Don’t be fooled, colloidal silver sprays and creams won’t benefit your health.
In the continuing trend of the New Zealand media advertising ineffective health products as though it’s news, stuff.co.nz has published an article pushing colloidal silver for treating infections and skin conditions.
EDIT 2016/06/16: Last night I emailed the editorial team at stuff.co.nz with my concerns about this article. This morning they have responded to my complaint by withdrawing the article and replacing it with a correction. I think this is a commendable response. Here is part of the message I received in response this morning:
Your concerns were justified. The article clearly fell a long way below our editorial standards. We have moved to retract the article and replace it with an apology. You can read that at this link.
Geoff Collett, National Life & Style editor
The article quotes a naturopath and sales representative from Skybright Natural Health, a company that sells colloidal silver products, saying that:
Ionic colloidal silver is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. It supports the immune system when the body is under attack and micro-organisms cannot build up resistance to it.
It’s also completely safe for every single person in the family to use, babies included.
What the article doesn’t tell you is that there’s no evidence colloidal silver can do any of that. And we’ve known this for quite some time. In 1999, the FDA issued a rule on colloidal silver stating that:
all over-the-counter (OTC) drug products containing colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts for internal or external use are not generally recognized as safe and effective and are misbranded.
Over-the-Counter Drug Products Containing Colloidal Silver Ingredients or Silver Salts | Final rule by the FDA
And despite that rule being 17 years old now, the state of the evidence remains unchanged. America’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCAM) has a rather succinct “bottom line” on colloidal silver products, last assessed as up to date in September 2014:
How much do we know about colloidal silver?
There are no high quality studies on the health effects of taking colloidal silver, but we do have good evidence of its dangers.
What do we know about the effectiveness of colloidal silver?
Claims made about the health benefits of taking colloidal silver aren’t backed up by studies.
What do we know about the safety of colloidal silver?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that colloidal silver isn’t safe or effective for treating any disease or condition.
Colloidal Silver | NCCAM
Colloidal silver has been on my radar for quite some time now. Here in New Zealand, it’s been promoted for various conditions: predominantly infections and skin conditions, but also extending as far as cancer. The evidence for its efficacy is equally absent for all of these claims.
I’m aware of three New Zealand companies that have been challenged on their colloidal silver health claims via complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority: Colloidal Health Solutions, Salud New Zealand, and Liquid Pearl. None of these advertisers were able to provide evidence to support the health claims they were making. (For full disclosure, I gave advice to the complainants for two of those complaints.)
In 2013, I got in touch with another company promoting colloidal silver products in New Zealand, “Health House”. I wanted to know what evidence they had to back up the claims they were making. In particular, I wanted to know if they had any evidence that came from the product being tested in vivo, i.e. in a living organism.
Much of the evidence used to back up health claims about colloidal silver products comes from in vitro testing, as opposed to being tested in people or animals. This is dangerous; many many potential new drugs may appear effective in in vitro tests but then turn out to be ineffective or worse, unsafe, when tested in animals or people. So if we rely on this low quality evidence to make health decisions, we run the risk of using ineffective and/or harmful products.
Unsurprisingly, the response I received from Health House was that that they don’t have any credible evidence to back up their claims. As well as telling me this, they also decided to send me a list of (anonymised) customer testimonials.
In my opinion, this is a very deceitful tactic. Relying on incredibly low level evidence to back up health claims, and promoting them alongside testimonials which can be both misleading and very convincing, is not an ethical way to promote a healthcare product or empower patients to make informed decisions. That said, it is also a very common tactic among promoters of colloidal silver and other ineffective health products.
Using health testimonials in advertising is prohibited in the Medicines Act for this very reason, although that provision is hardly observed and barely enforced.
As well as saying colloidal silver can treat various conditions, promoters like Skybright also claim it is safe. In the quote for the stuff.co.nz article, Skybright even said it was safe for use on babies. As far as I’m aware, that’s essentially true, but with one big caveat. The reason it’s true is that it’s only legal to sell colloidal silver in New Zealand if it’s at too low a concentration to have any effect.
In 2003, then Minster of Health Annette King answered a question about colloidal silver from Rodney Hide (quoted in part):
Rodney Hide: is Medsafe permitting colloidal silver manufacturers and promoters in New Zealand to distribute material containing therapeutic claims; if so, why; if not, what has it done to stop such distribution?
Annette King: No. Distributing material containing therapeutic claims for colloidal silver products would breach the Medicines Act 1981… Colloidal silver products containing less than 10 parts per million of silver do not need consent to distribute under the Medicines Act providing no therapeutic claims are made. Therefore, once references to therapeutic claims have been removed and as long as the product contains less than 10 ppm of silver, there is nothing to prevent these products being advertised again.
5463 (2003). Rodney Hide to the Minister of Health | New Zealand Parliament
Even if colloidal silver was able to treat infections, at a concentration as low as 10 ppm it would be surprising if it had any effect. Luckily, those effects you’ll be missing out on include your skin turning permanently blue.
I’m not joking. It’s called argyria. Your skin turns blue and stays that way, and it can be caused by taking too much colloidal silver. It looks like this:
That’s a photo of Paul Karason, probably the most famous sufferer of argyria caused by colloidal silver. More cases of harm caused by colloidal silver can be found documented on the website whatstheharm.net. One sufferer of argyria caused by colloidal silver, Rosemary Jacobs, has written about the dangers of colloidal silver and the ignorance of some naturopaths promoting it.
While legally sold colloidal silver products aren’t likely to be harmful, there is a real potential for harm if you’re going to make your own colloidal silver. DIY “make it yourself” colloidal silver kits aren’t hard to find for sale online, including on sites like Trade Me. I honestly do worry that someone is going to read that it’s safe for babies, and wind up using some colloidal silver someone made at home which is far more concentrated than 10 ppm.
On a lighter note, it just so happens that my favourite bit of New Zealand pseudoscience comes from an ad for Skybright’s colloidal silver cream, so of course I just have to share it here. When you see as much quackery as I do, it helps to be able to laugh at it on occasion.
In the listing for Skybright colloidal silver cream on the NetPharmacy website (it’s a real Auckland pharmacy, not just online), the promotional text explains:
when cells become infected with a bacteria they lose a positive electron and become negatively charged
Skybright Colloidal Silver Cream | NetPharmacy
1EDIT NOTE 2016/09/27: The naturopath who was cited in the Stuff article has contacted me to say that they had left Skybright before the Stuff article was published, and that the quote has been incorrectly attributed to them. As such, I have changed the attribution to Skybright.
10 thoughts on “Colloidal Silver Blues”
Thanks for the article. I just noticed that my local supermarket is selling Salud products (including colloidal silver spray) right alongside the homeopathic ‘remedies’ for jet lag. They’ll be getting a letter of complaint soon and it’s nice to see another voice of reason.
Glad to hear it occam99, and good luck with that. I’ve actually complained about No-Jet-Lag before, which I assume is the homeopathic product you’re talking about. It was being promoted in an Auckland pharmacy, which removed it from sale after the Advertising Standards Authority upheld my complaint. You can read more about that here if you’re interested: https://honestuniverse.com/2014/07/03/ethical-pharmacy-practice-and-homeopathic-no-jet-lag/
No-Jet-Lag is one of them, and there is another as well but I can’t recall the name off the top of my head. My successful complaint against Salud was one of the ones you mentioned in the article and the ASA response will form part of my complaint.
We were recommended Colloidal Silver for our cat… a few moments of research online convinced us it was a bad idea… but for use babies sound ok.
Hmm, colloidal silver for animals isn’t something I’d run across before writing this, but you’re not the first person to mention it to me today. As far as I’m aware, there’s just as little evidence of health benefits for any animals as there is for humans.
I was in a ‘NZ Natural Dog’ yahoo group for a while, and they were very big on it there. At least most dogs already have dark grey skin … :-\
I just lodged another complaint against SALUD, since I see they are up to their old tricks on Facebook again.
I notice that I need to waive any right to pursue the complaint through other channels. What happens if an advertiser, like SALUD, just keeps doing what they’re doing? Do I have to gather another body of evidence to take to the Commerce Commission or would that count as something the waiver prohibits?
Hmm, I’ve run into this sort of problem previously with an advertiser of amber teething necklaces. The wording of the ASA’s waiver means essentially that, if you complain to the ASA and they agree it’s something they can consider, you agree to let them handle the whole thing. My understanding is that includes making sure the advertiser complies with their decision, but it also only applies to the single ad that your complaint was about.
What I’d recommend you do in this case is write to the ASA again to let them know that SALUD doesn’t seem to be complying with their decision to uphold your complaint, as they’re still making the same claims in advertising. The ASA might then get in touch with SALUD to remind them of their responsibility, or they might suggest you write a new complaint for them to consider.
If SALUD continues to not comply with the ASA’s decisions, then going to the Commerce Commission is a good idea. It can be hard to get them to do anything, particularly with small cases like this, but unlike the ASA they really have power to enforce the rules.
In the case I mentioned about the advertiser of amber teething necklaces, I talked with the ASA about it and they decided to escalate it to the Commerce Commission and Medsafe. Originally, unfortunately, both of those organisations decided to do nothing. But months later the Commerce Commission changed their mind and did take action, which resulted in a formal warning against the advertiser: http://www.comcom.govt.nz/the-commission/media-centre/media-releases/detail/2015/baa-baa-beads-warned-over-health-claims
I, too, was doing my research into buying a Colloidal Silver Cream. On this page (https://pharmacydepot.nz/collections/supplements/products/skybright-colloidal-silver-cream-100g), the tone and words used are noticeably more “supportive” rather than “will treat”.
“…supports the body’s immune system and defences for natural healing”
“…support the body’s natural response”
And yes, when it first came out a few years ago, I do remember it being touted as “the cream” to go for when it comes to wound / cuts.
Yeah that sort of wording is commonly used when promoting health fraud scams in New Zealand, as it essentially circumvents the regulations. I wrote more about that a few years ago if you’re interested: https://honestuniverse.com/2013/02/12/how-to-read-medical-advertisements/