MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The aim of this investigation was to evaluate the marketing practices, beliefs and health claims regarding the use of colloidal silver in Finland. Contents of three company websites selling colloidal silver were reviewed, and the claims used in the marketing of colloidal silver were compared to the scientific information about silver. In Facebook posts and discussion about colloidal silver were analyzed.

In Finland, the marketing of colloidal silver products on websites selling the products did not follow the regulations of authorities; several scientifically unfounded claims about the efficacy and medical use of colloidal silver were found. After the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) documentary and an intervention by authorities, contents of the websites were changed, but still questionable information and misleading claims could be found. In the analyzed Facebook groups attitudes towards medical use of colloidal silver were uncritically positive, internal use was highly promoted and the restrictions of use were considered unjustified.

The authors concluded that the use of quackery products such as colloidal silver can be dangerous, and their use and marketing should be controlled and restricted.

The authors stress that silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) are potentially toxic due to their small size and Ag+-release capabilities, and the use of colloidal silver products containing AgNPs can cause a wide variety of adverse effects such as argyria.

WebMD cautions that despite promoters’ claims, silver has no known function in the body and is not an essential mineral supplement. Colloidal silver products were once available as over-the-counter drug products. In 1999 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that these colloidal silver products were not considered safe or effective. Colloidal silver products marketed for medical purposes or promoted for unproven uses are now considered “misbranded” under the law without appropriate FDA approval as a new drug. There are currently no FDA-approved over-the-counter or prescription drugs containing silver that are taken by mouth. However, there are still colloidal silver products being sold as homeopathic remedies and dietary supplements.

On this blog, we have discussed that colloidal silver is nevertheless marketed aggressively by crooks (see here and here). The message that emerges from all this seems clear: do not fall for the plethora of false claims made by irresponsible entrepreneurs who want your money and risk your health. Keep your money and health by staying away from colloidal silver and similar SCAMs.

11 Responses to ‘Quackery products such as colloidal silver can be dangerous, and their use and marketing should be controlled and restricted’.

  • I noticed a few years ago that sticking plaster manufacturers had jumped on the bandwagon in response to the colloidal silver fad. https://www.elastoplast.co.uk/products/wound-care/sensitive-med-xl-xxl

    I had a friend who was quite into the whole colloidal silver thing, and I recall thinking at the time (about twenty years ago now), that if one wanted to utilise the antibacterial properties of metals, a solution of the chlorine salt of sodium, NcCl, would be a cheaper and easier way to go, for topical use (and really there is no reason why anyone should be taking Ag internally). No money in it though!

    • The products you refer to are not colloidal silver and your criticism of them has no relevance to the article by Edzard, which focuses on the danger of oral colloidal silver products. Silver in topical use has been shown as advantageous (antimicrobial) in a plethora of peer reviewed articles and should in no way be associated with ingested colloidal silver that is contraindicated. Silver is also used as an ingredient/additive/coating in many applications and is widely used in such environments as hospitals and food processing.

      • I know that silver in sticking plasters for topical application is not the same thing as colloidal silver ingested orally. I think perhaps my writing was poor.

        I was suggesting that it was only because of prominence given to the fad of oral colloidal silver, that sticking plaster manufacturers decided that it might be a good marketing idea to introduce sticking plasters with silver in them.

        Until the advent of digital imaging, the photographic industry used about half of the world’s silver production (largely in the form of AgBr). Perhaps the demise of silver-based photo materials left a glut of cheap silver on the market – I don’t know.

        At any rate, although silver and silver compounds had been had been in use early in the 20th century for wound dressings, I was not aware of any adhesive dressings on the market for home use, until colloidal silver started getting into the public awareness.

    • I remember a patient being presented (in person) at a Grand Round at Westminster Hospital once who had seen his fair share of doctors who had been unable to help him before meeting the dermatologist who was instantly able to make a diagnosis of pemphigus and then treated him successfully with gold injections (specifically disodium aurothiomalate). He quipped that he had now moved on from silver (as a dermatologist he regularly used silver nitrate solution to cauterise warts).

      As an oncologist I have been able to move on even further, as I have frequently prescribed platinum for my cancer patients in various forms, and even received it myself more recently.

      • Gold – I remember as a student being told of an object lesson in the post hoc fallacy. In the 1950s a link was postulated between dental amalgam and rheumatoid arthritis – many patients saw an improvement in their symptoms once their amalgam restorations were replaced. Subsequent analysis showed that the improvement was not down to the removal of the amalgam, but to the material which was used to replace the amalgams – gold inlays and onlays. The patients had a mouthful of dental gold and were hence steadily ingesting a steady stream of Au ions 24/7.

  • [NaCl] would be a cheaper and easier way to go

    My old mum (long-retired nurse) still swears by salt water for treating minor skin complaints. And might not be entirely wrong, seeing how it’s nasty corrosive stuff fairly inimical to life not already evolved to cope with the osmotic pressure.

    Alas, good hard scientific research on its efficacy is harder to come by than glowing lifestyle testimonials, so take that with a pinch of the proverbial.

    All that aside, it is my unscientific observation that the uptake of an AltMed treatment seems roughly proportional to how special it makes its users feel. So perhaps if you remarket it as “100% All-Natural Icelandic Sea Plunge” at 50 times the price?

    there is no reason why anyone should be taking Ag internally

    Why u hate Papa Smurf cosplay?

    • Yer old Mum is right. Warm saline solution is very useful. If there is any crusting on the skin, a facecloth soaked in hot salt water and wrung out, laid on the skin, is very helpful in removing it. (If the skin is badly inflamed and broken and it’s the yellow crusting of Staph aureus, oral antibiotics may be needed). The same method is good for crusted matter round the eyes in the morning, if there is some irritation/infection there.

      When I have over the years occasionally had an incidence of paronychia (infection in a fingertip around the nail fold), I treat it immediately by immersing the finger in a cup of salt water as hot as I can stand, until the tissues are saturated and soft, and then it’s easy to use a sterilised needle to gently move tissue apart and let any matter out (actually I use a watch oiler, flamed, which has a tiny spatulate tip).

      I knew about the blue man and the nasal spray lady. It’s sad. How do people go from knowing that a metal has antibcterial properties on surfaces, to taking it internally? Only by marketing, I guess. Silver, Copper and Sodium are not the only metals with antibacterial properties, it seems – I found this Japanese study: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08927014.2010.527000

      • The easiest and least painful way to remove liquid material trapped under pressure under the fingernail (such as blood) is to straighten out a paperclip and heat up the tip in a flame until it is red-hot. It will then painlessly bore a hole through the nail.

        This is not so good for paronychia, however, where the pain is due to pus under pressure coupled with local inflammation, and while you might get some relief from releasing it with a sterile needle (as a general principle collections of pus are best treated by drainage) you would probably be best off following this up with an appropriate antibiotic (Staph. aureus is usually the culprit here, too).

        • My poor quivering buttocks have clenched at the thought of the red-hot paperclip through the fingernail, but I totally see the logic. (Incidentally, anyone remember Sid James as The Black Fingernail in the film Carry on, Don’t Lose You Head? A nice variation on The Scarlet Pimpernel).

          Over the years I’ve had some beginnings of paronychia, but never let it get severe. It’s out with the cup of hot saline solution, steep the finger until the skin is soft and wrinkly as in a long hot bath, then using my sterilised watch oiler, soft wet tissue at the side of the nail is easily prised open enough to let the gathering puss out, and further steeping the finger in the strong saline helps to clean things. I cannot now recall where I first read about doing this, or if it was told to me by a GP. The latter, I think.

  • @ David B

    “How do people go from knowing that a metal has antibcterial properties on surfaces, to taking it internally?

    Wasn’t there an orange chap on TV who caused quite a stir recently talking about using surface cleaners internally?
    That didn’t seem to go down too well either as I recall.

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