Lyme disease got its name when it was first identified as the origin of an outbreak of arthritis in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975. Lyme disease can develop when ticks infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria bite human hosts. In recent years, alternative medicine practitioners have recommended colloidal silver for the treatment of Lyme disease.
Silver's reputation as a ward against disease dates back to at least the ancient Greeks, who stored liquids in silver vessels to keep them fresh and pure. When the plague ravaged Europe during the Dark Ages, the wealthy used silver cutlery and plates, hoping to prevent infection.
Silver began appearing in medical products at the end of the 19th century. Physicians gave silver eye drops to infants born to mothers who had gonorrhea, hoping to prevent pediatric blindness. The invention of antibiotics briefly reduced medical interest in silver, but the rise of the supplement industry heralded a comeback for colloidal silver.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the first sign of Lyme disease infection is a rash that radiates out from the site of the tick bite. As the disease progresses, rashes may appear on other parts of the body. The infected may also suffer from fever, headaches, neck stiffness, muscle aches and fatigue. If the disease is left untreated, half of those infected will experience painful and swollen joints, which can progress to chronic arthritis in 10 to 20 percent of people. Neurological symptoms that begin with a stiff neck and headaches can progress to Bell's palsy and numbness in the extremities. A minority of untreated sufferers experience cardiac complications, hepatitis and debilitating fatigue.
Proponents of colloidal silver claim it cures Lyme disease, killing off the bacterium by disabling its ability to metabolize oxygen. Advocates point to a single pilot study in which colloidal silver destroyed bacteria contained in a test tube. Quality peer-reviewed studies of the use of colloidal silver to cure disease in humans do not exist as of August 2010.
Colloidal silver is not a safe or effective treatment for any medical condition, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and in 1999 the FDA banned the use of colloidal silver in over-the-counter products. It can still be sold as a supplement, but marketers are prohibited from making any health claims, a rule they break eagerly and often.
Use of colloidal silver can result in argyria, a permanent, untreatable blue-gray discoloration of the skin, eyes, internal organs, nails and gums, according to the Mayo Clinic. Excessive doses can lead to neurological problems, kidney damage and skin irritation.
According to the NIAID, a short course of antibiotics successfully treats most cases of Lyme disease that are caught early. If the disease has progressed, a more intensive three- to four-week course of antibiotics may be necessary.