When most people think of silver, images of jewelry tend to come to mind in the form of earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces. As imaginations wander, coins both ancient and as recent as the 20th century might be added to the list, along with house wares, armor and silverware. But silver is so much more than that.
Men and women the world over have adorned themselves with this malleable metal since very likely the Bronze Age. (Depending upon where they lived, this period of advanced metalworking lasted between 3300 BC – 300 BC.) Its chemical properties are what allow it to be easily manipulated.
Check Those Coins in the Attic—They Could Be Worth a Lot More Than Their Face Value
It is this very malleability that made it an obvious choice for currency. The first known coins date back to 610 BC and were made from silver by the Lydians (circa 1200 BC – 1st century BC). Although these people no longer exist today, at one time Lydia was quite a powerful empire that encompassed today’s Asia Minor, modern Turkey and western Anatolia.
Since 610 BC, countries continued using silver in currency making. In fact, at some point, nearly every country on all seven continents found a use for silver in its coinage. Over time as the price of silver rose, countries either added alloys (such as copper and nickel) or discontinued its use altogether. The United States was a little slower than most industrialized nations to stop using silver in its currency.
The U.S. continued producing coins made entirely from silver until 1921. However, as the price rose, it became illogical to continue doing so. As a result, copper and nickel slowly started edging out silver. By 1965, quarters made from silver were replaced entirely with those made from copper and nickel and the beloved dollar held on as long as it could. By the 1970s, the U.S. saw its last silver dollar minted, which was by this point 40% silver and 60% copper/nickel.
What Do Medical Device Makers Have in Common with Hippocrates and Alchemists?
Might it surprise you to know that this precious metal has for many years been used in a variety of medical situations? A natural antiseptic and possessing anti-inflammatory properties, which are derived from an antimicrobial agent, silver is well known for, among other things, healing wounds. Incidentally, this is nothing new in the medical community; however, it was a practice that fell out of favor with doctors until about ten years ago. What is ironic is that the first uses of silver and gold to heal wounds, especially those of burn victims or as an elixir, date back to the 16th century. So, if proven to work, why did physicians so easily dismiss it until only recently? The answer lies not in whether it was safe and efficacious but rather who discovered its usefulness. Alchemists, whose practices and philosophy have frequently been debated by doctors, scholars and laypersons alike, are credited with discovering silver and gold’s healing properties. What they discovered is very interesting.
Without using vernacular that might otherwise turn off most non-medical personnel, how silver is beneficial in wound healing is actually quite simple. Silver minimizes zinc on the skin’s surface, which decreases an enzyme known as Metalloproteinase (MMP) and in turn stimulates healthy tissue. In decreasing MMP, the natural anti-inflammatory properties present in silver increase production of calcium, which is necessary for wounds and in particular burns to heal.
Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC) surmised that silver had numerous healing applications and could ward off disease. Although it took several thousand years to gain acceptance, during World War I, silver gained FDA approval for use as an antimicrobial agent. In the form of colloidal silver, it was commonly used as a disinfectant. Once penicillin was introduced during World War II, this put silver out of business as a crude form of antibiotic.
Given its proven disinfectant tendencies, many medical device manufacturers have been incorporating silver in urinary catheters, which have proven to reduce bacteria build-up in patients requiring use of one. Additionally, it is not uncommon for breathing tubes to contain a certain percentage of silver. Unlikely uses for silver include the following:
- Treatment and prevention of conjunctivitis
- Treatment and prevention of gonorrhea
- To decrease swelling in mucous membranes in the nose, throat, urethra and colon
Although for off-label use, which means not yet FDA approved and considered to be either experimental or an alternative to Western medical practices, colloidal silver has shown success in treatment of the following:
- Certain cancers
Unfortunately, for all its healing, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory benefits, it should be of little surprise that there would be those who claim silver is a cure-all and can be taken as a dietary supplement. What makes this assertion bogus is that for a dietary supplement to work as claimed, it presupposes that silver is an essential mineral that naturally occurs in the human body. Given that it does not, by definition it fails to meet the requirement to be considered a dietary supplement. In fact, taking silver on a daily basis has proven to be dangerous. While controlled amounts are safe and efficacious for treating specific ailments, silver in large quantities is linked to many of the following:
- Kidney failure
- Stomach distress
- Seizures and other neurological problems
- Ironically, skin irritation
So, if you see an infomercial claiming that silver can make you “better, faster, stronger” if taken daily, see them for what they are—snake oil salespeople. Alternatively, if you have occasion to need a catheter or God forbid, are victim of 2nd or 3rd degree burns, by all means, say YES to silver.
Other articles in this issue:
- The Clock is Ticking for Everyone
- Is Silver’s Shine Worth Your Time?
- The UN Wants Your Child: What’s In Store For America’s Homeschoolers?