I've recently started training for a marathon with a group of people I don't know. The second time we went out for a run, we all decided that it would be nice to go for coffee after our run and get to know each other a little bit better. Sounded pretty harmless...

We walked into the nice warm coffee house full of delicious aromas, but all I could smell was myself. Oh yes, I stunk! I couldn't wait to leave and had such a hard time paying attention to the conversations around me as I was too preoccupied with my own stench.

That evening, after having a long hot shower, I decided to go to the mall and stock up on odour-fighting products. Not only did I find deodorant, but I also discovered that there was something new in sportswear that could have really helped me with my stinky problem in the first place: Silver.

Wow! Why didn't I think of that? As a nurse, I use silver dressings all the time on my patients that have particularly 'smelly' wounds. Silver is actually a pretty cool element; not only is it beautiful, but it's ions are toxic to many bacteria, viruses, algae, and fungi. So, when placed directly against the skin in an open wound, it dramatically helps cut down on odour and aids in wound healing since the bacteria are eliminated and new skin can grow without interference.

Historical use of Silver

The Romans recognized the therapeutic benefits of silver ages ago. In addition to using it to cover wounds, Cyrus the Great allowed his troops to only carry their water in silver vessels since he knew it would keep their water supply clean and safe. Those Romans were onto something because by the turn of the century silver was actually considered the first antibiotic, and silver foil was used as a wound dressing!

Why is Silver so effective?

What makes silver so effective is that it has broad spectrum antimicrobial properties. This means that it can kill a wide range of bacteria. It acts against both gram positive and gram negative organisms. However, bacteria are not the only odour-causing agents: ammonia and denatured proteins also contribute significantly to bad smells. They are found in clothing and hosiery products. Luckily, silver also binds quickly with any ammonia or denatured proteins it comes into contact with and stops odour in its tracks.

Silver in Sportswear

When the sports companies decided to incorporate silver into their clothing, they first ensured that the fabric maintained is traditional characteristics, such as comfort and style. The technology is currently employed by Unifi's A.M.Y., Milliken's Alphasan and Noble Fiber Technology' X-Static (www.fabriclink.com/articles/GT%20Antimicrobial0104.pdf).

They produce their product by encapsulating silver ions, in the form of an inorganic matrix, into polyester yarn during the fiber making process. This matrix slowly releases silver ions through an exchange mechanism and creates a concentration of silver ions on the surface of the material.

When the sportswear product containing silver has direct contact with your skin, the silver ions can then penetrate the cellular walls of micro-organisms living there, disrupting the energy-producing processes of the cells and causing them to die.

So where can you find such technologically advanced sportswear? Lucky for you most large-chain sports and outdoors apparel stores now carry silver-containing shirts, pants, socks and other gear. Everything for those adventuring or working in the outdoors to those that attending yoga classes at their nearby gym!

So what's the best method of stench protection?

Since we all sweat, the market is filled with products to help our odour-fighting battle (see "Why does my hockey equipment stink!?" article for more information on how to combat odour). An antiperspirant will help prevent sweating, but for the sweat that does develop, a deodorant (which contains silver -there it is again!- nitrate) will help mask the smell of the bacterial secretions. Or, you can be all tech-savvy and pick up some sportswear with silver technology and let your clothes do the dirty work.

Sujata Connors is an oncology/haematology nurse with a BSc in Biology and Chemistry. She is currently coordinating consultative rheumatological care to the rural settings in southern Alberta.

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