Tests of a silver solution have concluded that it provides an alternative to antibiotics.

Researchers in Brigham Young University's department of microbiology were asked to test the antimicrobial activity of ASAP Solution, one of several colloidal silver solutions available as unregulated natural supplements. ASAP is produced by American Silver in Alpine, Utah County.Silver is "colloidal" when it is suspended in small amounts in liquid.

Silver in various forms has been used for centuries as an antimicrobial agent. In the 1800s and early 1900s, people put silver coins in their water barrels to kill microbes and make the water potable. A silver nitrate ointment is applied to the eyes of newborn babies to prevent certain eye problems. And silver suphadiazine is regularly used to treat burn wounds.

Use of colloidal silver, once common, faded with the advent of antibiotics. Recently, though, concerns about overuse of antibiotics and the development of antibiotic-resistant microbes has lead to a resurgence of silver's popularity.

And with good reason, according to the study, conducted by BYU's David A. Revelli, microbiologist, and Ron W. Leavitt. The study compared ASAP to five classes of antibiotics: the tetracyclines, fluorinated quinolones (Ofloxacin), the penicillins, the cephalosporins (Cefaperazone) and the macrolides (Erythromycin).

Both the silver and antibiotics were tested on a variety of microorganisms, including streptococcuses, pneumonia, E. coli, salmonella, shigella and others.

According to the study, the solution "exhibits an equal or broader spectrum of activity than any one antibiotic tested." Where each antibiotic was effective against specific susceptible organisms, the solution "is equally effective" against both gram positive and gram negative organisms.

"The data suggests that with the low toxicity associated with colloidal silver, in general, and the broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity of this colloidal silver preparation, this preparation may be effectively used as an alternative to antibiotics," Revelli and Leavitt wrote.

Dr. Dianne Farley-Jones, a family practitioner, recommends the solution to her patients for external problems. She hasn't used it internally much, though she said it works quite well for ear infections.

"With any kind of abrasion or skin problem, it works really well and really fast. And it seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect, though that hasn't been proven."

The colloidal silver solution also seems to have an antiviral effect, Farley-Jones said, though data hasn't been collected to prove it.

She's used different brands at different times but hadn't recommended the solution until she saw the BYU research data. Now she encourages patients to use it as a nasal rinse for sinus infection or to spray their throats if they feel like they're getting a viral sore throat.

She doesn't expect it to replace antibiotics. For one thing, just as people developed resistance to the antibiotics, "we don't know if there's some mechanism of resistance and people can develop it to silver, as well. But I am glad we have this tool. Using the same formulation the (BYU) tests were done on, I've used it enough and had good results."

E-mail: lois@desnews.com