Misconceptions and Myths

There much speculation and pure scientific nonsense being spread around, so much so that it is absolutely staggering. As such, in attempting to sift through all of it, we could not find even a single source of information about silver antibacterial effects that would entirely and fully comprehend and understand the totality of the antibacterial silver phenomenon.

Even sources that have most information correct do contain some tidbits of misinformation. An article may be 90 percent correct, but there is a good chance that 10 percent of the information is incorrect, thus distorting, muddling, and confusing the reliable information.

Misconceptions and misunderstandings are common. The Internet hosts thousands of websites and blogs that promote all sorts of debatable or even dubious information. It may be truncated, lack elementary logic, or be misleading at best and fraudulent at worst. This misinformation is often presented or supported by individuals and even so-called chemists or doctors who have no deep knowledge of chemical laws, especially as they apply to ions or nanoparticles.

For example, it has been said that nanoparticle surface area is what gives silver its antibacterial properties. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is very unlikely, if not impossible, for tiny particles that are very reactive, as these authors say, to look around for bacteria in the deepest corners of an organism and not be neutralized, especially on such a reactive surface. The fact is that the surface charge of the silver particle has nothing to do with antimicrobial activity, as the misinformed websites would have us believe. The surface charge is strictly due to selective absorption of other ions from the surrounding medium to the metal surface.

The charge of the silver ions is very relevant, as it allows it to interact and bind with specific vital sites in the bacteria.; however, this is a chemical reaction.

Nanoparticle surface area has nothing directly to do with antimicrobial activity. There is likely a higher ion concentration emitted by a higher surface area, but the lower ion concentration is more than enough by several orders of magnitude. In the end, there is no real difference. Surface area can only be considered if there is a solid phase (particle). Active antimicrobials are silver ions that are not a solid phase. Their provenience is from the solubilization of Ag nanoparticles in different biological fluids with complex composition or the dissolution or dissociation of other solid particles of compounds/complexes like silver chloride in the biological fluids.

Some websites affirm that silver ions are neutralized in the stomach by the excess chloride that exists in hydrochloric acid, turning the resulting salt into an insoluble complex. Yes, silver ions do interact with the chloride and forms the silver chloride, however, silver chloride (AgCl) salt dissolves further in the presence of excess chloride ions and forms a new soluble complex [AgCl]  with two to three chloride ions. This is extensively dealt with in well-researched literature. Someone who is unaware of this and speaks about silver ions is likely to speak outside the realm of scientific fact.

In addition, in the absence of excess chloride, other species (like amines and carboxylic acids) may dissolve the AgCl and form soluble complexes. These complexes are partially dissociated and release Ag ions in the surrounding medium, which attack the bacteria.

There are many other misconceptions out there as well, and these are worth examining. As the old adage states, it is wise to be aware of the counterfeits in order to know the genuine. There are many misconceptions about what silver can and cannot do.

Misconception: Colloidal silver causes cancer.

There is no statistically significant scientific evidence that links the ingestion of colloidal silver with an increased risk of cancer. In fact, some evidence to the contrary was presented in an article for pet lovers, “Natural Anti-Cancer Protocol for Dogs and Other Animals,” by researcher Tony Isaacs. The article commends colloidal silver for its curative effects on fatty tissue cancers in pets. The article also suggests silver as a treatment for and preventative against parvovirus. Colloidal silver also shows some effectiveness in treating pet joint problems such as arthritis. Perhaps future studies will show this effectiveness in humans too. In fact there are some studies showing that silver is effective against cancer. One example of a study showing “antiproliferative” (read anti-cancer) effectiveness is the one named Anti-proliferative activity of silver nanoparticles; PV AshaRaniM Prakash Hande* and Suresh Valiyaveettil; BMC Cell Biology 2009, 10:65   

Misconception: Nanosilver damages the environment.

The overall answer is that this is simply not true, and here’s why: In theory, if an enormously, vast amount of nanosilver particles were simultaneously dumped on every ton of soil all over the world (such as 28.5 quarts per ton of soil), there could possibly be some environmental damage, albeit not much. What really happens is that the infinitesimal amount of nanosilver that does makes its way into the environment quickly aggregates (clumps), and these larger pieces of silver metal do not harm the environment.

Misconception: Colloidal silver can improve or strengthen the immune system.

Like all antibiotic treatments, colloidal silver is not capable of much influence on the immune system. Any immune system boost is minimal at best.

In addition, just like all other antibiotic treatments, silver can affect the amount of good bacteria inside the body, such as in the gut, but the reduction is not substantial. Most ionic silver interacts with stomach acid and is absorbed as silver chloride, and colloidal silver is so small that it passively diffuses or is absorbed quickly, far before it reaches the beneficial bacteria situated much lower in the intestinal tract. Nevertheless, it is recommended that those partaking of colloidal silver treatments pay close attention to proper nutrition.

It is worthy to note, also, that some recent research indicates that silver nanoparticles may boost TLRs, which are involved with the human immune system; however, much more research needs to be done before conclusive results can be determined.  

Misconception: All bacteria can be killed by colloidal silver.

At the moment, not every bacteria has been studied, and new strains come into existence every day. What can be said is that colloidal silver has proven effective against a wide range of common bacteria.

Resistance to silver, while possible, is very difficult and requires many mutations within the cells. Many bacteria have not been able to survive in the presence of silver for long periods of time. Some, however, can survive and even manufacture silver nanoparticles out of a ionic environment; these are generally resistant to silver toxicity, as they have developed a mechanism to cope and safely deal with silver ions.

Surprisingly (or maybe not) bacteria that can cope well and even manufacture silver nanoparticles are the same as those found in the lower digestive tract. Some of these beneficial bacteria and fungi are: Aspergillus fumigatus, Penicillium[ajc1]  species, Bacillus sp., Brevibacterium casei, Corynebacterium, L. fermentum, Enterococcus faecium, Lactococcus, Lactobacillus, Streptomyces hygroscopicus, E. coli, A. niger, and Enterobacter.

The bacterial development of silver resistance consists mainly of two mechanisms: the accumulation and storage of silver (generally redox chemistry); and the active efflux pump, which sends the silver ions out of the cell.

Misconception: Colloidal silver is harmful to the human body.

Anything can be harmful to the human body if it is taken in a high enough quantity. Intelligent moderation is often the key to safety. Previous chapters in this book have discussed reliable research that shows that professionally made colloidal silver taken in appropriate quantities does not harm the liver, the kidneys, or the nervous system, nor has there been a body of significant evidence to show damage to the body in general. The rare cases of argyria, while perhaps visually unsightly, have no other negative effect.

In vitro studies of spherical silver nanoparticles showed no harm to cells if their sizes were kept between 10 and 30nm. Asymmetric and angled nanoparticles (triangles or star-shaped) may become locally harmful for many different reasons.

Misconception: Since colloidal silver is harmful to bacterial cells, it must also be harmful to human cells.

Available studies indicate that colloidal silver is not harmful to human cells, even though it is harmful to many bacterial ones. It appears that the human body has a different metabolism, different enzymes, and uses thiol groups differently. Also, the human body has several ways of neutralizing and eliminating silver particles and ions once they have done their job. One way is to place the silver ions into biological containers. Another is to bind them to certain biological fibers that render the silver ions virtually ineffective and inactive.

Misconception: The information on colloidal silver is presented in a scientific way, by what appear to be reputable sources, so it must be true.

As is the case with any information supplied for advertising purposes, caveat emptor! (Let the buyer beware!) Here are a few of the favorite ploys currently in use:

Advertising Claim: “Smallest particle size on the market!”

Hype about particle size is already misleading. As we have discussed, reliable research shows that a range of nanosizes works equally well. Particles that are too small are unstable. For example, one site advertises that their particles are 0.8nm. Not only can these clog membrane pores and channels, but they are also not stable in the solution, and they tend to chemically react with impurities and clump together. Given that the diameter of a silver atom is about 0.3nm, these nanosilver particles are comprised of 10 to 20 atoms. Such particles, even if theoretically possible, would be highly chemically unstable, not at all the size we should want moving about inside our bodies. Stable particles are those above 5nm.

Too large is also undesirable, as the particles may lose their ability to slide between cells without becoming trapped. As was discussed previously, the best size for the human body are from 10 to 30nm. Many researchers and health professionals feel 10nm is a great all-purpose particle size.

Advertising Claim: “The clarity of our liquid shows its purity.”

Any information that makes a connection between colorless, clear liquid and high-quality colloidal silver is inaccurate; in fact, it is the utter opposite of the truth. In professionally prepared colloidal silver, the darker the liquid, the more concentrated the product. In other words, there is more colloidal silver in each drop of a darker liquid. For example, one of the professional products on the market is extremely concentrated at 25,000ppm. As a result, the mixture is extremely dark, because light is absorbed by the particles in the liquid. Colorless liquids marketed as colloidal silver are mostly silver nitrate, a silver salt and not colloidal silver in any way, shape, or form.

Advertising Claim: “Our products have been endorsed by Drs. X and Y, leading health professionals.”

Are Drs. X and Y really leading health professionals? Don’t take anyone’s word for it, as your health can depend on it. Today, it is easy enough to Google someone to find information about them. If the so-called doctor is truly a leader in his or her field, they will likely appear often in online searches, on various sites. You should find articles, their own website, or stories about them attending or presenting at conferences. You may even be able to find their CV/résumé. If you find no mention of the alleged doctor or expert anywhere else online, they may not be reliable, if they even exist at all. Moreover, if the website you are reading makes false claims about their experts, they are likely making false claims about their products as well. In general, is it advisable to independently check as much information as you can. You may be surprised at just how much you can verify or not by simply searching the Internet.

The size of silver nanoparticles can be analyzed with appropriate instruments and will give a spike on a resonant frequency. Even if a doctor endorses the product, it is a chemist who typically produces it. Low-quality products are made by low-quality chemists, and high-tech products of exceptional quality are rare almost unheard of.

Misconception: Since glass bottles are classier than plastic ones, the products in them must be of a higher quality.

In the packaging world, glass is often used to maintain product stability. Items that are in no danger of becoming unstable are most often packaged in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, a type of polyester. Many fruit juices, bottled water, and soft drinks are packaged in PET. In fact, the highest number of beverage bottles manufactured globally are PET.

True colloidal silver does not require any help from its packaging to remain stable. As a result, many products are stored and shipped in PET bottles.

Ionic silver solutions and other mixtures masquerading as colloidal silver are often unstable in the presence of visible light, which will cause the photosensitive products to deteriorate, sometimes rather quickly. Amber-colored glass are used to shield such photosensitive products from visible light, thereby increasing their shelf life. Thus, products stored and shipped in amber bottles tend to be of the lowest quality.

Advertising Claim: “Our product has Angstrom (subnano) size colloidal silver”.

They are not real colloids. They are likely solutions of silver salts, or ionic silver. One Angstrom is 0.1 nm, a tenth of a nanometer. Angstrom size particles mean less than 1 nm. The probability of someone producing stable angstrom size silver particles is slim to none, almost impossible. This performance would be at the frontiers of heavily scrutinized peer review science and would bring attention from the scientific world quickly. If someone would prove the existence of stable subnano silver particles they will certainly try to publish their important experiments in prestigious peer review scientific articles and will be recognized in their scientific field as a major contributor. For someone to claim it on the internet without any proof is stretching the believability factor to say the least.

A silver atom has a diameter of 2.9 Angstroms or 0.29 nm, roughly a third of a nanometer. In order for silver particles to have sizes less than 1 nm (~ 3 atomic diameters), they would have to be clusters of silver atoms containing between 4 and 15 atoms. Such small clusters of a few silver atoms are way too unstable due to their high energy.

There are just a few reports published of such silver clusters published (for example by A. Henglein in Berichte der Bunsengesellschaft für physikalische Chemie 05/2010; 94(5):600 – 603. DOI: 10.1002/bbpc.19900940513). They are usually produced in very restrictive and difficult experimental condition (intense radioactive excitation in exotic closed reactors for example). Even then those particles cannot be seen, their presence being detected based on specific absorption bands at 360-390.

The lower the number of silver atoms in a particle the higher their energy is and their potential to interact with another or with the environment is increased by orders of magnitude. At such low numbers of atoms in a particle, the said particles cannot and are not stable due to their high potential energy. They behave more like a fluid cluster stealing atoms from each other and constantly changing their size and shape in attempt to lower their energy.

Only when the particles reach several hundreds and ideally thousands of silver atoms they become stable in time dispersed in water. When this happens the particles are typically above 5 nm in size.

There are two accepted methodologies to prove the existence of dispersed silver nanoparticles. One is by showing the plasmon resonance spike by spectrometry. The other is direct visualization. With all the advances of science there is no current direct visualization instrument capable to effectively observe Angstrom size particles at this time.

Direct visualization usually is achieved by using the scanning electron microscope (SEM) but SEM cannot visualize particles less than 1 nm as the resolution of the method is typically above 1.0 nm. More sensitive is the Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM). Very good (and very expensive) TEM instruments have typically a resolution of ~0.7 nm, or 7 Angstroms. Claiming that one can really detect objects of a size similar to the limit of the instrument resolution (7 Angstrom resolution and 7 Angstrom particles or less) is like saying that is easy or even possible for you to see in detail a nonfunctioning pixel on a TV or computer from a distance.  It is simply not credible.

Additionally, if someone wants to visualize Angstrom-size particles using TEM they absolutely need to deposit the particles on a conductive substrate. That alone can cause false images when the high energy electron pass through both particles and substrate. Basically at 1 nm resolution one does not know if they see the particles in question or they see substrate structures/artifacts.

So, since direct visualization is out of question the only other way for the “scientists” on the internet to claim “Angstrom “-size is to show a clear, well-defined plasmon resonance bands below 380 nm.

Since they are not providing any of the above type of scientific evidence, we conclude that their claims to Angstrom sized silver particles are nothing but bogus made by “scientists” that have little understanding of real science.

Commercial Names

Many products claiming to be colloidal silver or angstrom silver or angstrom-sized silver particle colloids are, in fact, mostly ionic silver solutions. Despite this, their labels and advertising never mention ionic silver or specify the total percentage of silver in their product, silver ions versus silver particles.Many different terms are using to describe ionic silver products, in an attempt to obfuscate the truth: monatomic silver, silver hydrosol, covalent silver, and silver water.

Monatomic silver is another advertising term commonly used to describe ionic silver solutions. Claims for monatomic silver products describe their particles as single atoms of silver. Single atom particles cannot exist due to van der Waal’s force of mutual attraction, which would cause single atoms to be drawn to each other to form particles consisting of clusters of atoms.

Silver hydrosol is yet another term being used to sell ionic silver products. The definition of hydrosol is a colloidal suspension in water. Therefore, silver hydrosol describes colloidal silver. However, products advertised in this way are actually ads for ionic silver products that are typically 95 percent ionic silver.

Covalent silver is the latest entry in the ionic name game. When you read the detailed description for covalent silver, you will find that the term refers to silver ions.

Misleading Information

Some ionic silver describe their properties in terms of silver particles, attempting to confuse the reader into believing in the existence of ionic silver particles. There is no such thing! There are metallic silver particles (nanoparticles) and silver ions, but ionic silver particles do not exist, and the distinction is crucially important. The product that uses this terminology on its label is mostly ionic silver, not silver particles. In fact, most of these products only contain an average of 1 to 10 percent of their silver content in the form of silver particles, with the majority of 80 to 99 percent in the form of ionic silver.

Ionic Silver Bioavailability

Promotional claims made for ionic silver products describe it as having high bioavailability, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Merck Manual makes it clear that bioavailability is the “amount of unchanged drugthat reaches the systemic circulation.” To be bioavailable the substance being ingested must attain systemic circulation unchanged in form. Because silver ions are highly reactive, they quickly form compounds in the body and, therefore, cannot remain unchanged. While it is the highly reactive nature of silver ions that provides its antimicrobial properties, it also causes the rapid formation of compounds and prevents the continued existence of silver ions inside the human body. Because silver ions cannot exist inside the human body, bioavailability is virtually nonexistent. Silver compounds such as silver chloride in the bloodstream provide no meaningful antimicrobial properties.

Van der Waal’s force of mutual attraction prevents the existence of colloids with single-atom particles. The probability of the existence of monatomic colloids is virtually zero. This statement applies to the claims for monatomic colloids of other metals as well, such as gold, copper, zinc, platinum, palladium, rhodium, etc.

Another Name for Ionic Silver

Without exception, laboratory analysis of products claiming to be monatomic colloids have shown that they are, in fact, ionic solutions. Products claiming to be monatomic colloidal silver are ionic silver solutions, just as products claiming to be monatomic colloidal gold are ionic gold solutions and so forth.

Because hundreds of ionic silver products are on the market, how does one distinguish them? In the business of colloidal silver, the answer seems to be the use of terms that are not really technical or scientific at all but sound like it to the average consumer. Monatomic colloidal silver is one such a term. It is typically explained in impressive detail on websites that promote monatomic silver products, but it is really just a marketing term used to hide the truth: What is being sold is an ionic silver solution, just like hundreds of others.

Virtually all ads for monatomic colloidal silver describe the product as being as clear as water. This is one of the distinguishing characteristics of ionic (salt-derived) silver. 

The Reality of Monatomic Silver

Monatomic silver cannot actually exist for the reasons described above. Products advertised as monatomic colloidal silver are actually ionic silver solutions. Not all, but many such products have also been found to contain fairly high concentrations of NO3, which means they contain either nitric acid or nitrates. High concentrations of NO3 are present in some products as a byproduct of the method used to produce them. Neither nitric acid or nitrates should be ingested or applied topically. As far as we can tell, the only reason products claim to be monatomic is to avoid the truth that the products are ionic solutions and not colloids at all. In other words, it is marketing hype, designed to mislead the buying public

How To Compare Colloidal Silver Products

Because there is no accepted standard for reporting the contents of colloidal silver products, producers report the properties of their products in various ways.

You cannot compare ionic silver with colloidal. When comparing colloidal silver within its category, it is best to consider particle size, uniformity, stability, coating, and particle concentration. These properties are verifiable with accurate instruments.

The abnormal practice is to report total silver and nothing else. One problem with this is that it lumps silver particles and ions together in a single value, and this is entirely misleading.

Particle Concentration

The metal concentration in ppm expresses the weight of the metal versus the weight of the liquid in which it is suspended. Particle concentration can be a very confusing measurement when comparing colloidal silver products, because colloids with very large particles can have a high concentration of metal (ppm) but a very low particle surface area. 

Some websites claim that concentration (ppm) by itself does not determine colloidal effectiveness and that only the particle surface area does. However that is not the truth. When one is talking about catalytic or chemical effectiveness the surface area of the particles is important indeed. However, antimicrobial effectiveness is granted via the slow, gentle release of silver ions from a particle core, not by the surface area.

Colloidal silver effectiveness is not, in any meaningful way, dependent on particle surface size. A higher surface size will likely release more silver ions in solution; however, this is rather insignificant, as even a few ions released by lower surface particles are, by far, more than enough for antimicrobial properties.

Silver ions are not particles of metallic silver. Silver particles consist of several silver atoms clustered together and have the physical properties of metallic silver. Silver ions do not have the physical properties of metallic silver. A silver ion is a single atom of silver that is missing one orbital electron. Since the outermost orbital electrons of atoms determine the physical properties of matter, the missing electron causes dramatic changes in the physical properties. For example, metallic silver is not water soluble, but silver ions are and cannot exist without water or some other solvent. Because the physical properties of silver particles and ions are so dramatically different, the terms cannot be used interchangeably.

What most silver experts miss is that there is a constant release of occasional ions from a particle made of thousands of silver atoms. Thus, only one atom in a few thousand becomes an ion and is released from the particle, a type of shedding.

Colloids are silver particles in suspension, not silver ions in solution. To make a true colloid is a complicated, complex, costly process. It is no mystery why most producers choose to make ionic silver instead and simply call it colloidal silver. Thankfully, more consumers are educating themselves about this deception, as well as all of the misleading information out there, and more and more are learning this simple test: If it looks like water, it is ionic silver, not a true silver colloid.

Colloidal Silver Conclusion 11:Colloidal silver is not Superman, nor is it the ultimate bad guy. By learning the scientific facts, an accurate picture of its true abilities can be constructed.

 [ajc1]I am noticing that in certain areas of the manuscript, certain words/sentences look as if they are a smaller/squished-together font, and I don’t know why this is. Make sure your typesetter makes the font size and spacing consistent, as too many fluctuations can be hard on readers’ eyes, especially on e-readers.