TV personality Debbie McGee has been impressing viewers on Strictly Come Dancing with her age defying flexibility. And while the 59-year-old puts her ability to do moves like the standing splits down to a daily yoga and pilates routine, it seems there may be another secret behind her enviable fitness levels. Colloidal silver.
Yes, that’s right, Ms McGee has a spoonful of silver every day. "I love my food and health supplements," she said earlier this week. "I have a spoonful of Active Silver every morning, which builds up your immune system."
Active Silver is a liquid which contains tiny elements of colloidal silver, a mineral claimed to have health benefits, including helping to cure acne, allergies, ear and eye infections, and ulcers. According to the product's website, the colloidal silver hunts down and destroys bad bacteria in our bodies – with the added benefits that "the bad bacteria can’t build up a resistance" in the same way that it does to antibiotics.
It's not just Debbie McGee who swears by the benefits of silver. Health obsessed Gwyneth Paltrow uses a spray version of the product when she goes on flights. “They say that Active Silver keeps germs at bay so I spray this in the air around me when I sit down. It’s worth the few odd looks,” she wrote on her lifestyle website, Goop.
However, the science about colloidal silver isn't quite as upbeat as Paltrow's words. Experts say there is little evidence to support the notion that the product has positive health effects.
Indeed, the US Food and Drug Administration sounded a note of caution in the 1990s, when it ruled that “drug products containing colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts for internal or external use are not generally recognized as safe and effective.”
One side effect of long-term colloidal silver use is argyria, where the skin becomes a bluish-gray colour. It is caused by silver building up in the body's tissue and is usually permanent.
An example of this is the story of Rosemary Jacobs, who began began taking nasal drops containing colloidal silver at the age of 11. Four years later a skin biopsy revealed a multitude of silver particles embedded deep beneath her epidermis.
"They told me my colour was permanent," Mrs Jacobs said in 2008. "It was devastating."
Over the following decades, Mrs Jacobs underwent a series of skin procedures to try to reverse the condition, including an skin dermabrasion, where the top layer of skin is removed, leaving it raw. Her face healed but she was left instead with a pink and blotchy complexion. Last year, she published an eBook on her experience.
Mrs Jacobs now believes that any products containing colloidal silver should be banned, or contain a warning label.