Silver: Historical Uses & Current Research

A brief history of the household and medicinal uses of silver – antibacterial, medical, and some of the latest studies from medical scientists and physicists.

Throughout the centuries from the time of the Roman civilization and perhaps earlier, silver was used by various civilizations and cultures:

  • The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, known as ‘the father of medicine’ wrote about the beneficial healing qualities of silver.
  • The ancient Romans and Phoenicians used silver containers to store water and food. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans used silver to prevent infection, and in the Middle Ages, the use of silver returned to popularity as a water and food storage disinfectant. The wealthy used silver table wear, plates and utensils to ward off the full effects of the plagues.
  • Also during the Middle Ages physicians made use of silver’s antibacterial properties for the treatment of wounds and burns.
  • The Chinese aristocracy used silver chopsticks.
  • In the 19th Century, sailors used silver coins in barrels of water and wine to keep their liquid stores stable, and the American pioneers also used silver for the same purposes as they journeyed across the continent. Silver dollars were also used in milk pails to keep the milk fresh, and in the late 19th century physicians were re-discovering the beneficial uses of silver in medicine.
  • During World War I, silver leaf was used in an antibacterial role to dress soldiers’ wounds and burns.
  • From the early 20th Century until the 1940s, silver was very successfully used in various forms in both external and internal medicine as an antibacterial treatment. In 1918 the British medical journal the “Lancet” reported successful internal use of a colloidal silver preparation without adverse effects.
  • With the advent of pharmaceutical antibiotics developed in the 1930s, silver treatments were eclipsed by the new ‘wonder drugs’ being globally promoted.Silver is again rising as a valuable antibacterial agent in hospitals and industry.
  • Washing machines refrigerators, air conditioners, air purifiers and even vacuum cleaners rely upon silver nanoparticles to sterilize up to 650 strains of bacteria. In the countless water
    purifiers that are sold each year, silver is used to prevent the build up of bacteria, chlorine, lead, and other particles as well as odor. Researchers have demonstrated that the orchestrated
    action of silver and oxygen together virtually eliminate the need for chlorine use.
  • Hospitals are beginning to use silver in their water purification systems and communities across the country are gradually replacing chlorine with silver as a preferred disinfectant. The use of silver in medical appliances such a catheters, inhalers, dressings, and surfaces is becoming more common. Pajamas with fine silver threads are even reported to be used in an effort to combat the spread of MRSA spores in infected patients’ beds, bed linens and hospital rooms.
  • The journal of Current Science in October 2006, reported on a study of the use of antibiotics to which pathogens were becoming resistant. The work of the Brigham-Young researchers
    showed that, when used with a “Silver-Water-Dispersion” solution, the drugs began to again be effective…..”Silver-Water-Dispersion TM solution has been shown as an effective antibiotic
    against many Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA and multiple drug-resistant (MDR) strains (Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa). As high level acquired resistance to
    conventional antibiotics is frequent, it seems reasonable to use combination therapy in order to achieve bactericidal synergism. Active silver solutions have shown marked activity against proven bacterial-resistant strains. Hence, a range of antibiotics were tested with Silver-Water Dispersion TM solution to determine antagonism, additive and synergistic effects against a panel of microbial strains.”
  • In the Czech Republic, a group of scientists at the Department of Physical Chemistry, Palacký University, Svobody 26, 771 46, reported in a study published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B in August 2006, and titled, “Silver colloid nanoparticles: synthesis, characterization and their antibacterial activity “ In part, the study stated : “…… .silver particles with a narrow size distribution with an average size of 25 nm, which showed high antimicrobial and bactericidal activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, including highly multiresistant strains such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Antibacterial activity of silver nanoparticles was found to be dependent on the size of silver particles. A very low concentration of silver (as low as 1.69 mug/mL Ag) gave antibacterial performance.”
  • In 2007 in Taiwan, a study conducted at the Department of Textile Science, Nanya Institute of Technology, Chung-Li, Tao-Yuan, Taiwan. Published by the journal Colloids Surface B Biointerfaces in October 2007. Researchers found the silver solution proved to be completely effective against both the MRSA and Pseudomonas super pathogens. The study, which demonstrated conclusively that silver could be applied to contact surfaces to stop colonies of MRSA super pathogens from forming, was titled, “Formation of colloidal silver nanoparticles stabilized by Na(+)-poly(gamma-glutamic acid)-silver nitrate complex via chemical reduction process.
  • In 210 in Iran, a study titled “Synthesis and effect of silver nanoparticles on the antibacterial activity of different antibiotics against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli” conducted at Tehran University’s Department of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and Medical Nanotechnology Research Center, Faculty of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, states in part, “Silver nanoparticles (Ag-NPs) have been known to have inhibitory and bactericidal effects. Resistance to antimicrobial agents by pathogen] nanoparticles were evaluated for their part in increasing the antimicrobial activities of various antibiotics against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. The antibacterial activities of penicillin G, amoxicillin, erythromycin, clindamycin, and vancomycin were increased in the presence of silver nano-particles (AG-NPs) against both test strains. The highest enhancing effects were observed for vancomycin, amoxicillin, and penicillin G against S. aureus.”There are continuing studies reporting instances of the many benefits of using colloidal silver in many different application from medical, industrial and household. This website will continue to update its readers as these reports become known.

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