The medical use of silver dates back thousands of years and has been proven to be effective against a wide range of infections and illnesses. Early evidence of silver’s medicinal properties can be found in ancient texts from cultures around the world, including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.Silver was used extensively in the 19th and early 20th centuries to treat a variety of conditions, including burns, wounds, and infections. It fell out of favor with the advent of antibiotics but has seen a resurgence in recent years as resistance to these drugs has grown.
Today, silver is used in a number of different ways to improve health and well-being. It is commonly used as an antimicrobial agent and can be found in a variety of products, including bandages, dressings, and wound-care products. It is also used in some water-purification systems and is being studied for its potential use in treating cancer.
Ancient Medical History of Colloidal Silver
The history of the medical use of silver dates back thousands of years. It has been used medicinally for centuries, with early evidence of its efficacy coming from ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman texts. The ancient Chaldeans were aware of silver’s existence as early as 4,000 B.C., and it is the third metal used by these people behind gold (which they called krun) and copper.The ancient Persians valued their water so much that it had to be transported in silver containers, which preserved its freshness for years.
The application of silver plates is a traditional practice that can be traced back to the Macedonians and Hippocrates. This may have been their first attempt at preventing or treating surgical infections, though it wasn’t until much recently that this theory was put into practice with success as an effective dressing for wounds.
Medical Uses up to 1900
By 1800, people had realized the wide acceptance that wine, water, milk, and vinegar stayed pure for longer periods of time when stored in silver vessels. By 1800, people had realized that wine was more maintainable when stored in silver vessels. Silver nitrate was used successfully to treat a wide range of medical conditions, from skin ulcers, to compound fractures, and suppurating wounds before the time of Lister.
in the 1880s Doctor Carl Siegmund Franz Crede, a German obstetrician pioneered the use of silver nitrate eye drops to prevent ophthalmia neonatorum (gonorrheal ophthalmia) in newborn infants.
During the early pioneer days on the North American continent, when there was no refrigeration and water needed to be transported long distances, it was common practice to drop silver coins into the transport vessel to preserve water. This practice also was used to preserve milk and prevent spoilage, without knowing that it was the prevention of bacterial growth that caused the effect.
Privileged families used silver eating utensils and often developed a bluish-gray discoloration of the skin, thus becoming known as ‘‘blue blood.’’ Privileged people also often avoided sunlight so that the presence of the bluish discoloration, argyria, might become even more prominent. The prevalence of argyria prior to 1800 has not been documented, but it was reported to be associated with a reduced mortality rate during epidemics of plague and other infectious diseases
Medical Uses in the 19th and 20th Century
Halsted’s advocacy of silver wound dressings and sutures led him to be one of the first American surgeons to use this technology, which eliminated infections by preventing bacteria from entering wounds. Between 1900 and 1940, people of all ages consumed colloidal silver in droves. Several million doses were given intravenously during this time period! Industrialist and medical icon Thomas Edison was one such patient who ingested large quantities of colloidal silver in his final years. He is said to have taken up to 20 gallons per week.
Over time, the well-established indications for the effective use of silver were water purification, wound dressings for the promotion of healing, the prevention and treatment of infection, dental hygiene (the prevention and correction of pyorrhea, gingivitis, and bad breath), eye conditions (primarily the prevention of ophthalmia neonatorum), and other infectious complications.
Less clear evidence of effectiveness (possibly effective) exists for use for epilepsy and central nervous system disorders, a variety of digestive disorders, as a tonic in old age or disability, and for the treatment of arthritis, hemorrhoids, dandruff, and warts. Silver also was recommended for a wide variety of other diseases where effectiveness was questionable. This included diabetes mellitus, obesity, colds, psoriasis, allergies, and many others.
Silver has been a popular therapeutic agent in medicine, especially for its ability to fight infection. It may be beneficial because of this metal’s high risk-to-benefit ratio which makes it an appealing option when trying out new treatments on patients who are already infected or at risk from things such as surgeries gone wrong.
For centuries now people have used silver’s anti-bacterial properties not only against wounds but also throughout healing processes like during cuts, infections, and surgical site care.
- Hill WR, Pillsbury DM. Argyria–The Pharmacology of Silver. Baltimore. Williams & Wilkins, 1939.
- Grier N. Silver and its compounds. In: Block SS, ed. Disinfection, Sterilization and Preservation. Philadelphia. Lea & Febiger, 1968:375–398.
- Duhamel BG. Electric metallic colloids and their therapeutic applications. Lancet 1912;1:89–90.
- Sanderson-Wells TH. A case of puerperal septicaemia successfully treated with intravenous injections of collosol argentum. Lancet 1916;1:258–259