Can Woo make You Blue?

By Michael Edmonds 08/01/2012

Why, yes it can. And I’m not talking about scientists getting depressed about all the pseudoscience (or “woo”) in the world. Indulging in certain kinds of woo can actually change your skin to a blue colour!

I’ve just been reading an article by Dr Joe Schwarcz about the use of silver as an antimicrobial agent. Silver ions associated with silver particles are able to inactivate bacterial enzymes killing the bacteria. Consequently silver particles have be incorporated into various products including antiseptic ointments, devices for disinfecting water, urinary catheters and endotracheal breathing tubes in order to reduce the risks of infection.

However, like many other scientific concepts, the properties of silver can been overexaggerated to produce pseudoscience (or as Dr Joe so eloquently puts it “quackery often rides on the coattails of science”). Thus we have websites which peddle colloidal silver cures for diseases including cancer, HIV infection and diabetes, in spite of the fact there is no scientific evidence that actually ingesting silver is a good idea – unless of course you have the desire to turn blue – excessive consumption of silver can cause it to deposit, irreversibly, in internal organs and the skin giving the skin a gray blue appearance.

Several famous examples of such a condition (referred to in medical terms as argyria)  include the Blue man of Barnum and Bailey’s circus who turned himself blue by trying to cure a case of syphilis by ingesting silver nitrate and Stan Jones, an American who unsuccessfully ran for Senate and Governor of Montana. In 2000, afraid that antibiotics would somehow become unavailable when computers stopped working because of the Y2K “bug”, he dosed up with a silver solution he made himself using an electric cell with silver electrodes. Unfortunately the solution he produced was highly concentrated and resulted in him developing a bluish tone.

So while silver products can have antibacterial properties, be wary of any that require that you ingest them. Otherwise you could end up feeling (and looking) very blue.