The golden touch

Gold injections can treat arthritis and silver coating fights hospital infections.

Precious metals are increasingly likely to be in the medication prescribed by hospitals. Gold, silver and platinum have each been the subject of rigorous scientific study recently - and they crop up in the most surprising places.

Gold is present in everything from pacemakers and insulin pumps to pregnancy-testing kits and cancer treatments. "Gold has a long history of medical uses," says Dr Richard Holliday, head of industrial applications at the World Gold Council. "In ancient China, doctors added gold flake to drinks for its reputed health benefits and it is still widely used in some aspects of Indian Ayurvedic medicine."

In western medicine, it first shot to prominence about 100 years ago. Rheumatologists discovered that because of its anti-inflammatory properties, injections of pure gold (usually into thigh or buttock muscles) have some success in treating rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which joints become painful and inflamed. A spokesperson for the Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC) confirms that "intramuscular gold injections are sometimes used to treat patients because they can reduce swelling, stiffness and pain" but adds that possible side effects include problems with the blood, kidneys and skin, as well as nausea, so they are usually a last resort when other drugs have failed.

However, emerging research might change that. Trials at the University of Washington suggested that as many as 50% of people with rheumatoid arthritis - which affects 350,000 people in the UK - could benefit from gold injections. A study currently under way in Denmark is investigating whether gold injections might also benefit people with osteoarthritis of the knee, a painful condition that occurs when joint surfaces become damaged, usually with wear and tear. It is thought that gold may slow down damage to the cartilage and bone, reducing joint pain.

Source - Guardian

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