Gold and Silver in Medicine

Pills in everyday container

When it comes to the medicinal properties of precious metals, it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. There’s a lot of misinformation around the medical use of silver and gold, and this piece aims to clear up the misconceptions and educate readers once and for all.

You’ll also find a section at the end detailing best practices in determining whether a gold or silver product does, in fact, have medical properties.

A History of Gold and Silver in Medicine

First, let’s take a look at how gold and silver have been used in medicine throughout history.

Historical Use of Gold in Medicine

People have been using gold in medicine for thousands of years, claiming health benefits for many ailments. Gold has been used by shamanic practitioners and esotericists in many cultures, most notably in Asia and Europe.

In ancient China, gold was used in attempts to treat smallpox, measles, and skin ulcers. In medieval times, it was thought that gold had health benefits by virtue of being rare and beautiful. 17th-century gold cordials were sold to treat melancholy, and 19th-century doctors applied gold in treatments for alcoholism, depression, epilepsy, and other ailments.

Today, certain mainstream and regulated medicines still contain gold, and it has many biomedical uses as well. Generally speaking, gold is inert and by definition cannot interact with the chemicals in the human body.

Historical Use of Silver in Medicine

Like gold, silver in medicine has been present for thousands of years. The Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about using silver for treating wounds over 2,000 years ago, and silver has remained in use as an antibacterial element of wound dressings to this day.

People have long used colloidal silver, a product comprised of microscopic silver particles in water, in holistic medicine. Silver is not an essential mineral and has no known use in the body.

Modern Applications of Gold and Silver in Medicine

While many of the proposed medical uses for gold and silver are baseless, as we’ll discuss below, both metals do have a place in approved modern medicine.

Modern Medical Applications for GoldPicture of Large Gold Bars

While gold is not an essential mineral, it has many applications in modern medicine, with varying degrees of success.

As you’ll see, biomedical applications for gold are invaluable and widespread, whereas the main use case for gold as a direct form of medical treatment is extremely limited and somewhat dangerous.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Just a few decades ago, gold was the most common treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Starting in the 1930s, physicians have injected patients with solutions containing gold particles to offer relief from the symptoms of RA. These solutions, ionic chemical compounds of gold, are called “gold salts.” The treatment is called chrysotherapy.

While the way in which gold acts on RA is poorly understood, the treatments were reportedly successful in reducing the symptoms of this form of arthritis. However, significant risks are attached to the therapy.

Adverse effects include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and severe kidney and heart conditions among many others.

In the 1960s, advancements in pharmacology introduced new drugs that were both more effective and less dangerous than using gold, leading to a decline in gold treatment for RA. Chrysotherapy is not commonly used for other ailments, and these days, it’s mostly used for RA when other methods prove ineffective.

A 1997 study confirmed that chrysotherapy does successfully treat rheumatoid arthritis, but found that the toxicity of the treatment limited its usefulness.

Biomedical Uses

Gold has a high degree of resistance towards bacteria, and a common use case for both gold and silver lies in electroplating. Dissolved metal ions are used to coat the surface of medical equipment and devices to keep them sterile and to prevent the body from rejecting implants.

The precious metal is used in dental fillings for this reason, along with implants in areas with a high risk of infection, such as the inner ear.

Gold-plated stents are used to support weak heart vessels due to its biocompatibility and bacterial resistance and because gold typically has the best visibility on an x-ray. Gold is commonly found in microchips and electronic components, including those of electronic medical devices such as pacemakers. Batteries are often cased in gold, preventing harmful corrosion.

Gold is often added to plastic polymers to improve the conductivity of electricity in certain electronic devices. Finally, radioactive gold is also used in injected solutions for diagnostic purposes, as it can be traced throughout the body.

There is no evidence that gold has medical uses beyond those mentioned above at this time.

Modern Medical Applications for Silver

Silver arguably has more applications in medicine than gold does, apart from in biomedical devices.

Antimicrobial Uses

Silver kills bacteria and prevents their growth. Silver sulfadiazine is a topical antibiotic cream made from silver nitrate and sodium (salt). The cream is used to treat burns. However, there is evidence that may suggest other antibiotic treatments are more effective in treating burns and preventing infection.

Silver sulfadiazine has fallen out of popular use for second-degree burns but remains a common treatment for third-degree burns. This silver-based medicine is listed in the WHO List of Essential Medicines.

Nano-silver, or silver particulates 1-100 nm in size, is also used in various wound dressings and dermal creams to prevent infection.

Biomedical Uses

There are many patented biomedical products using silver. Medical implants are often plated with silver to prevent them from being rejected by the body, as silver is both inert and antibacterial. Catheters and other medical devices are sometimes silver-plated for the same reason.

Equally, certain surgical syringes are plated with silver. For dental procedures, silver is suspended in aqueous gel to prevent the risk of infection, and, like gold, silver is used for dental fillings. Microchips and electronic components also commonly use silver.

Myths and Unproven Uses

Unfortunately, for as many true medical uses as there are for gold and silver, there are just as many myths, fraudulent claims, and unproven use cases.

Debunking Medical Uses of Gold

Gold was used to treat tuberculosis using chrysotherapy in the early 1900s before studies debunked its usefulness towards the end of the century. As noted above, this method for treating rheumatoid arthritis is also rarely used due to the severe health risks involved.

Colloidal gold, a solution containing tiny particles of gold, is often claimed to improve cognitive function, treat addiction, and other uses. Most commonly, the solution is marketed as an anti-aging treatment for skin rejuvenation.

There is no evidence that colloidal gold has a use case in medicine, and historically, the solution has been used almost exclusively by artists to stain glass.

Interestingly, the claims based around colloidal silver as a beauty product are similar to those made in medieval times. The claims appear to have no basis beyond the vague perception of gold as a rare and beautiful metal.

Finally, a potential future use case for gold is as a drug delivery mechanism in which nanoparticles of gold are attached to chemotherapy drugs like Paclitaxl or other drugs to improve their delivery throughout the human body.

While this use case isn’t a “myth” to be debunked, it’s important to be aware that the research is still in the early stages. It’s possible that this research will prove very successful, but there is no conclusive evidence at the moment that gold can be effectively used in this manner.

Claims based around current and effective treatments for gold-based cancer treatments are almost certainly false.

Debunking Medical Uses of Silver

Colloidal silver, a solution containing microscopic particles of silver, has been flouted since the 1890s as a healing tonic for mental illnesses, stomach ulcers, and epilepsy. It remains in use to this day as an antiseptic, a dietary supplement, and for many other uses ranging from cancer and AIDS treatments to curing shingles.

However, there is no evidence to support the notion that colloidal silver has healing properties. On the contrary, consuming colloidal silver can be harmful. The solution can make it difficult to process antibiotics and other medicines and can also lead to kidney disease, skin discoloration, stomach problems, headaches, and other side effects.

While silver nitrate was once used in eye drops to treat conjunctivitis, its usefulness is questionable and there are now modern and provably effective treatments available for that condition.

COVID Falsehoods

Colloidal silver is now being touted as a potential cure to or treatment for the COVID-19 virus. Again, there is no evidence to support these claims.

The U.S. Department of Justice ruled to halt the sale of colloidal silver as a COVID treatment by a Utah company in April 2020, citing a risk to public health.

The company had been distributing free samples to potential users, stating that it would be safe to drink up to one bottle of colloidal silver per day. A similar case cropped up in New Jersey in November 2020. In both instances, the public was urged to report fraudulent schemes relating to the treatment of COVID to the National Center for Disaster Fraud.

How to Tell Fact from Fiction

In an age of widespread misinformation, it’s important to be able to find the truth, particularly when it comes to medical treatment.

Here is a recommended list of steps to take when looking into a medical treatment or product using gold or silver.

Ask Your Doctor

It’s always best to consult a medical professional when it comes to any kind of query regarding medicine. These are the only people qualified to issue definitive medical advice.

Your doctor will be able to determine whether a particular product or treatment is safe for use and advise you accordingly, keeping you safe from fraudulent or untested medical products and procedures.

Avoid Sales Sites

It’s easy to find content online denying the claims we’ve made in this article. Very often, this content will be published on blogs and sites selling medical ointments and products that contain gold and silver.

Sites that don’t appear to be connected to sales but contain links to such products may also be selling these products through affiliate marketing schemes.

We recommend avoiding these sites, as they have the clear financial incentive to post disingenuous content that may endanger your safety. While gold and silver do have certain medical properties, as pointed out above, it’s important to seek professional medical help and advice before treating yourself for any ailments.

Check Sources

The claims made in this article are sourced with links to scientific research and U.S. government announcements for verification.

In general, if a site is making claims around the supposed health benefits of gold or silver with no scientific evidence to support those claims, the information is likely false.

Confirm FDA Approval

Finally, a simple way to check if something is safe is to verify whether it has been approved by the FDA.

If a government body has declared a treatment or product medically unsafe or stated that the safety of such products has not been proven, it is likely best to steer clear for your own safety.

Following the above steps will help guide you towards informed research and education around the interesting topic of medical applications of gold and silver while avoiding the potential risks involved.

For more information about gold and silver, visit our main website here or speak with a Birch Gold consultant at (800) 355-2116.

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