Silver has always been a precious metal coveted by man. Because of its beauty and value, there is no guessing why it has been a symbol of status and wealth throughout the ages. Old phrases such as ‘born with a silver spoon in their mouth’, and ‘blue blooded veins’ both are associated with English nobles and high-borns, however are now believed to also reference the health benefits that the upper class had due to their use of silver flat and hollowware. It is no secret that silver has been used over thousands of years for its incredible bactericidal properties. Nowadays silver is being researched extensively, with scientists looking for more and more applications for this incredible resource.
Using silver for water purification is by no means a recent discovery. Archaeological discoveries, and found recordings have shown that silver was actively used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Phoenicians; with each civilisation using silver lined pots to store water, wine, and vinegar. Even early American settlers in the west were known to put silver coins in their water vessels to keep it clean. Despite being used as an antibacterial agent since antiquity, it is only within the past hundred years that scientists have discovered why. The silver ion (Ag+) is a bioactive, meaning that in the right dosage, it can have a beneficial or adverse reaction to living matter. As a bioactive, the silver ion is an incredible thing, as it will effectively kill bacteria in vitro (5).
Due to its effectiveness, silver is being used extensively as a modern antimicrobial, with many hospitals using silver and copper filtration systems, not only to prevent the growth of water born infections such as MRSA and legionella, but to treat them too. (1) Ron Rivera, a gentleman made famous for his ‘Potters for Peace’ organisation, was instrumental in creating water filtration pots that are now being used extensively throughout developing countries. Based on research done by the World Health Organisation (2), Rivera discovered that the silver coated filtration systems in his pots destroyed 98% of contaminants that cause diarrhoea, one of the leading killers in third world nations (3). The use of silver for water purification isn’t limited to earthly constraints, with the Russian Mir Orbital Station and the International Space Station both using silver as apart of their water filtration system. (4) In fact, many survivalists will carry a piece of sterling silver jewellery, such as a ring or necklace, in case the need arise that they need to sterilize a water source to make it drinkable.
As the benefits of silver for water purification have proved to be extremely effective, medical and pharmaceutical organisations are hard at work to find other applications for this valuable metal.
Silvers importance in the care and treatment of wounds has been noted over thousands of years. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (also known as the ‘father of modern medicine’) wrote on the benefits of silver in wound treatment; soldiers in World War I were known to use silver leaf to tend to infected injuries, not to mention the use of silver sutures in surgery to prevent inflammation and infection in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, with the introduction of modern chemical antibiotics, the demand of silver for medical treatment has been reduced, however, not only does silver still play a vital part in medical procedures, but is still being actively researched for other practical applications.
There have been numerous studies in the past decade, resulting in many fascinating findings into the benefits of silver. A 2009 study showed that silver impregnated dressings helped reduce wound size and leakage (7); evidence in a 2012 study of silver lined endotracheal breathing tubes revealed that silver helped significantly reduce ventilator-associated pneumonia (8), silver alloyed catheters proved to reduce a patients likelihood to contract a urinary tract infection in a study completed in 2008 (9), and silver compounds, such as silver nitrate and silver proteinate, have been diluted into eye drops to help prevent conjunctivitis in newborn babies (10). These wonderful advancements in medical research are just the beginning; with further studies exploring the possible use of silver as a replacement for chlorine, creating a cleaner home environment for asthma sufferers, and even promoting skin growth for burn victims.
It would appear that after some two thousand years that humanity is only just discovering the potential that silver has in the medical field. From ancient civilisations using silver lined pots, to astronauts relying on silver filtration systems on the International Space Station; silver has come a long long way, and still has further to go.
- Silver in Healthcare
- Water Disenfection (2003)
- Ron Rivera – Potter who developed a water filter that saved lives in the third world
- Spacecraft Water Exposure Guidelines for Selected Contaminants: Volume 1 ( 2004 )
- Silver as an antimicrobial: Facts and gaps in knowledge
- Topical Antimicrobials for Burn Wound Infections
- Topical silver for infected wounds
- Ventilator-associated pneumonia and its prevention
- Types of urethral catheters for management of short-term voiding problems in hospitalised adults
- Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) in Newborns