Many different types of colloidal silver products are available, although not all are true colloidal silver. Some products are primarily tiny nanoparticles of silver suspended in water, a true colloid, while others are mostly ionic silver. Still other so-called colloidal silver products contain silver bound to proteins. Manufacturers use terminology loosely, and many products labeled colloidal silver may not be true colloids.
Popular in alternative medicine, colloidal silver products are promoted to cure diseases based on the antimicrobial properties of silver. True colloidal silver is composed of actual silver particles suspended in water. The size of the particles is extremely small, providing an overall large surface area thought to be more biologically effective. These nanoparticles of silver are in a stable chemical state and don’t combine with other atoms. They are believed to be better at killing bacteria, fungus, and viruses than other types of silver products.
A similar product, ionic silver is currently medically used to prevent wound infections and kill microorganisms on equipment. Ionic silver has been shown effective against microorganisms in vitro, but is thought to be less useful when taken internally, as it readily combines with chloride ions and becomes less bioactive.
Products containing colloidal or ionic silver can be taken internally and are said to fight disease and boost the immune system. Claims have been made that colloidal silver products detoxify spider bites, stop indigestion, and cure sleep disorders, although there is no scientific evidence to support these assertions. There are also spray products used topically to prevent and fight infection. Ionic and colloidal silver are also promoted as disinfectants that can be used to clean surfaces. The antifungal action of silver is utilized to prevent mildew in the home and fight fungal disorders affecting the skin and nails.
Colloidal silver generators sold for home production primarily create ionic silver by the process of electrolysis. Single charged particles of silver are released into water, although some nanoparticles of silver may be found in the resulting product. Large quantities of ionic silver can be produced at a moderate cost using a silver generator. Silver is sometimes promoted as an essential mineral supplement, but the body does not require silver for any metabolic process. There is continuing debate concerning the effectiveness and safety of colloidal silver.
The most common side effect of prolonged or excessive use of silver is a permanent blue-gray discoloration of the skin. Argyria is a hyperpigmentation of the skin and other tissues caused by an accumulation of silver in the body. Silver protein products, with their high concentrations of silver, are recommended for very short-term use to prevent the development of argyria. Other reported side effects from excessive use include damage to the kidneys and liver.