Whenever there’s a heightened sense of fear and hysteria, scammers come out of the woodwork to both amplify and capitalise on the general public’s growing unrest. In recent months I’m sure you, like me, have seen examples of price gouging, fake charities, medical scams, and unhinged conspiracy theories regarding the origin of SARS-CoV-2. Governments, journalists, scientists et al have done their best to protect the public, but found themselves playing a thankless global game of whack-a-mole, where it seems – to me at least – that for every scammer they expose, another one pops up.
Over the past few months I’ve done my part in calling out a handful of these parasitic profiteers and have been rewarded with copyright claims and having my work shadow banned. Whilst it would be beneficial for my metrics, as well as my sanity, to move onto another subject, I believe it’s important, particularly at this moment in time, to expose these swindlers and thus have decided to continue my thankless task and expose yet another magical elixir which its proponents would have you believe can fight off COVID-19. The panacea in question has been on my radar for some time now, but it wasn’t until American radio show host and conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, promoted it live on his podcast that the flood gates opened and I found myself inundated with requests to cover this snake-oil. I am of course talking about colloidal silver.
If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve probably stumbled upon one of Jones’s unhinged, nonsensical rants. Even after being banned from nearly all the major content platforms, he still garners attention due to his outlandish claims and his perpetual outrage over the latest government conspiracy. Although his paranoid rants bring him some revenue in the form of online ads, the vast majority of his income is from his snake-oil. A 2018 profile of Jones in the German magazine Der Spiegel reports that two-thirds of Jones’s funding comes from selling his products.
His online store sells hundreds of products from “Survival Shield X-2 – Nascent Iodine” to “Super Male Vitality”, all of which are accompanied by some vague verbiage disclaiming liability in a deliberately miniscule font size, making it highly unlikely that consumers will read or even see the disclaimer. Recently Alex has got himself in bother for promoting one of his products, Super Silver toothpaste, which he claims federal officials have said can kill coronavirus.
“The patented nanosilver we have, the Pentagon has come out and documented and Homeland Security has said this stuff kills the whole SARS-corona family at point-blank range” – Alex Jones
In response, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission sent a warning letter to Alex, demanding he cease the sale of unapproved and unauthorised products for the “mitigation, prevention, treatment, diagnosis, or cure of COVID-19”. Within the 48 hours they gave him to respond, several items including a gargle spray, a wound dressing gel, and two different kinds of toothpaste were removed from the online store. Later, an attorney working for Alex would say that the products were never intended “to be used in the treatment of any disease, including the novel coronavirus”.
Alex’s troubles came weeks after American televangelist and convicted fraudster Jim Bakker was issued a cease-and-desist order by the FDA and New York Attorney General’s office for also making false medicinal claims about other silver-based supplements.
Jim is the host of the imaginatively titled show ‘The Jim Bakker Show’, which focuses on the end times and the second coming of Christ. whilst promoting emergency survival products. In February, he and his guest, Sherill Sellman, a naturopathic doctor, falsely implied that colloidal silver (silver particles suspended in liquid) could cure corona.
“Well, let’s say it hasn’t been tested on this strain of the coronavirus, but it has been tested on other strains of the coronavirus and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours.” – Sherill Sellman
“Totally eliminate it. Kills it. Deactivates it.” – Sherill Sellman
As they talked, a message appeared at the bottom of the screen advertising a four-ounce bottle of the magical silver solution for the low, low price of $80.
Things then took a turn for the worse for Jim. Soon after the show’s broadcast, the Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against Jim, for “misrepresentations about the effectiveness of ‘Silver Solution’ as a treatment for 2019 novel coronavirus”. In April, Jim disclosed to his viewers that his ministry, which was recently prohibited from receiving credit card transactions, was on the brink of bankruptcy. In the following month, networks began dropping his show and the Connecticut-based liberal Christian group Faithful America began a deplatforming campaign against Jim.
Believe it or not, there’s a nugget of truth to what Jim and Alex are saying…kinda. Silver does indeed have antimicrobial properties and has been used throughout history to help prevent the spread of human disease. The earliest recorded use of silver for therapeutic purposes dates back to the Han Dynasty in China, circa 1500 BCE. In the Middle Ages, families of higher socioeconomic classes who were familiar with silver’s medical properties, developed bluish skin, known to be a result of high exposure to the metal. It’s believed that this is where the term ‘blue blood’ comes from, when referring to members of the aristocracy. In the early 20th century, because of its antibacterial properties, physicians would prescribe colloidal silver and various silver salts to their patients. By the 1940’s with the introduction of safer and more efficient antibiotics, it was largely discontinued. However, silver can still be found in wound dressing, creams, and as an antibiotic coating on medical devices. One important thing to note here is that with the exception of a handful of very specific examples, silver is primarily used in medicine on an external basis.
To date, there are three known mechanisms by which silver acts on microbes. Firstly, silver cations can form pores and puncture the bacterial cell wall by reacting with the peptidoglycan component. Secondly, silver ions can enter into the bacterial cell, both inhibiting cellular respiration and disrupting metabolic pathways, resulting in the generation of reactive oxygen species. Lastly, once in the cell, silver can also disrupt DNA and its replication cycle.
Since about 1990 there has been a resurgence of the promotion of colloidal silver as a dietary supplement, marketed with claims of it being an essential mineral supplement, or that it can prevent or treat numerous diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, HIV/AIDS, herpes, tuberculosis, and now corona.
In reality, colloidal silver isn’t considered safe or effective for any of the health claims made by dubious manufacturers, professional conspiracy theorists, or televangelists. There is zero evidence that colloidal silver treats or prevents any medical condition, but it can cause serious and potentially irreversible side effects, including, as I previously mentioned, turning your skin blue.
It’s not clear how much colloidal silver may be harmful but it can accumulate in various parts of the body over months or years. These pale or colourless silver compounds decompose when exposed to light, to produce dark silver pigments, turning the skin blue-grey. This condition is known as Argyria or argurosis. Argyria worsens and builds up as exposure to silver continues and is permanent! It does not go away once exposure stops.
Rarely excessive doses of colloidal silver can cause possibly irreversible serious health issues, including kidney damage and neurological problems such as seizures. Silver compounds can even interact with medication. However, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that dangerous when compared to similar, alternative products which were once legitimately used in medicine, for example, black salve. So if that’s the case why did the medical community, journalists, credit card companies, TV networks, and the American government act so heavy-handedly with Jim and Alex?
I believe that, like me, they saw what was coming over the horizon. A torrent of snake-oil-salesmen capitalising on the pandemic, which at the time was just starting to bring the world to its knees. They wanted to be seen nipping it in the bud, to warn off other potential parasitic profiteers; what better way of doing this than going after two high-profile loons like Alex and Jim. It was an easy win for them. After all, in the late 1990s, the FDA banned colloidal silver sellers from claiming any therapeutic or preventative value and therefore both Jim and Alex were breaking the law.
For too long these self-proclaimed experts have been free to spout their dubious and potentially lethal claims online, hidden behind disclaimers leaving behind a wake of misery. Although I don’t necessarily agree with Jim’s deplatforming, I do hope that governments continue to clamp down on those promoting and manufacturing pseudomedical products. And I hope this trend continues even after things go back to normal.