Taking The Silver Cure

by Cat Ferguson

In 2002, RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan told a reporter from Blender about his post-9/11 health routine: drinking colloidal silver daily. “During the Black Plague, a lot of rich people didn’t get sick… because of the metal intake — the silver in their bodies from their silverware and dishes,” he said. Blender published the article under the excellent headline “IS THE RZA TURNING BLUE?” He has not, as far as we know.

Recently I sent an email to Silver List, a listserv of colloidal silver enthusiasts who share their experiences and advice about making and taking the liquid, asking for people who would talk to a journalist. I included a link to a Scientific American article about a recent Boston University antibiotic study which was surprisingly pro-silver. I wasn’t expecting much of a response. One Neville Munn sent me an email explaining why I should stop paying attention to “rubbish perpetually regurgetated [sic] by the media and mainstream.” He continued, “Not having a go at you personally, but I know how journalists operate here, and I know who pays them, and you won’t find any ‘recent research’ because as I said earlier, all *real* researchers are now dead, all we have today are paid stooges who must conform to whomever is paying them.” His explanation for the BU study: “The silver would have completely and utterly overridden whatever antibiotic was present, it’s that simple. “

Others were much more willing to discuss their personal experiences. I was consistently struck by the good-heartedness of those I spoke with. Both Marshalee Hallett, a homemaker in Utah, and Marshall Nelson, a retired inventor living outside of Chicago, provide their homemade colloidal silver to friends for free or at cost, and descriptions of the people they’ve helped formed the cornerstone of our conversations.

Hallett — Napa High class of ’70 — has four kids, nine grandkids, and the consummate warmth of a professional mom. I told her I was 23. She said, “Oh, kiddo, enjoy your youth while you’ve got it. It sure doesn’t last long.”

Diagnosed with Lyme in 1990 after developing the characteristic bull’s-eye rash, Hallett suffered through the medical fumbles so common with Lyme cases. Even with a course of antibiotics, she developed “stage-three Lyme,” also called late disseminated Lyme. She began experiencing severe joint pain and neurological issues. When her family moved to Arizona, her new doctor prescribed her doxycycline again — for six years. (The NIH recommends a maximum of four weeks of antibiotics.) Another move brought her a doctor who refused to renew her prescription; her symptoms got significantly worse.

“Here’s my little miracle: I said a prayer,” she told me. “I said, ‘God, I don’t mind dying, ’cause I hurt so bad, but I sure would like to stay here and do genealogy, which is my main hobby. So if you want me to stay here and do genealogy, help me to get rid of this thing.’ And I guess He heard me, because my old friend from my junior college days got a box in the mail, and on paper used as packing there was some writing. And she pulled it out, wondering what the heck it was, and it was information about colloidal silver — what it is, how it works, how to make it, and a list of 650 diseases it can cure. And she knew I had Lyme, so she sent it to me.”

Hallett, with the help of her son and her then-husband, built a colloidal silver generator. Alligator clamps run an electric current through a piece of pure silver wire, suspended in distilled water. This knocks charged particles into the water. Within three days, she began to feel better. “I could bend my knees to put my pants on without my knees screaming bloody murder. And I could actually say the same thing I thought. You know, I used to think one thing and something else would come out of my mouth.”

She now buys silver wire in bulk and sells it to family and friends at cost. “I don’t make money. I think it’s just terrible to make money off sick people…. It’s been quite an experience, to go through that and to help other people get well, too.”

She has used colloidal silver for everything from a cockatiel with giardia to a soak for her veggies. “There were three guys on the silver list many years ago. They were all gay, and they treated their AIDS with silver. And one guy wrote in and said he went into the doctor and he had a 98% drop in his viral load,” she said. “When I found out my own youngest son is gay, I said, for Heaven’s sake, Paul, if you or any of your buddies comes down with AIDS, come to me and I’ll cure you.”

A diagram published on Chelsea Green.

In the dark corners of the Internet — where governments and corporations work seamlessly to miseducate the populace — colloidal silver is another victim in Big Pharma’s war on good medicine. There are many different products labelled “colloidal silver,” but in general, it is water with silver particles hundreds of times smaller than a human hair. It’s sold as a cure-all for everything from dandruff to, yes, AIDS.

“When people discovered they could cure the vast majority of their own infections — quickly, safely and effectively — with a few dollar’s worth of colloidal silver, word began to spread rapidly among the American public. The giant pharmaceutical companies quickly realized they would soon be losing tens of millions of dollars annually in sales of their expensive prescription antibiotic drugs if they didn’t do something about it…”

That’s from Life & Health Research Group’s page advertising The Ultimate Colloidal Silver Manual, available at “the steeply discounted price of only $78,” plus $9.95 shipping and handling. “You must act within the next 10 days to take advantage of this special moneysaving offer,” the site claims. The website is copyright 2009.

Silver has been used for millennia to protect compromised tissue from infection. Herodotus, the first historian, claimed that no Persian king would drink water that wasn’t transported in silver-lined vessels; Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used silver to treat ulcers. Between the 19th century and the introduction of antibiotics, surgeons commonly used silver sutures to help prevent postoperative infections. Argyrol, a mixture of silver suspended in gelatin, was the first line of defense for American and Allied troops exposed to STDs, especially gonorrhea. This made inventor Albert Barnes rich enough to amass one of the greatest art collections in the U.S. (No mention of venereal disease is made on the Barnes Foundation’s website.)

Today, silver is used as an antiseptic for burn victims, both as a topical solution and incorporated into bandages themselves. Silver is also used to coat stints and catheters. Since the 1880s, newborns have been given silver nitrate eyedrops to prevent neonatal conjunctivitis, though antibiotics have come to replace it in many hospitals. The CDC even endorses the use of colloidal silver in ceramic water filters for developing nations.

What’s most striking about the various websites advertising colloidal silver — and its up-and-coming counterparts, colloidal gold and iridium — is the repetition. These are the urban legends of the copy/paste era. One tale of curing AIDS with silver begins like this: “Cesar Garcia Ramirez, MD, practicing in Tijuana, became aware of the FIV treatment, and felt that it would be a compassionate act to at least try the therapy on some of his dying AIDS patients. He obtained permission from the Baja California Division of Public Health….”

A Google search for “Baja California Division of Public Health” returns ten results, each one about Cesar Garcia Ramirez, MD — all on colloidal silver shill sites. The only Cesar Garcia Ramirez I could find in Tijuana is Julio Cesar Garcia Ramirez, a professional accordion player. Hundreds of sites refer to either “over 600” or 650 diseases that colloidal silver can treat. The earliest reference I can find to the number is a 1978 article from the now-defunct Science Digest entitled “And now it’s silver that is finding wholly new uses as a wonder in modern medicine… Perhaps it soon will be recognized as OUR MIGHTIEST GERM FIGHTER.” (PDF)

That article was also the source for an often-repeated claim: “After testing 23 methods of purifying water, NASA selected a silver system for the space shuttle.” NASA’s Public Affairs Officer Kelly Humphries told me they don’t currently use silver for water purification, although they’ve tested silver-impregnated fabrics “to keep down odors,” and that Russia uses silver salts on the Mir space station.

The Apollo spacecraft, however, used a silver ionization system for disinfecting water, which they now license to a variety of swimming pool cleaning companies. (NASA documents are great; for a test during Apollo research, “sweat condensate was generated by circulating air at approximately 90°F around a test subject in an enclosed suit as he walked 2 to 4 mph on a tread-mill.”)

A number of sites claim UCLA once did a study showing colloidal silver to be extremely effective against many microbes. The story goes that an “independent researcher” sent some colloidal silver to UCLA Medical Center to be tested on HIV and anthrax, where the solution was found to be extremely effective: “When the UCLA laboratory director called to confirm those findings, the director of the independent laboratory asked to have as [sic] the test results on a letter bearing the UCLA letterhead. However he was advised that a payment of U$ 10,000 was required for this letter. The UCLA lab report confirming the effectiveness remains unofficial.”

A number of sites attribute this research to one Larry C. Ford, at the UCLA Medical Center or UCLA School of Medicine. I didn’t bother calling UCLA, since I figured they’d be disinclined to talk about Larry C. Ford. He killed himself in 2000, after being questioned in the shooting of his business partner. A search of Ford’s house uncovered assault rifles, C-4, and a wide variety of dangerous pathogens, including cholera and typhoid fever. He also had ties to South Africa’s notorious Wouter Basson, also known as the South African Mengele, who conducted a number of gruesome experiments on blacks during Apartheid. “Ties,” in this case, means that he advised scientists in making biological weapons out of household objects to be used against anti-Apartheid activists.

Researchers from Rice University tested nanoparticles of uncharged silver versus ions in killing bacteria, and found that metallic silver was 7,665 times less toxic than silver ions. Simon Silver researches bacterial resistance to heavy metals at University of Illinois (one presumes he had no choice but to study the stuff). He told me products advertising nanosilver are probably immobilized silver that release ions. However, he has no real data to back that up, because the NIH hasn’t funded much research on silver, leaving the private market to develop consumer products. “There’s no published data,” he said, “because that’s not the companies’ job.”

According to that study published in June, Boston University researchers combined silver ions with antibiotics in a variety of experiments, and found that silver can boost efficacy up to 1000% against a number of bacterial strains. Considering how big of a problem multiple-drug resistant bacteria has become, a “new” weapon in the arsenal would be a public health victory. I asked Jim Collins, the senior researcher, about people adding silver to their antibiotic routines. “Without having done a human trial yet, I would hesitate to say, but I think if someone added it to an antibiotic in a dish or to a mouse, we know that’ll work.”

Last year, a team led by the University of Manitoba soaked condoms in a solution containing silver nanoparticles. The condoms were able to kill both HIV and herpes — in the lab. A 2005 study suggests a mechanism: tiny silver clusters attach to HIV-1, preventing the virus from binding to human cells.

Categories of interest from Educate-Yourself include colloidal silver, chem trails, Planet X and, of course, the U.S. concentration camps.

Health food stores and online shops trade on both these scientific uses and the New Age crowd’s distrust of modern medicine to sell various sprays, ointments, and tonics containing either colloidal or ionic silver. Companies sell silver-impregnated dishcloths, mops, and even toothbrushes (sample slogan: “Norwex + H2O = Clean”), while others market devices to make your very own colloidal silver solutions.

It can be difficult to tell who genuinely believes that silver can cure deadly diseases and who is deliberately taking advantage of the gullible. Francis S. Key (no word on relationship to the songwriter), the “principal scientist and founder” of the Colloidal Science Laboratory is one or the other. His lab offers analytic services for those who wish to test their colloidal silver, including a $299 particle size distribution test, or, for those on a budget, a $49 turbidity measurement, which determines the clarity of the liquid. These tests can help ascertain whether the mixture contains metallic silver, silver ions, or no silver at all. The same results could detract from or boost sales, depending on who’s asking.

Purest Colloids brags its “…true silver colloid consists of silver nanoparticles, not ions,” and that only ionic silver can cause argyria — the skin-discoloring bane of the silver enthusiast that did not affect RZA. Natural-Immunogenics’ Sovereign Silver, on the other hand, is “the suspension of a high content (96%) of ultra-fine, positively charged silver ions (Ag+) in only pharmaceutical-grade purified water. This is not to be confused with ionic silver, an inferior form of neutral silver/silver salt that is in solution (dissolved), rather than in colloidal suspension.” (For the nerds: A colloid is a material with particles between 1 nanometer and 1000 nanometers, suspended in another material. Sovereign Silver lists its particle size as .8 nanometers, which would make it a solution. Details!)

Expense is a common way to explain why colloidal silver hasn’t been proven an effective cure-all in any mainstream studies. After the European Food Safety Authority put forward its Food Supplement Directive in 2002, supplement companies had until 2005 to conduct safety and efficacy testing for their products. No colloidal silver companies performed these tests, claiming that they either were unaware of the directives or found them prohibitively expensive, leading them to be effectively banned in the EU. Natural-Immunogenics, which produces Sovereign Silver, one of the most widely-available colloidal silver brands in the U.S. — I found it at Whole Foods in Oakland, and it’s #3 on Amazon in “Colloidal Minerals” — did provide the EFSA with some safety tests, but they were deemed insufficient.

Anders Sultan, a Swedish colloidal silver manufacturer (consistently referred to in the literature as “Sweden’s largest colloidal silver manufacturer, maker of the Ionosil brand of colloidal silver”), claims that no colloidal silver companies provided the necessary documents because “conducting a bioavailability study was a must in order to have even a slim chance of keeping an unapproved ingredient like silver on the market. A study like this is basically the same as a Phase I drug study, costing in the range of $120,000 U.S. dollars or more… The EFSA also requires proof of safety and efficacy. So you can see that many hundreds of thousands of dollars in testing would have to be spent, and even after that there was no guarantee the EFSA would approve the ingredient for use in nutritional supplements.” Sultan’s company now markets its colloidal silver as a “water disinfectant,” to get around the EU ban.

The FDA banned the sale of silver as an over-the-counter drug in 1999; all products are sold in the U.S. as dietary supplements. The agency has issued 23 warning letters since then against colloidal silver sellers for claiming the product can cure anything from Crohn’s disease to corneal injuries.

The EPA’s reference dose for colloidal silver — the level of daily exposure to silver unlikely to cause harm, even to sensitive groups — is 5 uL per kilogram per day; the ramifications of surpassing this are unclear. Silver has never been recorded to cause organ failure or other serious conditions besides argyria, in which the user’s skin turns permanently grey-blue.

Argyria is caused by a massive, regular intake of silver. Brown researchers recently identified the cause of the skin discoloration as the same chemical process used to develop old black and white photographs. Stomach acid corrodes the silver, turning the particles into ions and tricking the body into absorbing them with other dietary salts. Those travel through the bloodstream, getting deposited into skin along the way. Then sunlight turns the particles back into regular silver, lending the drinker a characteristic greyish glow. People have gotten argyria in a variety of creative ways, including silver acetate gum, which is used to help stop smoking by making cigarettes taste even more unpleasant. Anti-silver activist and argyria sufferer Rosemary Jacobs turned grey after a doctor prescribed her a silver-containing nasal spray for allergies in 1953. Though many websites claim that the term “blue blood” comes from aristocrats getting argyria from their silver utensils, it was born far more boringly as a descriptor of blue veins standing out against lily-white skin.

Every once in a while, the media will seize on an unlucky argyria victim, wringing out some freakshow appeal for a news cycle or two. Two-time libertarian senate candidate Stan Jones earned mild national interest a few years ago by running for various political offices while looking like an aspiring daguerreotype. He never won an election, although that may have had less to do with his pigment and more to do with his conviction that the Eurozone is proof that the “secret organizations of the world’s power elite are… leading us into a one-world Communist government.”

This obsession with a shadowy “elite” is a common theme among colloidal silver proponents. “Big Pharma and the ruling elite know extremely well that the less nutrition a consumer gets his hands on, the more prone he is to become malnourished and end up at a doctor’s office with symptoms of some disease that requires prescription drugs,” said Anders Sultan.

“The tragic thing about silver, as I now see it, is that it actually does have very interesting microbial activity — not just bacterial, but also fungal, yeasts, molds, are all affected by colloidal silver, unlike traditional antibiotics, which are much more specific,” said Remco Spanjaard, a biotech researcher who has conducted a few non-peer reviewed lab experiments that show silver’s efficacy as an anti-microbial. “But because it’s sort of been hijacked by all the frauds and hucksters on the Internet, it has ended up in such a bad corner where no self-respecting scientist can devote any serious clinical time or money.”

Along with a business partner, Spanjaard is now developing a topical application for consumer use. Because silver can’t be patented, he wouldn’t share details with me before it hits the shelves.

Marshall Nelson, the other silver advocate I spoke to, describes himself variously as an inventor and a “manager type.”

“I’ve been very very successful,” he said. “When I was working, I could stand inside or outside anywhere, and always point to a product I invented. How do you like that?”

Nelson has that particularly grandfatherly way of talking, a cross between lecturing and storytelling. He speaks slowly, his sentences frequently punctuated with “you know?” and “isn’t that interesting?” If you mapped his pitch as a line graph it’d look like a sine wave. I am fairly sure I was benefiting from the voice he uses for children and the mentally infirm, a feeling solidified when he referred to me as “kind of a research neophyte” after I ask him to source his claims about the United States government preventing a Japanese company from selling a washing machine that uses colloidal silver.

How did he find his information? “On the Internet. Everything I find out is on the Internet…. I am a researcher. I’ve developed products my whole life, I’m good at doing research, and so I just know how to do it, that’s all. If you want to find that, just do research. Get on Google, and you’ll find that, if you know how to do research properly. Maybe you don’t.” (Samsung, a Korean company, has a line of washing machines that add ionic silver to the washing cycle. I couldn’t find one sold in the U.S. by a Japanese company, but I also didn’t try very hard to find one.)

“You want to write an article that will really get you in trouble?” he said. “This guy developed this silver product and it cured AIDS. And so some decorated black war veteran was the first person to take this. He had AIDS, and they put 40 ppm in his bloodstream and it cured the AIDS in one day. And he was so excited, he started running around giving lectures — and he was killed.”

That would be Boyd Graves, a Naval officer and lawyer who repeatedly sued the government for, he contended, introducing AIDS into the human population as an effort to “depopulate” Third World countries and the gay community. Graves championed a treatment called tetrasilver tetroxide, sold as either Tetrasil or Imusil. The treatment never went through FDA trials. The inventor, Marvin Antelman, filed a patent in 1997.

The claim includes a description of a “study” in which nine people with AIDS in rural Honduras were instructed to stop taking their medication and injected with “a multitude of tetrasilver tetroxide molecular crystals.”

From the patent:

…humans injected in this manner, upon being inspected after three weeks or more had elapsed and compared with similar humans that had been given placebos, were completely cured of AIDS. The control group still manifested AIDS…. Furthermore, [seven out of nine] terminal patients were still alive in 1995 after a year and a half had elapsed from their initial injection.

Because it is not a peer-reviewed study, or a legitimate piece of science, there is no real explanation of controls, or what Antelman means by “cured of AIDS.” But besides the obvious absurdity of a cure for AIDS going unnoticed for almost 20 years, the fact that Antelman filed a patent — a document whose sole purpose is to protect the profit margin for inventors — instead of freely distributing his knowledge makes it clear that he just wanted an official document to legitimize his claims.

As for Graves, reports conflict, but the one I find most convincing is that he died of AIDS in 2009. His website has an obituary that lists no cause of death. The San Diego County records confirm that Boyd Graves died there in June of 2009.

I bought a bottle of Sovereign Silver — 10 parts per million! — a few days into beginning my research for this article. After a month of drinking it, using it on cuts, and even putting some in my eyes to see what would happen, I can really only report that it hasn’t turned me blue and tastes like weird water. “That’s probably because it is weird water,” my boyfriend said.

Cat Ferguson has a dog, an email, and a twitter.