Touted by many as an incredible cure-all, silver has been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. Both silver spoons and silver cups were given to newborns as christening gifts, perhaps because eating and drinking from silver helped to protect them from diseases. More recently, NASA used ionic silver for disinfection of its spacecraft water systems.

Today, the benefits of taking colloidal silver as a health supplement are touted across the Internet and by users who are completely convinced of their value. Colloidal silver is used across the globe to treat cancer, HIV, gastrointestinal problems and a broad range of skin conditions, and it is even thought to protect against colds and the flu. From curing bacterial infections, including Lyme disease and pneumonia, to treating yeast and viral infections, it’s easy to find someone claiming that colloidal silver is the answer.

Unfortunately, while it is true that colloidal silver kills certain germs by binding to and destroying proteins, there has not been sufficient testing or any evidence to prove its ability to actually cure any of these conditions. In fact, it has been deemed by many reputable sources to be unsafe when taken orally, applied topically or injected intravenously. The main concern is that the silver particles build up in organs including the skin, liver, spleen, kidney, muscle tissues and brain. This can lead to an irreversible bluish discoloration of gums, skin and eye membranes, and can also increase the production of melanin, leading to permanent skin discoloration from sun exposure. The FDA has gone so far as to warn consumers about the risks of taking oral silver supplements. In fact, they have filed numerous lawsuits against companies claiming unproven medical benefits to ingesting colloidal silver.

Yet thousands of people continue to drink and apply colloidal silver daily. There is a huge market for the supplement, and it is supported by blogs and articles all over the Internet. Why, with absolutely no scientific research to prove its long-term medical benefits, is it still so popular? The answer is complicated.

Often, those claiming benefits from colloidal silver point to the wrong evidence to support their claims. One misconception is that silver sulfadiazine is a similar product. Silver sulfadiazine is a prescription sulfa antibiotic that is used topically to help prevent and treat infections in people with serious burns. There are also a number of over-the-counter “silver” ointments designed to speed wound healing using silver chloride as an antimicrobial agent, with research to back up some of these claims. But more recent research studies have questioned how effective topical silver wound dressings actually are. Regardless, these active ingredients are not the same as the silver particles suspended in colloidal silver supplement drinks, which contain neither silver sulfadiazine nor silver chloride. This is why no reputable, scientific or medical source endorses its regular use or general health benefits.

There is some research showing that short-term use of colloidal silver may not be detrimental, and its efficacy against “superbugs” such as MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) has been demonstrated. But this does not mean that any medical experts are calling for its widespread, non-prescribed use. Until someone is able to produce solid, research-based evidence that the medical benefits of taking regular colloidal silver supplements outweigh the proven risks, the best advice is to steer clear of this potentially harmful substance.