Throughout most of the 20th century gold compounds have been investigated for a range of ailments including arthritis
The use of gold in medicine and dentistry dates back thousands of years. A uniquely tarnish resistant metal, gold has long been associated with gods, immortality and health.
The earliest recorded medical use of gold was by the Chinese in 2500 BC. Since then numerous cultures have utilised gold-based medicinal preparations for the treatment of various conditions including small pox, skin ulcers and measles.
Ayurvedic medicines on the Indian sub-continent date back thousands of years, incorporating the medicinal use of metals and minerals. Gold is one of the metals used in these medicines, taken in powder or tablet form.
Millions of Indians consider gold to be an excellent ‘rejuvenator’, and consume it regularly. A typical daily dose of gold would include one or two milligrams in a mixture of herbs. Ayurvedic use constitutes a significant source of demand for gold, which some commentators estimate to reach a few tonnes of gold per year.
Examples of gold in dental applications date back as far back as The Etruscans. In the seventh century BC these people used gold wire to secure substitute teeth.
The key advantages of gold and its alloys in dental applications are bio-compatibility, malleability and resistance to corrosion. The need for biocompatibility in part relates to corrosion resistance. When the alloy is placed in contact with the patient’s body, there should be no detrimental health issues.
Throughout most of the 20th century gold compounds were investigated for a range of ailments. Medicines were marketed for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, with the most widely used being the oral drug Auranofin. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in gold compounds in the treatment of cancer, with many prominent academic and industrial labs active in the field.
Gold offers a high degree of resistance to bacteria, making it the material of choice for implants at risk of infection, such as the inner ear. Gold has a tradition of use in this application and is considered a highly valuable metal in microsurgery of the ear.
A recent treatment for prostate cancer uses grains of gold, approximately the size of a grain of rice. The surgical procedure involves inserting three gold grains into the prostate using ultrasound. The position of the gold grains can be detected using x-rays (gold is opaque to x-rays) allowing the doctors to accurately target the prostate position within one or two millimeters.
Doctors also implant high purity gold (typically 99.99%) in the upper eyelid to treat facial nerve paralysis. The aim of the treatment is to help the patient’s upper eyelids to close when muscle paralysis is preventing this motion. Following the implantation of the gold device (typically a few grams in weight), the gravitational pull on the implant facilitates closure of the eyelid.