The mineral silver has a long history of use in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. Silver is toxic to many microbes, and on this basis a suspension of finely ground silver granules called colloidal silver was once popular among U.S. physicians as an antiseptic. Currently, silver is used medically in the form of silver sulfadiazine, a cream used to prevent infection in burn victims. In addition, silver is used in some water purifiers to stop the growth of bacteria.
Oral colloidal silver is widely promoted on the Internet and elsewhere as a treatment for hundreds of conditions. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this form of silver provides any medical benefits, and it can lead to an unsightly and permanent discoloration of the skin called argyria.
A typical recommended dose of colloidal silver is 1–4 teaspoons a day, providing 25–100 mcg of silver.
NOTE: We strongly recommend against the use of oral silver products.
Colloidal silver kills microbes on contact, and for this reason, it can be properly described as an antiseptic. Despite widespread claims, however, it is not an antibiotic. The term antibiotic, as most commonly used, indicates a substance that is absorbed after administration and kills germs throughout the body. Colloidal silver does not have this property. When taken by mouth, it may destroy bacteria, fungi, and other organisms in the mouth and digestive tract, but it is not absorbed in sufficient concentrations to kill germs anywhere else. Colloidal silver is, thus, more analogous to bleach than to penicillin. Although both bleach and silver kill the germs that cause sinus infections, you can’t treat a sinus infection by drinking either bleach or silver.
Confusion about the difference between an antibiotic and an antiseptic has led to an enormous number of false claims regarding silver’s benefits. In fact, there is no reliable evidence that use of colloidal silver benefits any health condition.
While oral use of silver is not believed to be toxic, it can cause a serious cosmetic problem known as argyria: gray-black silver deposits that stain the skin and mucous membranes. The effect is unattractive and, to make matters worse, permanent: once it occurs, the discoloration never goes away. A growing number of cases or argyria have been reported in the US due to the widespread marketing of colloidal silver products.1-8
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
1. Wickless SC, Shwayder TA. Medical mystery—the answer. N Engl J Med. 2004;351:2349–50.
2. Gulbranson SH, Hud JA, Hansen RC. Argyria following the use of dietary supplements containing colloidal silver protein. Cutis. 2000;66:373–374, 376.
3. McKenna JK, Hull CM, Zone JJ. Argyria associated with colloidal silver supplementation. Int J Dermatol. 2003;42:549.
4. White JM, Powell AM, Brady K, Russell-Jones R. Severe generalized argyria secondary to ingestion of colloidal silver protein. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2003;28:254–6.
5. Sterling JP. Silver-resistance, allergy, and blue skin: truth or urban legend? Burns. 2014;40 Suppl 1:S19-S23.
6. Molina-Hernandez AI, Diaz-Gonzalez JM, Saeb-Lima M, Dominguez-Cherit J. Argyria after silver nitrate intake: case report and brief review of literature. Indian J Dermatol. 2015;60(5):520.
7. 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;13(10):1030-1032.
8. Jung I, Joo EJ, Suh BS, et al. A case of generalized argyria presenting with muscle weakness. Ann Occup Environ Med. 2017;29:45.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 10/19/2017