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Study sees health threat from silver nanoparticles

Silver nanoparticles used in food packaging and many other common products may trigger over-production of disease-causing free radicals in cells.

Silver nanoparticles used in food packaging and many other common products may trigger over-production of disease-causing free radicals in cells.

‘We can confirm that nano-silver leads to the formation of harmful, so called free radicals in cells …’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Nano-engineered particles may help help boost the efficiency of solar power generation and improve pesticides, but they also present threats to the environment and human health.

Researchers in Denmark say silver nanoparticles can penetrate human cells and cause damage. Silver nanoparticles are used by the food and cosmetics industries because of their antibacterial properties. The particles can be found in drinking bottles, cosmetics, band aids, toothbrushes, running socks, refrigerators, washing machines and food packaging.

“Silver as a metal does not pose any danger, but when you break it down to nano-sizes, the particles become small enough to penetrate a cell wall. If nano-silver enters a human cell, it can cause changes in the cell,” said associate professor Frank Kjeldsen and PhD Thiago Verano-Braga, both with the University of Southern Denmark’s department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Together with their research colleagues they have just published the results of a study of such cell damages in the journal ACS Nano.

The researchers examined human intestinal cells, as they consider these to be most likely to come into contact with nano-silver, ingested with food.

“We can confirm that nano-silver leads to the formation of harmful, so called free radicals in cells. We can also see that there are changes in the form and amount of proteins. This worries us,” the researchers said.

A large number of serious diseases are characterized by the fact that there is an overproduction of free radicals in cells. This applies to cancer and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Kjeldsen and Verano-Braga emphasized that their research is conducted on human cells in a laboratory, not on living people. They also point out that they do not know how large a dose of nano-silver, a person must be exposed to for the emergence of cellular changes.

“We don’t know how much is needed, so we cannot conclude that nano-silver can make you sick. But we can say that we must be very cautious and worried when we see an overproduction of free radicals in human cells”, they said.

Nano-silver is also sold as a dietary supplement, promising to have an antibacterial, anti-flu and cancer-inhibatory effect. The nano-silver should also help against low blood counts and bad skin. In the EU, the marketing of dietary supplements and foods with claims to have medical effects is not allowed. But the nano-silver is easy to find and buy online.

In the wake of the Uiversity of Southern Denmark-research, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration now warns against taking dietary supplements with nano-silver.

“The recent research strongly suggests that it can be dangerous”, says Søren Langkilde from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR).

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