By Dr. Priya Balachandran
How did this ancient technology return to the spotlight as a tool to prevent infections?
The antimicrobial properties of silver have been known for centuries. Silver was originally discovered for its antibiotic properties in the 4th century by the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates1. Silver has been used throughout the course of history, from ancient civilizations to today:
- Early Phoenicians stored water and oils in silver containers to preserve their freshness.
- Ancient Romans stored wine in silver vessels.
- Alexander the Great stored drinking water in silver urns for his troops.
- 1800s – Silver sutures were used to close wounds and avoid infections.
- 1900s – Silver sulfadiazine (SSD) was used to wrap wounds of burn victims.
- Current – Silver is used as a treatment for textiles and fabrics to prevent infections in hospitals and sports.
The reason that silver has been continually used over the years is because of its natural ability to kill harmful microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and viruses. Unlike traditional antibiotics, silver has not one but three mechanisms of action2,3:
- Silver destroys cell membrane, the exterior structure that encapsulates microorganisms.
- Silver halts metabolism and respiration by binding to a microbe’s internal vital enzymes.
- Silver prevents reproduction of microbial cells by binding to their DNA and RNA (the blueprints for making new cells).
Silver is having a resurgence in the healthcare industry because of its superior antimicrobial capabilities and lack of toxicity to humans when compared to traditional antibiotics. Lethal bacteria are developing a resistance to common antibiotics rendering them obsolete while silver is not likely to result in any buildup of resistance according to multiple research studies4,5,6. In addition, silver has universal applications in preservation of health and well-being. For example, silver is already being used in a variety of commonly used products like wound dressings, first aid ointments, wraps, and textile treatments for anti-odor applications, material preservation and hospital infection prevention practices.
- Jung, W. K., H. C. Koo, K. W. Kim, S. Shin, S. H. Kim, and Y. H. Park. “Antibacterial Activity and Mechanism of Action of the Silver Ion in Staphylococcus Aureus and Escherichia Coli.”Applied and Environmental Microbiology7 (2008): 2171-178.
- Rai, M., Yadev, A., Gade, A. “Silver nanoparticles as a new generation of antimicrobials.” Biotechnology Advances
- Zhao, G., Stevens Jr, S. E., “Multiple parameters for the comprehensive evaluation of the susceptibility of Escherichia coli to the silver ion.” Biometals 11 (1998): 27-32.
- Landsown, A.B.G., Williams, A. “How safe is silver in wound care?” J. Wound Care 13 (2013): 131-136.
- Webster, D.A., Spadaro, J.A., Becker, R.O., Kramer, S. “Silver anode treatment of chronic osteomyelitis.” Clin Orthop Relat Res.161 (1981): 105-14.
About the author: Dr. Balachandran joined Applied Silver, Inc. in June 2017. She brings more than 15 years of scientific, regulatory and business experiences in the area of infectious disease and microbial monitoring. Dr. Balachandran received her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.