Hi, Steve Barwick here, for The Silver Edge...
People continue to ask me what the difference is between “true colloidal silver”, “nanosilver” and “ionic silver.”
To understand, you first have to grasp the simple fact that the term “colloidal silver” is an umbrella termcovering many different types of liquid antimicrobial silver products, such as:
While there are some pretty big differences between each of these forms of colloidal silver, the main thing to remember is that they’re all “colloidal” in nature.
That is to say, they’re all composed of relatively small particles of one form of silver or another, suspended homogenously and indefinitely in water. They’re not dissolved in the water. They’re tiny, submicroscopic particles of silver suspended in the water.
What makes each of these forms of colloidal silver different is how they’re produced and how they workinside the human body.
So in the remainder of this article we’re going to examine those two crucial factors carefully. But for the sake of time, we’re only going to look at the two most popular forms of colloidal silver, i.e., the ionic form and the metallic form.
The Differences Between Ionic Silver and Metallic Silver
The two main types of colloidal silver vying for the spotlight today are the ionic form, and the metallic form. And it’s around these two forms of colloidal silver that most of the controversy swirls. So we’ll take a good hard look at the differences between these two forms of colloidal silver, below.
The ionic form of colloidal silver is the most common form sold in health food stores today. Indeed, it’s been the #1 best-selling form of colloidal silver for over 100 years, and it continues to be the bestselling form of colloidal silver to this very day.
The metallic form of colloidal silver is the second most common form sold in health food stores today. It can also be referred to as nanoparticle silver, but only if the metallic silver particles it’s composed of are less than 100 nm in size on average.
Metallic Silver Facts
Let’s examine the metallic form of colloidal silver first:
This form of colloidal silver is also often erroneously referred to by internet marketers as “true colloidal silver.”
It’s important to note, however, that the term “true colloidal silver” is a completely made-up term. It cannot be found anywhere in the scientific or medical nomenclature. That’s because it’s an advertising gimmick, and not an actual recognized medical or scientific term.
In fact, a friend of mine who’s been the research director of a pharmaceutical firm for years often challenges people to find the term “true colloidal silver” in any reputable medical textbook or clinical reference work. He even offers to buy them a gallon of their favorite brand of “true colloidal silver” if they can produce such a reference.
But he’s never been taken up on the challenge because there’s simply no reference to “true colloidal silver” in any of the standard recognized medical or clinical reference texts in the entire world.
In short, there’s simply no such thing as “true colloidal silver.” Clinical researchers won’t even use the term in their clinical studies because they don’t want to be laughed out of the room.
So for the sake of clarity and scientific accuracy we’ll continue to use the correct nomenclature and refer to the so-called “true colloidal silver” as the metallic form of colloidal silver, or nanosilver.
The metallic form of colloidal silver is generally manufactured through a chemical process in which a silver compound such as silver nitrate or silver acetate is chemically reduced until there’s nothing left but tiny, bare metal particles of elemental silver suspended in water.
But metallic silver can also be manufactured through a high-voltage A/C process in which extremely high voltages of electricity up to 25,000 volts are used to force tiny particles of elemental silver to disassociate (i.e., break loose) into water from a larger silver rod or bar.
Another less-often-used method for producing the metallic form of colloidal silver is to take finely ground-up elemental silver and add it to water whilesonicating it (i.e., mechanically agitating the silver particles) in order to bring it into a colloidal suspension.
The bottom line is that no matter how you produce the metallic form of colloidal silver, when you drink it you’re drinking tiny particles of bare metal elemental silver. It would be the same as if you could use your knife to whittle raw silver particles off a silver coin, only the silver metal particles in the metallic form of colloidal silver are much smaller, of course.
Ionic Silver Facts
Now let’s examine the ionic form of colloidal silver:
The ionic form of colloidal silver is almost always produced through a low-voltage D/C electrical process, rather than being chemically manufactured, ground up and mechanically sonicated or disassociated with from elemental silver using high-voltages of electricity.
What happens is that a current of low-voltage electricity is passed through two pure silver rods immersed in pure distilled water. As the electrical current passes through one of the silver rods, hydrogen and hydroxide ions are produced making the distilled water slightly conductive – just enough to allow the electrical current to flow through the water toward the other silver rod.
As this process gradually accelerates, submicroscopic silver ions (i.e., tiny atomic and molecular particles of pure silver) are slowly liberated into the water from one of the silver rods, where they’re suspended by a positive electrical charge.
These tiny atomic and molecular particles of silver act as electrolytes, allowing the electrical current to flow even more strongly between the two silver rods, liberating even more silver ions in the process.
Unlike the metallic form of colloidal silver, these are not tiny particles of bare metal elemental silver. Instead, they’re tiny, electrically-charged atomic and molecular particles of silver – which is to say, they’re silver particles missing an electron.
Physically, the missing electron and the resulting positive electrical charge is the only thing that distinguishes these silver particles from bare metal elemental silver particles.
Indeed, it’s that missing electron that allows the tiny silver ions to carry their positive electrical charge, which does two things:
1.) makes the silver far more biologically active inside the human body against pathogens, and…
2.) makes the silver and far more bio-available (i.e., easier for the body to absorb and utilize).
I’ll explain why this is true, in-depth, throughout the remainder of this article. But simply put, the ionic form of colloidal silver is the most readily bio-available and bio-effective form, which is exactly why it’s been the #1 best-selling form of colloidal silver for nearly 100 years.
You may not realize it, but the ionic form of colloidal silver is the same naturally occurring form of silver found in food plants such as wheat, edible mushrooms, edible sea vegetables (Nori, Kombu, Wakame, Arame, Hijiki, Dulse) and others.
You see, plants absorb minerals from the ground or from the water through their root systems or other nutrient intake systems. And they quickly convert these minerals into their ionic form.
Why? Because it’s the ionic form that’s the most readily bio-available…the most biologically active…and therefore the most useful and beneficial in the body for both humans and animals that eat the plants.
So Mother Nature makes sure that minerals are in their most bioavailable form in our food plants, so we’ll get the most out of them, nutritionally speaking, when we eat them.
Were this not true, there would be little positive benefit whatsoever from eating plants in order to obtain the minerals our bodies need to function. We could just eat dirt instead, and consume our minerals in their elemental (i.e., metallic) form. But the human body is simply not equipped to use the elemental form of silver very well.
Instead, nature has decreed that the human body utilizes minerals – including silver -- in the ionic form, which, again, is exactly why Mother Nature has her food plants convert minerals into the ionic form.
So when you use the ionic form of colloidal silver, you’re using the same form that occurs naturally in food plants. In other words, minerals in their ionic form are the way Mother Nature intended for them to be ingested.
A Brief Review
To briefly review, when you ingest the metallic form of colloidal silver (i.e., nanosilver, or so-called “true colloidal silver”), you’re ingesting tiny, bare metal elemental silver particles in a colloidal suspension.
And when you ingest the ionic form of colloidal silver, you’re ingesting tiny, submicroscopic atoms and molecules of silver – also known as ionic silver particles -- that have been electrically liberated from bare metal silver into a colloidal suspension.
In spite of what’s been said on the internet, both metallic silver suspensions and ionic silver suspensions are “colloidal silver.” After all, they’re both composed of tiny particles of silver suspended homogenously and indefinitely in a liquid solution.
The big difference between the two is that the metallic form of colloidal silver is composed of tiny, bare metal particles of elemental silver, while the ionic form of colloidal silver is composed of tiny positively-charged atomic or molecular particles of silver that have been liberated from metallic silver using low-voltage electricity.
Both are “colloids,” with the bare metal elemental silver suspension being a metallic colloid, and the ionic silver suspension being a colloidal electrolyte (due to the electrically charged atomic and molecular particles of silver).
This is why both forms – metallic and ionic -- have been universally called “colloidal silver” for the past 100-plus years, until only recently when purveyors of the metallic form began claiming only theirs could be called a “true colloid.” It’s a great marketing gimmick. But scientifically speaking, the claim is a farce.
The metallic silver suspensions are colloids. And the ionic silver suspensions are colloids. Again, one is a colloidal suspension of tiny metal particles of silver. And one is a colloidal suspension of tiny electrically-charged ionic particles of silver just like you’d find naturally in edible plants.
The Truly Important Distinction
Now here’s the truly important distinction you need to understand:
It’s the tiny, submicroscopic silver ions (i.e., positively charged atoms or molecules of silver) that give ALL forms of colloidal silver their infection-fighting properties.
In fact, ALL reputable experts agree that silver ions are the biologically active, infection-fighting “specie” of silver, while bare metal elemental silver particles have almost no infection-fighting qualities of their own except to the extent that they shed silver ions when they come into contact with acidic bodily fluids or highly-oxygenated body tissues.
For example, here’s a quote from Britain’s top expert on antimicrobial silver, Alan B.G. Lansdown, author of Silver In Healthcare: Its Antimicrobial Efficacy and Safety in Use, which is considered to be the definitive textbook for doctors on the medical use of silver:
“Metallic silver is inert in the presence of human tissues but ionizes in the presence of moisture, body fluids, and secretions to release the biologically active Ag+ (i.e., ionic silver)”.
-- Alan B.G. Lansdown, A Pharmacological and Toxicological Profile of Silver as an Antimicrobial Agent in Medical Devices, Advances in Pharmacological Sciences, Vol. 2010, Article ID 910686
As you can see, Dr. Lansdown agrees that the silver ion (also known as Ag+) is the biologically active, infection-fighting form of silver, and that metallic silver is basically inert except to the extent it begins to shed silver ions in the body when it comes into contact with certain bodily fluids.
Here’s another quote; this one from Microbe Wiki, the online encyclopedia of all things microbial:
"In order for silver to have any antimicrobial properties, it must be in its ionized form. Silver in its non-ionized form is inert, but contact with moisture leads to the release of silver ions.”
-- Microbe Wiki, Silver as an Antimicrobial Agent
That’s pretty darned clear, I think you’ll agree. Silver must be in the ionized (i.e., ionic) form in order to kill pathogens.
If silver is in its non-ionized form (i.e., metallic elemental silver) it can only kill pathogens to the extent it begins to shed silver ions when it comes into contact with acidic bodily fluids. This simple fact is recognized throughout both science and industry. For example, here’s another quote, this one from an industry source:
“Metallic silver is relatively unreactive. However, when exposed to aqueous environments some ionic silver (Ag+) is released… the principle activity of silver is as a result of the production of silver ions within an aqueous matrix.”
-- Technical White Paper: Antimicrobial Activity of Silver, Industrial Microbiological Services Ltd., September 2005
And here’s another expert quote, this one from top Rice University researchers who have studied the question of metallic versus ionic silver extensively:
“Scientists have long known that silver ions, which flow from nanoparticles when oxidized [i.e., when they lose an electron -- ED] are deadly to bacteria.
But scientists have also suspected silver nanoparticles themselves may be toxic to bacteria, particularly the smallest of them at about 3 nanometers.
Not so, according to the Rice team that reported its results this month in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.
In fact, when the possibility of ionization is taken away from silver, the nanoparticles are practically benign in the presence of microbes.”
-- Rice University News, “Ions, Not Particles, Make Silver Toxic to Bacteria,” quoting Pedro Alvarez, George R. Brown Professor and chair of Rice’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department
And quoting directly from the Abstract of the actual Rice University study, titled “Negligible Particle-Specific Antibacterial Activity of Silver Nanoparticles,” which was published in the July 5, 2012 issue of the journal Nano Letters:
“For nearly a decade, researchers have debated the mechanisms by which AgNPs [i.e., silver nanoparticles] exert toxicity to bacteria and other organisms.
The most elusive question has been whether the AgNPs exert direct ‘particle-specific’ effects beyond the known antimicrobial activity of released silver ions (Ag+).
Here, we infer that Ag+ [i.e, silver ions – ED] is the definitive molecular toxicant.
We rule out direct particle-specific biological effects by showing the lack of toxicity of AgNPs [i.e., metallic silver – ED] when synthesized and tested under strictly anaerobic conditions that preclude Ag(0) oxidation and Ag+ release.”
In other words, when the researchers took away the ability of the metallic nanosilver to shed silver ions, the metal particles were no longer toxic to bacteria. It is only when metallic silver (i.e., nanosilver) is able to shed silver ions that it can kill bacteria.
Again, that’s brand new research by top clinical researchers from Rice University. But it’s been known for over half a century that metallic silver is biologically inert – meaning it has no antimicrobial qualities of its own except to the extent it sheds biologically active silver ions.
But it’s backed up by tons of previous research. In January 2009, in the journal Quanta, researcher S.M. Foran wrote in an article titled “Therapeutic Properties of Silver: An Historical and Technical Review”:
“Neutral silver [i.e., metallic silver – ED] does not have the microcidal nature that silver does in the ionic state. The charge of the ion is necessary in facilitating electron displacement in microbes...
…Reduced or neutral silver [i.e., metallic silver – ED] have no known medical value. These include silver salts, silver compounds and colloids that are created without ions…
…These produces will still provide some benefits if there are silver ions present, but most of them have difficulty achieving biologically meaning concentrations of Ag+”
And in their technical white paper “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Use of Silver in Wound Therapy, Systagenix Wound Management (one of the world’s largest providers of wound care products for hospitals and doctors) wrote:
“Silver can exist in ‘elemental’ or ‘ionic’ form. Silver ions are also referred to as ‘Ag+’ or ‘silver cations.’
All silver-containing products, whether elemental or ionic, achieve their antimicrobial effect via the action of silver cations (i.e., silver ions).”
In other words, the silver can be in the elemental metal state, or it can be in the ionic state, but there’s no way for it to kill pathogens except in the ionic state. The elemental metal form has to convert to the ionic form in order to work. It has to shed silver ions in the presence of pathogens, or it’s otherwise benign.
If you’d like to learn more about this critical point, take a moment to read my extensively-documented article, “Experts: It’s the Silver Ion that Gives Colloidal Silver Its Antimicrobial Power.”
In that article, you’ll find dozens of quotes from bona-fide clinical research and medical experts going back half a century or more and documenting the fact that the silver ion (i.e., ionic silver) is the biologically active, infection-fighting “specie” of silver, and that metallic (or elemental) silver, even in its nanoparticle form is biologically inert against pathogens except to the extent it sheds silver ions.
So here’s the key to understanding the controversy over the ionic form of colloidal silver versus the metallic form of colloidal silver (which is erroneously referred to as “true colloidal silver”):
When you ingest the metallic form of colloidal silver, in order for these tiny particles of bare metal elemental silver to be effective in the human body they must first be converted by the body into the ionic form of silver.
In other words, they have to shed silver ions. They do this when they come into contact with acidic bodily fluids or highly-oxygenated tissues. This, in turn causes the metal particles to liberate silver ions into the surrounding area. It’s a far slower and less effective process than simply ingesting silver ions.
In other words, for the metallic form of colloidal silver to work, it has to be broken down and converted inside of your body into the ionic form of silver, i.e., into those tiny components of silver we call silver ions.
But when you ingest the electrically-generated ionic form of colloidal silver, there’s no conversion process needed. Your body does not need to break it down any further, because it’s ALREADY in the biologically active, infection-fighting form – the same naturally bio-available form you’ll find it in, in plants.
With the ionic form of colloidal silver, you’re ingesting tiny, submicroscopic, electrically-charged atoms and molecules of silver, called silver ions. Silver ions are the “bioactive” form of silver that are so useful in the human body because they’re so deadly to pathogens
Which One Works?
The bottom line is this: Technically speaking, either form of colloidal silver – ionic or metallic – work. Both have powerful antimicrobial qualities.
But…in order for the metallic form of colloidal silver to kill pathogens it has to undergo a gradual conversion process inside the human body. It has to come into contact with acidic bodily fluids or highly oxygenated tissues and then start shedding silver ions, which are what actually kill the bacteria.
On the other hand, when you ingest the electrically-generated ionic form of colloidal silver no conversion is necessary. It’s ready to workimmediately because it’s already in the biologically active, infection-fighting state.
The bottom line is that both of them work just fine.
But the metallic form (i.e., the so-called “true colloidal silver”) works much slower, and far less efficiently, because the tiny bare metal particles it’s composed of are inert (i.e., have no antimicrobial activity on their own) and have to undergo that gradual conversion into silver ions inside the human body before they can even begin to work against pathogens.
For further documentation, see this article from Rice University researchers demonstrating that the metallic (i.e., nanoparticle) form of silver is biologically inert, and cannot kill pathogens unless it sheds biologically active silver ions.