By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org
Could silver cure COVID-19?
Not according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. On March 6 the federal agency sent warning letters to a handful of companies and ordered them to stop marketing bogus cures for the deadly lung disease caused by the coronavirus. The short list quickly shot up to 21 companies.
One of the targets was Colloidal Vitality LLC/Vital Silver of Melbourne, FL. The company sells something called a “premium Structured Silver supplement at an affordable price.” A 16-ounce bottle of this “immune system support” costs $24.99.
Long before the coronavirus pandemic, the FDA and top experts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that long-term use of silver supplements has no proven benefit and could be dangerous.
Selling products of questionable value the way Vital Silver does risks a lawsuit by state or federal regulators, according to Jessica Rich, former head of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The state of Missouri is already suing disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker and his production company to make them stop hawking similar silver products as a treatment for the coronavirus.
Whether or not it claims to cure disease, any company that makes false assertions about the healthful qualities of its products could be “put out of business and have to fork over large sums of money to people they’ve ripped off,” Rich said. She is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Technology, Law & Policy, part of Georgetown University Law Center.
Silver plated religious loophole?
Florida Bulldog sent detailed questions to Vital Silver owner Jennifer Hickman, 66.
“I was unaware that my company was violating FDA standards, or that any of the statements could be considered fraudulent,” she wrote in an emailed response. “As per the FDA’s request, I have removed all statements concerning the coronavirus from my website and social media outlets.”
She also sent a link to the website of something called the Silver Health Institute. “By clearly communicating what silver can do for human health, our goal is to help more people benefit from the remarkable ability of silver to destroy bacteria, viruses, fungus, and other pathogens,” the website states.
In contrast, the Mayo Clinic website says, “Silver has no known purpose in the body.”
The newly updated Vital Silver website seems to claim a religious loophole under the First Amendment to tout the company’s products.
There’s no such thing, said David Vladeck, a professor at Georgetown law school who’s also a former FTC consumer bureau chief. “Society has been plagued with quacks for centuries, and the First Amendment provides no protection here.”
If that precious metal cure sounds familiar, that may be due to Bakker, who spent five years in prison for stealing millions from his ministry, The PTL (Praise the Lord) Club.
‘Silver flying off the shelves’
Bakker was paroled in 1994. A decade later he launched his program, The Jim Bakker Show, which the FDA included among pushers of fake COVID-19 cures. “Naturopathic” practitioner Sherrill Sellman said on the show in February that her Silver Solution had been tested on a previous coronavirus strain and was “able to eliminate it within 12 hours,” HuffPost reported.
Separately, the Melbourne supplement company Hickman runs drew the attention of federal regulators with ads that appeared on its company website and Facebook page. Here are a few quotes cited in the March 6 warning letter:
“So it’s actually widely acknowledged in both science and the medical industry that ionic silver kills coronaviruses. And it’s now known that the Chinese are employing ionic silver in their fight against the spread of the coronavirus.”
“Wellness!! Vital Silver!!! Simple!!! Go on the offense this year against viruses including the Coronavirus – it’s simple!”
“The Silver is flying off the shelves as folks stock up due to the increased awareness of the coronavirus.”
FDA warning 21 years ago
Those overblown claims could be dismissed as mere hype if they didn’t attract consumers who are desperately seeking a Covid-19 preventative or treatment. And silver products may do more harm than good.
Products containing colloidal silver, or, tiny silver particles suspended in liquid, are chronically controversial. “Colloidal silver can be dangerous to your health,” states a release from the National Institutes of Health.
The most serious side-effect associated with extended use of silver products is argyria, a discoloration of the skin–turning it blue or blue-grey–that’s usually permanent. This causes “significant negative psychological or social consequences,” according to a 2009 safety alert from the FDA.
In 1999 the FDA issued a final rule that said all over-the-counter drug products containing colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts “are not generally recognized as safe and effective and are misbranded.”
The agency said the products were marketed to combat unspecified serious illnesses, even though the “FDA is not aware of any substantial scientific evidence” supporting the use of over-the-counter silver ingredients or salts “for these disease conditions.”
Bakker connection survives
Silver can also block the body’s absorption of beneficial drugs like antibiotics, the NIH has warned.
The FDA’s updated list of targeted companies shows Vital Silver has taken corrective action and no longer offers its products as COVID-19 cures. The company still sells liquids, lotions and soaps.
Last week Vital Silver’s Facebook page linked to Bakker’s show as a related page. Instead of any promotions concerning the coronavirus, it spouted such anodyne sayings as, “Viruses are contagious/ so is panic fear hysteria calm love enthusiasm kindness joy/ choose wisely.”
The website repeatedly cautioned its ads “are not to be construed as medical advice.” At the same time, it said, “These statements are made based on my personally held religious beliefs that are protected by the 1st amendment.”
Rich, the former consumer bureau chief, said, “I’m not aware of any religious exemption. They may think that certain prosecutors will show discretion if they state there’s a religious exemption and in other areas they have been somewhat successful,” she said.
In the context of commercial activity, though, “it wouldn’t make any sense,” Rich added. “It’s an attempt to deter people from prosecuting them, but I don’t think it will be successful.”