Colloidal Silver: Is It Safe?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on October 05, 2022
3 min read

The first use of colloidal silver for medical reasons was by a surgeon in 1891, who used it to clean wounds. In the years that followed, some doctors believed that if you swallowed colloidal silver, it could cure a range of conditions like stomach ulcers, mental illness, and epilepsy. It got more popular until the 1940s, when doctors started using antibiotics instead. Today, you’ll see it marketed and sold as a dietary supplement.

A colloid is a mixture of two substances. One part of the blend is split into tiny pieces and mixed into the other part. Colloidal silver is made up of tiny particles of silver in water. The bits of silver are so small they stay afloat in the liquid.

Your body doesn’t need silver. It isn’t an essential mineral.

But many companies market colloidal silver supplements as cure-all products. They claim it can boost your immune system, ease chest congestion, and treat or prevent viral infections like the common cold or COVID-19. You might also hear that colloidal silver helps treat conditions like cancer, HIV and AIDS, shingles, herpes, or eye problems. But these statements are not backed by research.

Here’s what scientists know:

  • Cancer. The claim that silver can help treat cancer comes from the belief that it is able to kill cancer cells and prevent their growth and spread. In scientific tests though, colloidal silver was not able to kill any cells or stop them from spreading.
  • HIV and AIDS. There is no evidence that colloidal silver can treat HIV or AIDS. The most effective treatments are antiretroviral medicines that attack and kill the virus.

Silver is an ingredient in some treatments you put on your skin, such as bandages or creams that treat burns, wounds, or skin infections. But unlike colloidal silver supplements that you take by mouth or inject into a vein, these skin treatments are proven to work well and are approved by the FDA.

Colloidal silver makes it hard for your body to take in antibiotics and other medicines. On top of that, it builds up in your body and causes some side effects may include:

  • Argyria, a condition that turns your skin a bluish-gray color. It mostly affects areas exposed to the sun, but can turn your eyes, internal organs, nails, and gums blue, too. The discoloration doesn’t cause any other health problems. But it will not go away when you stop taking silver.
  • Kidney damage
  • Stomach trouble
  • Headaches

Because colloidal silver products are sold as dietary supplements, they are regulated by the FDA as food instead of medicine. That means they don’t have to meet the same measures of safety and effectiveness as medications do before they go on the market. Although it’s not against the law for businesses to sell colloidal silver, there’s no good way to know how safe a product is before you buy it.

Scientists are researching colloidal silver as a treatment for bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. Others are concerned, though, that it may actually cause bacteria to become resistant, and also harm the environment. So it’s not the safest option to protect or improve your health.

If you’re living with a medical condition, follow the treatment plan your doctor gave you. If you’re looking to keep your immune system strong, there are many safe, effective options: exercise, get plenty of sleep, keep a healthy weight, and eat lots of fruits and veggies.