Silver has been used to treat many different diseases for thousands of years. In modern times, the safety of taking a silver supplement is a controversial issue. Opponents claim that silver supplements are dangerous and that health claims are not supported in scientific literature. Proponents of supplemental silver often claim that it is an excellent, inexpensive alternative to antibiotics. Silver seems to have many side effects, some of which are quite unpleasant and long lasting.
Opponents of silver supplements contend that when silver is ingested, it builds up in the body's tissues over time and can lead to argyria or other problems. In argyria, the silver collected in the tissues turns the skin, gums, nail beds, and internal organs blue or blue gray. This is a permanent, non-fatal condition that can have serious social and psychological consequences. Those with argyria may be ostracized, bullied, or worse.
Kidney damage and neurological problems, including seizures, may also result from taking a silver supplement. Other possible side effects include stomach irritation, headaches, fatigue, and irritation of the skin. Taking a silver supplement may also damage the body's ability to absorb certain medications, including thyroxine, tetracycline, quinolones, and penacillamine.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come out against taking a silver supplement and states that it has no medical uses when ingested. In 2009, the agency produced a consumer advisory letter warning of the dangers. Dietary silver supplements are banned in the European Union.
Proponents of silver supplements usually begin their defense of silver noting that it has been used safely throughout history. They claim that the pharmaceutical industry pressured the FDA to announce that silver supplements are not safe. Advocates of silver point to studies demonstrating that it kills more than 650 different micro-organisms and is most effective as an antibiotic. Those who take a silver supplement also claim that it is non-toxic and non-addictive, unlike many prescription medications.
When asked about argyria, proponents say that most of the people who developed this condition have been making their own silver supplements at home and were inadvertently taking in too much silver. Advocates of silver supplementation argue that one to five grams of silver must be ingested over the course of a year to develop argyria. To ingest one gram of silver, a person would need to drink 26 gallons (100 liters) of colloidal silver that has 10 parts per million. This is much more than the usual recommended dose. Proponents believe that most commercially prepared supplements will not cause argyria.
Both sides of the silver supplement argument make some valid points. On balance, it would appear that small doses of silver taken for short periods of time may do no harm. Such doses may not provide any health benefits either. Those considering the addition of a silver supplement may want to speak to a qualified healthcare provider prior first. As with all supplements, caution is probably the safest and wisest way to proceed.