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Can Gold Be Harmful to the Human Body?

author image Stephen Christensen
Stephen Christensen started writing health-related articles in 1976 and his work has appeared in diverse publications including professional journals, “Birds and Blooms” magazine, poetry anthologies and children's books. He received his medical degree from the University of Utah School of Medicine and completed a three-year residency in family medicine at McKay-Dee Hospital Center in Ogden, Utah.
Can Gold Be Harmful to the Human Body?
Gold is used by doctors to treat rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and other conditions. Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Gold is more than just an expensive yellow metal. It has been exploited by physicians for decades to treat rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and a variety of other disorders. However, gold's usefulness for many of these conditions has been limited by its toxicity, and -- until recently -- gold has been largely replaced by more effective and less toxic drugs. According to the July 2011 issue of "Metallomics," gold is enjoying a renaissance as research unveils new potential uses, including treatment of some cancers.


In order to identify patients who are at increased risk for side effects, scientists have labored for years to determine exactly how gold works in your cells. On the one hand, gold helps to suppress your immune system when it is overactive; on the other, gold can trigger an allergic reaction, which is an inappropriate immune response. The December 2008 issue of "The Journal of Immunology" suggests that these two activities overlap. While gold inhibits some immune cells that create inflammation, it simultaneously stimulates others.


One of the most common side effects of gold therapy is an allergic reaction. Gold alleviates arthritis and other inflammatory conditions by binding to specific proteins in your immune cells and interfering with the production of inflammatory chemicals. However, when gold attaches to these proteins, it alters their shape. This can prompt your immune system to recognize the proteins as "foreigners," thus triggering an allergic response. In some cases, an allergic reaction to gold may not occur until you have taken it for a long time -- sometimes many months.


Toxicity to gold compounds can develop in several of your organ systems. Oral gold preparations can cause diarrhea. Gold allergy can be manifested by rashes, itching and reddened skin. Bone marrow suppression -- a side effect that can lead to anemia, bleeding problems or infections -- is relatively common during gold therapy. Kidney and liver damage are also relatively common, so these organs' functions must be monitored when you are taking gold. Any toxic reaction to gold mandates discontinuation of therapy and may require medical treatment.


Gold has been used as an immune-suppressing drug for many years. Although it is now employed less frequently than in the past, new formulations -- gold nanoparticles, for example -- are being investigated for their utility in treating a number of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. If you already have liver or kidney disease, you should not take gold as it can further damage these organs. Your doctor is the best source of information regarding the uses and dangers of gold therapy.

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