Across many cultures, precious metals have been used since ancient times for numerous medical purposes because of their relative rarity and perceived value. Among these precious metals, silver has been no different and Chinese alchemists from as far back as 400 BC created elixirs containing silver that were sold with the promise of prolonging human life. In ancient Greece and Rome, silver was accurately identified for its ability to act as an antibiotic.
In more recent years, snake oil salesmen, self-proclaimed healing experts
and other unsavory characters have been selling the benefits of "colloidal silver" as a treatment for all manner of medical problems despite evidence of side effects and a lack of evidence as to medical benefits. In a number of cases, taking silver supplements has caused a condition called Argyria in which an individual's skin turns gray. As a supplement, silver is certainly not showing much value.
However, within the realm of modern science-based medicine, silver is actually demonstrating considerable worth for a number of purposes. In its modern applications, silver is used in the form of nanoparticles where the size of any given particle is a tiny fraction of the width of a human hair. When delivered in this form in very limited quantities to the body, these particles are showing some very interesting medicinal properties.1. Antibacterial
Among the most recognized of these medical benefits is silver's ability to limit infections. In fact, it is recognized as being effective against more than 600 different types of bacteria. For the treatment of burns, gels containing silver particles have been in use for decades to fight infection. To date, many of the existing products have had a quantity of silver in them that not only kills bacteria, but unfortunately also interferes with the ability of the body to heal. These products can also cause skin discolorations similar to those seen in people taking silver as a supplement.
However, a more recent product, a gel made with nanoparticles of silver, developed at the Indian Agharkar Research Institute, is now enabling more effective prevention of infections with the use of only 1/30th of the silver found in existing gels. Related research from the University of Wisconsin has also developed a means to deliver a smaller, more exact dose of silver that stops bacteria, but not healing. In this case, the silver is precisely delivered using a thin plastic membrane that is placed on the wound. The researchers were able to deliver antibiotic prevention with only 1/250th of the silver typically used in such treatments.
In both cases, the availability of silver nanoparticles enabled the products to be created.2. Antiviral
While the antibacterial properties of silver are impressive on their own, it is not only against bacteria that silver has infection fighting potential. University of Hong Kong researchers found that silver nanoparticles were able to reduce the ability of the Hepatitis B virus to reproduce in the body by more than 50%. From the research details, the silver was identified as interfering with the RNA production of the viruses. RNA in viruses is the equivalent to DNA in animals in that it encodes the makeup of a life form.
Research by the same university on the use of these nanoparticles to fight HIV also showed significant promise. The researchers determined that silver nanoparticles could reduce the reproduction of the HIV virus by more than 90%.
For those infected with these hard-to-treat viral infections, the availability of another powerful tool to fight such infections is quite important. As well, investigations of silver nanoparticles against viruses are still in the early stages so there is potential that silver could serve as a powerful antivirus against many different types of virus.3. Anti-inflammatory
In addition to the benefits of silver in preventing infection, it is also showing benefits against inflammation. Researchers from the University of Alberta found that pigs with inflammation caused by damage to the skin had reduced inflammation following the injections of a specific form of silver nanoparticle.
After 24 hours, the pigs treated with the chemical were beginning to regrow the layers of damaged skin, unlike those that had not been treated. In addition, after 3 days, pigs treated with the silver nanoparticles had almost no inflammation while those pigs that had not been treated with the silver were still inflamed. While providing these benefits, no toxic effects from the silver were observed.4. â€œBlood Thinning"
Though the benefits of silver already described have been related to injury and healing, silver nanoparticles also have potential in a preventative role. In particular, researchers from a number of Indian institutions including Banaras Hindu University have discovered that silver nanoparticles also have â€œblood-thinningâ€ properties. Their research determined that injecting a solution of silver nanoparticles into the bloodstream reduced the ability of the blood to clot
For individuals at risk of Stroke, Coronary Artery Disease or Heart Attack, the use of silver provides a potentially safer alternative to other products that are known to increase the risk of bleeding.Conclusion
Since ancient times, peoples from many regions of the world have perceived medical benefits in the precious metals
and silver has been no exception. However, in most cases, the stated benefits have not stood up to scientific analysis. In contrast, within the realm of modern science, silver nanoparticles are proving to have some important medical benefits that fill gaps where existing medications and treatment have fallen short. What is even better is that the research is only in its infancy with respect to the benefits of silver and further potential for its use is still ahead.
This article has not even touched upon the use of silver in medical imaging so a future article will look at the way silver and other metals are improving the view into our bodies.Related Links