This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.
With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.
The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies.
Our team includes licensed nutritionists and dietitians, certified health education specialists, as well as certified strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.
The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.
Colloidal Silver: Beneficial Compound or Unsafe Hoax?
February 2, 2023
If you haven’t heard of colloidal silver, you will soon enough, especially if you’re on the lookout for alternative therapies to common health issues, such as a sinus infection or a cold.
Most health food stores and pharmacies stock several brands of colloidal silver, and of course, you can find a vast amount of information about colloidal silver benefits on the internet. Unfortunately, the information out there is confusing, as many sources have conflicting opinions.
On one hand, you’ll run across thousands of personal testimonials about colloidal silver helping people with practically every disease you’ve heard about. You will also stumble upon some well-known health sites that warn consumers about safety concerns.
Usually, these sources quote a statement made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1999 stating that there is no scientific evidence to support the use of colloidal silver.
This type of information can confuse even the most savvy natural health enthusiast, which is why I want to lend a helping hand and provide some evidenced-based information to help you make an informed choice about colloidal silver uses and benefits.
What Is Colloidal Silver?
Colloidal silver is a solution of water containing nanometre-sized particles of suspended silver. The total silver content is expressed as milligrams of silver per litre of water, or mg/L, which is numerically the same as parts per million (ppm).
Silver has been used for at least six thousand years to prevent microbial infections. It has proven to be effective against almost all organisms tested, and it has played an important role in the development of radiology and improving wound healing, according to research out of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
Before the invention of the refrigerator, it was common practice to drop a silver coin into a container of milk as a preservative because silver was known to prevent the growth of algae, bacteria and other undesirable organisms.
Dating back to ancient times, silver was also a popular remedy to stop the spread of diseases. Its use as a natural antibiotic continued all the way until the 1940s, when modern antibiotics arrived.
Today, people obviously don’t need to drop silver coins into their water to experience colloidal silver benefits. All you need to do is carefully take a few drops from a bottle that you buy at the store.
According to a report written by Richard Davies and Samuel Etris of the Silver Institute in a 1996, there are three primary ways that colloidal silver can supposedly help heal the body:
- Catalytic Oxidation: Silver naturally holds on to oxygen molecules, which readily react with the sulfhydryl (H) groups that surround bacterial and viruses. In turn, this helps block the life-preserving cellular process known as cellular respiration, which is the set of metabolic reactions and processes that take place within the cells of organisms in order to convert biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and then release waste products.
- Reaction with Bacterial Cell Membranes: Silver ions can attach to bacteria cell membranes directly and produce the same respiration-blocking effect.
- Binding with DNA: Shown to literally enter bacteria DNA, up to 12 percent of silver has been detected in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. According to one source, “While it remains unclear exactly how the silver binds to the DNA without destroying the hydrogen bonds holding the lattice together, it nevertheless prevents the DNA from unwinding, an essential step for cellular replication to occur.”
There are basically three types of products that are marketed as “colloidal silver,” and these can be categorized as:
1. Ionic Silver
Ionic silver solutions are products that have silver content primarily consisting of silver ions. Although ionic silver is often marketed as colloidal silver, it’s not true colloidal silver.
Because it’s the least expensive to produce, ionic silver is the most popular product in this category.
The problem? It simply won’t produce the same benefits that true colloidal silver can.
2. Silver Protein
In order to keep large silver particles suspended, silver protein-based products add gelatin. Silver protein is the second-most popular type of colloidal silver product on the market and can easily be made by adding water to silver protein powder.
Again, it’s also often marketed and labeled as colloidal silver but should not be confused for the real thing. Silver protein is less effective for human use, and you won’t experience the true colloidal silver benefits.
3. True Colloidal Silver
Lastly, true silver colloids don’t contain any protein or other additives, as the vast majority of the silver content consists of nanometre-sized silver particles. This is the most effective type of colloidal silver.
Is It Safe?
There’s plenty of debate about the potential health risks of colloidal silver. Is it safe to use colloidal silver supplements or products?
According to a review published in Environmental Health Perspectives, this is a controversial topic that has contenders on both sides. The review states “despite its widespread use, nanosilver remains a fairly poorly understood material to both regulators and scientists. Consensus remains elusive on subjects as essential as how it behaves in the human body and environment, and the extent to which its use may contribute to bacterial resistance.”
Of course, there are two opposing arguments in this debate — what are being called “watchdog groups” that seize on the confusion surrounding colloidal silver side effects and safety and advocate groups, like the Silver Nanotechnology Working Group, that proclaim its usefulness and safety, noting that most applications use extremely small quantities of silver in their formulas.
What the research indicates is that misuse of colloidal silver, or choosing inexpensive, low-quality products that are not true colloidal silver, can cause adverse side effects. For instance, you may have come across warnings about it causing an irreversible condition called argyria, which is when people turn blue.
This is usually caused by cheaper products improperly marketed as colloidal silver, such as ionic silver or silver protein, which became a big issue in Finland.
Although the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health reports that colloidal silver may cause poor absorption of some drugs, including antibiotics and thyroxine, which is used to treat thyroid deficiency, there is limited research proving that these side effects to colloidal silver exist.
There is evidence that using colloidal silver for the treatment of chronic rhinosinusitis is not only effective, but safe when used as a sinus rinse for 10 days. Researchers found that colloidal silver rinses demonstrated a good safety profile with no major adverse events.
A lab study published in Particle and Fibre Toxicology found that when the human lung is exposed to silver nanoparticles, it does not cause adverse effects. Lung cells were only sensitive to high silver-ion concentrations.
A 2016 study conducted at the University of Michigan found that when oral doses of silver nanoparticles were administered for 28 days, it did not alter the structure or diversity of the animal gut microbiome. This is in contrast to the detrimental effects of broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Many advocates point to this study when suggesting the beneficial use of colloidal silver for pets.
In a summary of literature published in Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers concluded that although there are some concerns and controversies related to nano’s safe use in human disease treatment and health care, the research that has been done suggests that it can be engineered to “enhance its antimicrobial efficacy, stability, specificity, biosafety and biocompatibility for increased therapeutic benefits and reduced potential side effects.”
From the current research, my take is that colloidal silver may work as a potential antimicrobial agent, but it needs to be used appropriately. Only true colloidal silver should be used, and studies indicate that short-term use does not cause adverse side effects.
Uses and Benefits
By having a direct effect on cellular respiration, colloidal silver benefits the body in numerous ways, including providing numerous medical uses.
1. Antibacterial and Antimicrobial
First, colloidal silver’s ability to control antibiotic-resistant superbugs is impressive. While employed at UCLA Medical School in the 1980s, Dr. Larry C. Ford documented over 650 different disease-causing pathogens that were destroyed in minutes when exposed to small amounts of silver.
Colloidal silver, unlike its modern prescription antibiotic counterpart, simply doesn’t create resistance or immunity in the organisms that are killed by it. This point cannot be emphasized enough, especially in light of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that more than 2.8 million people in the U.S. suffer illness every year as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections and more than 35,000 people die from these infections.
In addition, a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine supported ionic colloidal silver as a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent against both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, but its activity wasn’t as pronounced against fungi.
2. Wound Care/Skin Health
Robert O. Becker, M.D., says that colloidal silver stimulates healing in the skin and other soft tissues. In a research article produced by Pharmacognosy Communications in 2012, it was specifically recommended that certain colloidal silver preparations should be considered for topical use to treat burns, thrush, periodontitis and other conditions.
For instance, you can potentially treat ringworm (Tinea capitis) at home with colloidal silver because it’s a potent antifungal. Caused by a fungus that lives on the top layer of the skin, ringworm presents as round, scaly patches.
It’s contagious and spread by skin contact and contaminated materials, such as clothing.
Colloidal silver benefits many skins conditions as well, including psoriasis and eczema. It’s soothing to scrapes and even helps repair tissue damage from burns.
In fact, a colloidal silver-based nanogel was successfully used as a dressing for superficial pellet gun wounds in a Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care study. Such silver nanoparticle-based gel dressings for wounds or even chronic wounds are becoming more common.
Topical silver historically was used on burns, but usage stopped after the advent of antibiotics, until the 1960s when it kicked back into popularity. The combination of silver nitrate and sodium sulfadiazine to create SSD cream helped lead to burn recovery in many patients.
Applying a silver coating to specialized foam, as part of a wound vacuum system, provides antibacterial activity in vitro. According to research, this technology may assist in preparing infected chronic venous stasis wounds for skin grafting, ultimately leading to better healing.
3. Pink Eye/Ear Infections
Although more research is needed to understand its full potential, the antiviral and antibacterial properties of colloidal silver may allow it to fight some common infections.
Pink eye is an inflamed mucous membrane that covers the eyeball and eyelid lining, and it’s primarily caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Colloidal silver can be used for prompt action against this irritating and highly infectious virus and bacteria under the care of your doctor.
When applied on the infected eye, the tiny silver colloids are used to pick up the infected cells by attracting them electromagnetically and sending them into the bloodstream to be eliminated.
Our modern prescription antibiotic drugs are designed to work against specific classes of bacteria, but ear infections may be caused by multiple classes of bacteria or can even be fungal. In this case, the prescription antibiotic will be useless, whereas colloidal silver is effective regardless of what may be causing your infection.
Again, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and safety of colloidal silver for pink eye, ear infections, and other bacterial or viral issues, but we do know that it’s a powerful antimicrobial agent that has helped many people treat these conditions.
Colloidal silver benefits can be experienced as an antiviral for HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, herpes, shingles and warts. Colloidal silver suffocates the virus and can even reduce the activity of the HIV virus in AIDS patients.
There are also numerous anecdotal accounts of colloidal silver’s efficacy against the hepatitis C virus.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine, “silver nanoparticles are capable of reducing viral infectivity, probably by blocking interaction of the virus within the cell.”
This might depend on the size and zeta potential of the silver nanoparticles, as smaller-sized particles were able to inhibit the infectivity of the viruses that were analyzed.
Colloidal silver is also a fantastic anti-inflammatory. Case in point: Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) studied the effects of inflammation after being treated by colloidal silver, and they found that the inflamed skin of pigs treated with silver experienced near-normal skin after 72 hours, while other treatment groups not treated with silver remained inflamed.
Research is beginning to reflect what many people have already known anecdotally for years — that colloidal silver can reduce swelling, speed healing and boost cell recovery. More studies on humans are needed to understand the true potential of colloidal silver for inflammation, but what we have already seen is promising.
Widely used to control sinus infections, colloidal silver can benefit people when it’s used as a nasal spray, according to a study published in the International Forum for Allergy and Rhinology in 2014.
A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Microbiology found that colloidal silver nasal rinses, when used twice daily for 10 days, are safe and effective for patients with chronic sinusitis.
Twenty-two patients completed the study and were given either oral antibiotics with saline rinses twice a day or colloidal silver nasal rinses twice daily. The results indicate that both forms of treatment showed similar improvements in sinusitis symptoms, and using colloidal silver in this manner for ten days was deemed safe.
You can purchase a high-quality, pure colloidal silver nasal spray product or add a few drops of liquid colloidal silver to a “neti pot.” To apply it directly into your nasal cavity, let it drain down your throat while tilting your head back.
Also, it’s important to point out that recent research indicates that hidden infections by pathogens could be a cause of respiratory inflammation associated with common allergies and asthma. Colloidal silver destroys Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections, which may be the reason why airborne allergy sufferers often find such dramatic relief from colloidal silver.
Some claim that colloidal silver helps prevent all types of flu, including swine flu, as well as the common cold.
Few studies have been done to test this clinically, but in 2011 the NIH took 100 children under the age of 12 suffering from the common cold and nasal congestion and assigned them into two groups. The first group was treated with a solution of colloidal silver and beta glucan, and the second group with saline solution. Even though both groups benefited from the treatment, 90 percent of the people in the colloidal silver group completely recovered.
A study published in the Journal of Virological Methods demonstrated that silver nanoparticles have anti-H1N1 influenza A virus activities, especially during the early dissemination stage of the virus.
Our modern drugs have become limited in their efficacy when it comes to fighting bronchitis or pneumonia symptoms. Typically, antibiotics are administered as the first line of defense, but when the pneumonia is viral, antibiotics won’t help in the least.
The unique quality of colloidal silver is that it can help regardless of the pathogen, as research indicates it has antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Colloidal silver is a remarkable product to help fight against bronchitis and pneumonia when ingested internally, but an even more effective way to utilize it? Simply breathe it into your lungs.
This way, the silver directly contacts the germs residing in the lungs that cause bronchitis or pneumonia. It’s basically the same thing as using respiratory support, and it works speedily, clearing it up within a couple of days.
Now, the most effective method to get the colloidal silver into the lungs is to use a nebulizer. Generally, use one teaspoon approximately three times a day for 10 to 15 minutes.
Products and Recommended Dosage
Colloidal silver is available in a liquid tincture that can be ingested and use topically and as a powder that can be applied to the skin. You can find it at most health food stores. I recommend speaking to an educated professional about the best quality, true colloidal silver to purchase.
Colloidal silver needs to be applied differently for each condition. The most important factor to consider when using colloidal silver is to purchase a high-quality, true colloidal silver product.
If the product is inexpensive and characterized as “ionic silver,” it is not going to have the same effects. Also, colloidal silver should not be taken for more than 14 days in a row.
There isn’t enough research to determine whether or not it’s safe when taken for longer periods of time.
To experience colloidal silver benefits, it may be taken as follows:
- 2–5 drops applied directly to the skin
- 1 eyedropper taken orally for immune support
- 1–2 drops into eyes for pink eye
- 1–2 drops can help disinfect any wound or sore by applying onto a Band-Aid
- If prepared properly, it can be injected into a muscle, a cancerous tumor or into the bloodstream, but under the care of a doctor or trained professional
- 5–10 drops can be applied vaginally or anally
- 5 drops added into a neti pot or directly sprayed into the nose
It is recommended that you use colloidal silver under the guidance of your health care professional.
- Colloidal silver is a solution of water that contains nanometre-sized particles of suspended silver.
- What is colloidal silver good for? It is ingested or applied topically to fight infections and reduce inflammation.
- Is colloidal silver safe? Scientists have conducted several studies that indicate the safety and efficacy of colloidal silver when it’s used in appropriate amounts. Long-term and excessive use of silver nanoparticles may lead to adverse side effects, so it’s best not to exceed a 14-day treatment period.
- Colloidal silver needs to be applied differently for each condition. Be sure to purchase a high-quality, true colloidal silver product, which you’ll find in many health food stores.