Back in the 19th century, colloidal silver treatment was used for almost
all kinds of diseases, ranging from colds to skin infections. It was
the “perfect” antimicrobial treatment: Silver has long been known to
kill almost all kinds of microorganisms within 6 minutes of contact and
colloidal silver, composed of suspended silver particles in a liquid
base through a process called electrolysis, is sold at very low prices.
By the 1940s, colloidal silver was used by so many people that it became a threat to the lucrative antibiotic industry. It was about this time, too, that the Food and Drug Administration started its campaign against colloidal silver and other silver-based products because of its purported side effects.
One of the most controversial side effect of silver is a skin condition
called argyria. A person with this condition has bluish-gray skin as a
result of silver deposits lodged in the skin, which then react to
sunlight, much in the same way film from a camera reacts to light.
Argyria is said to be permanent and irreversible. It is also very rare.
On the other hand, “good” colloidal silver treatments are actually made up of two kinds of silver compounds: ionic silver and silver colloids. A typical bottle of colloidal silver treatment should contain 70 to 80% silver colloids, with the rest made up of ionic silver.
Silver colloids are minute particles of silver that stay suspended in the liquid base. They are easily absorbed by the body and transported through the blood. Because silver colloids are very tiny, they can pass through cell membranes without getting stuck. As such, they do not remain in tissues and are instead eliminated from the body through the kidneys and the liver.
Colloidal silver works not by directly attacking bacteria. Instead, what it does is to act as a catalyst – that is, they break down certain enzymes found in the membrane surfaces of some one-celled microorganisms. These enzymes are important for oxygen metabolism of the microorganism so that when they are destroyed by colloidal silver treatment, the organism suffocates and eventually dies.
Silver particles can also bind with the DNA of these microorganisms in such a manner that they are inhibited from self-replicating. Thus, colloidal silver has a two-way function: killing bacteria by destroying its essential enzymes and inhibiting reproduction.