue otherwise. The dietary supplement is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the federal agency advises against using colloidal silver for infections and chronic health conditions. Many companies that manufacture colloidal silver have spread misleading health claims about the supplement, marketing it as “nature’s antibiotic” and alleging it’s immune to bacteria resistance, unlike traditional antibiotics.[][][]

Because colloidal silver products are not FDA-approved for oral consumption, there’s no way to guarantee the purity, safety, or effectiveness of these products, according to Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicology physician based in Washington, DC. Plus, silver particles can accumulate in the body and eventually lead to a host of health issues, including organ damage. “When taken orally, colloidal silver does not have any proven health benefits and is associated with significant risks,” Dr. Johnson-Arbor told MDLinx.

There’s little evidence supporting the use of colloidal silver

People once used colloidal silver to treat infections and wounds before antibiotics, but there’s a lack of scientific evidence supporting the oral ingestion of colloidal silver. Metallic silver itself is inert, but silver ions have antimicrobial properties and can kill certain types of bacteria, including E. coli, according to Dr. Johnson-Arbor. Because of this, silver ions are frequently used in various healthcare products, such as wound dressings, intravenous catheters, and orthopedic devices.[][][] 

But dressings containing silver should only be used on infected wounds for a short period of time—a few days, or in some cases, two to three weeks. “While silver has long been known for its properties on surfaces like clothing and hospital wipes, there is still a need for research on its ingestion and caution should be exercised when using it,” Norman Ng, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Staten Island University Hospital, told MDLinx.[]

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are no known health benefits associated with colloidal silver when it’s taken orally. Studies that have investigated colloidal silver for chronic sinus infections did not find the supplement to be beneficial.  

“Due to silver’s known antimicrobial benefits, the inhalation and ingestion of colloidal silver have also been studied as a potential treatment for COVID-19, but currently there are no published data supporting the consumption or inhalation of colloidal silver for infection prevention or treatment in humans,” explains Dr. Johnson-Arbor.[]

Colloidal silver may cause more harm than good

In the short term, ingestion of colloidal silver can lead to confusion and liver injury, says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. The most common complication of regularly ingesting colloidal silver is argyria, an often irreversible condition that causes the skin and eyes to develop a blue-gray tint. 

Consuming colloidal silver can also impact the body’s ability to absorb medications, including antibiotics and thyroxine, a drug used to treat thyroid deficiency. This could reduce the effectiveness of other drugs, says Dr. Ng. Some evidence suggests prolonged intake of colloidal silver can lead to liver, kidney, and nervous system dysfunction. In severe cases, it can cause life-threatening anemia or organ failure.

According to Dr. Johnson-Arbor, it’s important to recognize that the vast majority of medical advice and health claims circulating online are not regulated for scientific accuracy.

Dr. Ng believes colloidal silver should not be used in place of antibiotics, and Dr. Johnson-Arbor argues the same. “Since there are no established medical uses of colloidal silver oral formulations, and given the extensive risks linked to the use of these products, people should avoid consuming colloidal silver products,” she said.

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