Like many others, I’ve been following updates and news on the novel coronavirus that has shut down Wuhan, China. While I’ve been avoiding clear conspiracies—this virus is almost certainly not a bioweapon cooked up in a lab—I’m sympathetic to widespread distrust of China’s reporting of the virus. I have not, however, blogged about the virus. The other day I pondered this, wondering what angle I could take if I did blog about it, and it occurred to me that there are likely evangelical leaders out there arguing for miracle prayer cures or some such.
I didn’t go looking for this. Instead, it came to me, right there in my twitter feed. It was Jim Bakker and his damnable silver solution. Ah yes, you remember—that silver solution. I’ve blogged about it before.
The Jim Bakker Show is suggesting that the silver solution it sells can kill the coronavirus within 12 hours. pic.twitter.com/kbUGnUp69m
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) February 12, 2020
Really? Really, Jim Bakker? Really??
I took the liberty of transcribing the clip, which features Jim Bakker, his silver solution, and naturopath Sherrill Sellman:
Jim Bakker: This influenza that is now circling the globe, you’re saying that silver solution would be effective.
Sherrill Sellman: Well let’s say it hasn’t been tested on this strain on the coronavirus, but it’s been tested on other strains of the coronavirus and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours. Totally eliminate it. Kills it. Deactivates it. And then it boosts your immune system so then you can support the recovery, because when you kill the virus then the immune system comes into action to clear it out. So you want a vibrant immune system as well as an ability to deactivate these viruses.
I researched silver the last time I wrote about Jim Bakker, and here is what I found:
The FDA banned silver for medicinal uses back in the 1990s. Your body does not need silver, and silver toxicity is a thing. If enough silver builds up in your body, it can damage the kidney and liver. People can die—and have died. Why can Bakker sell it, if the FDA has banned it? Because Bakker’s product is classified as a dietary supplement, not a medicine, and the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. At all.
Most statements on the dangers of silver use the term “colloidal silver.” On his website, Bakker says his product is made with “nano-silver,” which he claims is a new formula different from colloidal silver. It’s not. They’re the same damn thing. My bet? I’d suggest that supplement promoters like Bakker had a powerful incentive to get away from the negative search results that come up for “colloidal silver.” Inventing a brand new name did the trick.
It is true, by the way, that silver particles have antibacterial effects in test tubes. There is no evidence, however, that it continues to have such properties inside the body, where there are lots of other things going on—and then there’s the issue of potential silver toxicity. Silver does have applications, but not as something you ingest:
A number of studies have investigated the use of silver-containing dressings on skin ulcers and wounds. Many of these have found that the silver particles exerted antibacterial properties that aid the treatment of diabetic ulcers, skin grafts, bed sores, necrotizing fasciitis, and other serious skin injuries.Silver has a role in dressings for wounds, and in water filters. It just doesn’t have a role inside your body. And if you end up with too much of it in your body, things could get very, very bad.
Put simply, silver does not boost your immune system and it does not kill viruses or bacteria when ingested. More than that, ingesting silver is actually bad for you. Have a look at this, from the Mayo Clinic:
It’s not clear how much colloidal silver may be harmful, but it can build up in your body’s tissues over months or years. Most commonly, this results in argyria (ahr-JIR-e-uh), a blue-gray discoloration of your skin, eyes, internal organs, nails and gums. While argyria doesn’t usually pose a serious health problem, it can be a cosmetic concern because it doesn’t go away when you stop taking silver products.
Well that doesn’t sound cool.
Does silver have antibacterial properties? Yes. It’s used in some wound dressings. Does that mean you should ingest it? No! Not only are there no studies showing that silver’s antibacterial properties are effective when ingested, silver is also toxic when ingested. (Beyond that, the novel coronavirus isn’t a bacteria! It’s a virus!)
I did some more digging just now, and it’s true that scientists are researching how silver might be used in antibiotics to enhance their effectiveness. Still, even articles touting these studies make the risks and the need for further research and testing crystal clear—and no one is suggesting it should be ingested willy nilly:
Vance Fowler, an infectious-disease physician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says the work is “really cool” but sounds a note of caution about the potential toxicity of silver. “It has had a checkered past,” he says.
In the 1990s, for example, a heart valve made by St. Jude Medical, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, included parts covered with a silver coating called Silzone to fight infection. “It did a fine job of preventing infection,” says Fowler. “The problem was that the silver was also toxic to heart tissue.” As a result the valves often leaked.
Before adding silver to antibiotics, “we’ll have to address the toxicity very carefully”, says Fowler. Ingesting too much silver can also cause argyria, a condition in which the skin turns a blue-grey color — and the effect is permanent.
Ingesting silver will not protect you from the coronavirus, but it might make you turn blue. Unless your life goal is to look like one of the Na’vi from Avatar, taking Bakker’s silver pills is an awful idea.
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