What Is Hydrogen Therapy?

Hydrogen therapy is the administration of hydrogen gas (H2). Hydrogen gas, or molecular hydrogen, can be delivered via three different routes: Inhalation of the gas, through an IV saline rich in hydrogen gas, or most popularly through dissolving hydrogen gas into water and then consuming the water.

What Is Hydrogen Water?

You may ask, doesn’t water already have hydrogen in it? It’s important to know that this is a solution, and not a compound. The hydrogen found in a water molecule does not have the therapeutic properties research has found hydrogen therapy does, as the hydrogen is not available when bound to oxygen. Hydrogen water is simply water that has had hydrogen gas dissolved into it. This yields a gas-dissolved solution, similar to carbonation which adds carbon dioxide to make sparkling water, with the difference being hydrogen gas is added instead of carbon dioxide. Hydrogen gas does not change the pH of the water and hydrogen water is not the same thing as alkaline water or hydrogen peroxide.

Is Hydrogen Water Researched?

Hydrogen therapy is heavily researched. Since the seminal article in Nature Medicine in 2007[1] roughly 100 clinical trials and over 2000 unique articles have been published which have demonstrated a beneficial effect of hydrogen gas throughout every organ in the body. Hydrogen gas dissolved in water, or hydrogen water, has been the most popular delivery method utilized by researchers, largely due to price, convenience, and the fact that in no instance has inhaled hydrogen gas shown to work better than hydrogen gas dissolved in water, but in many cases hydrogen water has shown a benefit where inhaled gas either did not, or was not as impactful[2].

Is All Hydrogen Water The Same?

Not all hydrogen water is created equally, with ranges in dosage between technologies being upwards of 100-150x! This is critical, as hydrogen therapy has shown a dose and concentration dependent response:[3][4] Imagine drinking 1/150th of a cup of coffee, or taking 1/150th of an advil! Dose matters, as does timing. Hydrogen therapy has shown to work much better when it is “pulsed”, or a high-dose is taken in a short period of time. For this reason, concentration is critical, with higher concentrations of hydrogen in the water likely being much more beneficial. In fact, low concentrations found in many products on the market have been shown to not be beneficial at all.

close up of a man's arm and hand being stretched ot with water drops running through his fingers. The background is green grass.

How Hydrogen Water Builds Stress Resilience

Everyone faces numerous stresses everyday, both physiological and psychological. Hydrogen therapy has shown to be a solution that could, in part, address many of the issues we face. How and why hydrogen therapy has shown to work across so many different indications and organs has baffled many researchers, particularly since we all always maintain levels of hydrogen gas in every cell in our bodies. Fortunately, as the research has progressed, we have begun to understand how it works more and more.

First we learned that hydrogen therapy only works in acute bursts, not when dosed continuously.[5] Then theories started to emerge that hydrogen therapy was in fact a hormetic stress[6][7], like exercise, cold exposure, heat exposure or fasting, making sense of why high-dose intermittent exposure is needed. This hypothesis comes with an important asterisk: in the research published to date, hydrogen therapy has shown to help blunt the negatives of other hormetic stressors, while amplifying their benefits. The hypothesis of hydrogen therapy as a mild stress, to build stress resilience, was born.

This hypothesis is strengthened by a fantastic publication in which mice were exposed to chronic, mild and unpredictable stressors for 28 days, which demonstrated that hydrogen gas was able to increase stress resilience, protecting against the development of both chronic psychological and physiological stress in adolescent mice.[8]

Protection Against Hormetic Agents

We tend to associate some forms of hormesis, such as exercise, as unequivocally “good for us”, but the truth is with the wrong “dose” or “duration”, this beneficial stress can become just plain old stress. Acute, strenuous exercise in obese individuals can lead to a pro-inflammatory outcome.[9] Even in those with a high level of fitness, such as elite athletes, over training can lead to a myriad of issues such as soft tissue tears, fatigue, sleep issues[10] and even hormonal issues such as chronically low testosterone levels in men[11] and menstrual disorders in women.[12]

Hydrogen gas has shown to increase the beneficial results of exercise, first raising exercise induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) which is part of how exercise helps us become healthier, then regulating a faster antioxidant defense response and simultaneously blunting inflammation in a rat model using exhaustive exercise in sedentary rodents.[13] This is the concept of “stress makes us stronger”, when it’s the right dose. Hydrogen therapy increased the dose, but then improved the recovery response, meaning the exercise benefits were more impactful, without the risk of increasing chronic stress.

In humans, hydrogen water has shown to protect against free radical injury in athletes after high intensity exercise,[14] improve the redox status of athletes after 3 consecutive days of exhaustive training[15] and improve antioxidant status and oxidative stress markers after strenuous exercise.[16][17]

Other potentially beneficial forms of hormesis, such as fasting and cold exposure, have tipping points towards damage much more abruptly. Hydrogen water has shown to improve the survival rate of drosophila, or the common fruit fly, when fasting[18] and potentiated the benefits of cold exposure in ischemia-reperfusion injury in rats.[19]

Caloric Surplus

One of, if not the greatest stress many of us endure is a diet with a caloric surplus. There is no magic pill for weight loss, no healthy option to combat a caloric surplus. The best we can do is mitigate the harms to our health if extended caloric surplus occurs. Molecular hydrogen, particularly hydrogen water, has shown to do just this. Hydrogen water has shown to significantly decrease obesity and energy expenditure in mice by activation of FGF21,[20] which plays a role in fatty acid and glucose expenditure, resistance to it being linked to obesity itself[21]. Molecular hydrogen has also shown to activate PGC1a, which increases mitochondrial biogenesis, further increasing fatty acid metabolism[22], a process leading to increased energy production.

In humans, molecular hydrogen has shown to improve body composition,[23] with studies using the Drink HRW tablets showing to improve insulin sensitivity[24], protect against obesity driven non alcoholic fatty liver disease[25], and even reverse metabolic syndrome in 18 of 20 measured outcomes in a 6 month double-blind placebo controlled trial on 60 individuals[26], metabolic syndrome being an epidemic in the western world afflicting 1 in 3 North Americans.

Chemical Agents

While pesticide use is often necessary to ensure crop survival and stave off widespread hunger and starvation in a planet with rapid population growth, with not all pesticides showing significant harm, many pesticides used throughout history, and in some cases still today, are known to be quite toxic to mammals.

Paraquat is a toxic herbicide restricted in the USA for specific uses, and banned in many countries, that has been linked to Parkinson’s Disease[27] and disruption of mammalian redox status via generation of the superoxide radical.[28] In one model, paraquat was utilized to induce lung injury in rats, an outcome which hydrogen water significantly ameliorated.[29]

In another study utilizing a cell culture model incubated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, a herbicide which is a persistent organic pollutant and carcinogen present in “Agent Orange”, now infamous due to its weaponized use in a chemical warfare program during the Vietnam War, and its role in the Seveso Disaster, molecular hydrogen showed to balance and protect both NAD+/NADH levels while alleviating cellular senescence.[30]

NAD+/NADH levels are important for energy metabolism and tend to change during the aging process, with a decrease in NAD+ and increase in NADH. Cellular senescence, a phenomenon sometimes described as “zombie cells”, occurs when cells reach the end of their “life” and stop dividing. The accumulation of these senescent cells contributes to harmful alterations in our gene expression, one of the most fundamental ways to measure our health, contributing to chronic inflammation, and act as a causative factor in aging itself.

Drugs

Many of us deal with physiological stresses from consumption of drugs, both prescription, and illegal narcotics. H2 has shown to have protective effects in a rodent study against aspirin-induced gastric damage [31], acetaminophen-induced hepatoxicity in two rodent studies [32][33], has both increased effectiveness and decreased the toxic side effects of chemotherapy in rodent studies leading to longer survival rates, including a pair of rodent studies using fluorouracil (5-FU),[34][35] a pair of rodent studies utilizing the chemotherapy drug cisplatin[36][37] and a significant human study following 152 patients in a controlled, randomized single blind clinical trial of patients undergoing mFOLFOX6 chemotherapy[38]

For recreational drugs, many of us have partaken in our lives, particularly our youth. Some do throughout their entire life. One of the most common testimonials we here is what hydrogen water does for self induced hangovers. There is only a small amount of research on this, however, hydrogen water has shown to be potentially beneficial for ethanol-induced hangovers [39], and methamphetamine-induced neurotoxicity [40].

Radiation Damage

Radiation damage is a topic discussed less frequently in terms of aging, however very critical.[41][42][43] Some have even suggested low dose radiation could extend lifespan by acting as a form of hormesis.[44] As is true for overexposure to other forms of hormesis, such as exercise and alcohol, molecular hydrogen has shown to protect against radiation-damaging effects.[45][46][47] For example, this was observed in rodent models with full body damage[48][49][50][51] and another study where it aided in healing post radiation burns in rats,[52][53] as well as one model studying chickens to determine relevance for those exposed to radiation during Fukushima.[54]

Furthermore, NASA scientists have hypothesized that hydrogen water, hydrogen gas inhalation- or both- could serve as tools to protect astronauts from radiation exposure.[55][56] The precise mechanisms in which H2 assists in these models, with particular emphasis on the mitigation of oxidative stress, have been described in great detail in two review papers, one confirming results with a rodent model of their own design where elevated levels of SOD and phosphorylated-AKT, a cell growth and survival signaling molecule, were observed [57][58].

With one human study using hydrogen water to mitigate side effects of radiation therapy in cancer patients,[59] research on hydrogen water and its protection against radiation is under way with positive results, but more research is definitely needed. Currently, there is another single ongoing trial actively recruiting published on clinicaltrials.gov in which StonyBrook Medicine will follow 15 patients with high grade gliomas receiving radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hydrogen therapy using the Drink HRW hydrogen tablets for 1 year measuring quality of life.

Psychological Stress

Molecular hydrogen is less studied for assisting with psychological stresses, however, there is some early research which has been promising. In a pair of mouse model studies hydrogen water showed to positively impact depressive like behaviour[60] and hydrogen gas inhalation similarly showed a benefit in mitigating social deficits and depressive like behaviours.[61] In another model the epileptic drug valproic acid was used in high levels to induce autistic like behaviour, which hydrogen water significantly reduced[62].

Remember, the dose makes the poison (or medication) and even water is toxic and lethal in high doses. This study further demonstrates molecular hydrogen’s rescuing capacity against physiological assault, and may not necessarily translate directly to autism itself, which is a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Finally, a single human study with only 26 participants is published suggesting hydrogen water may positively impact mood and anxiety,[63] so more research in humans is needed to further explore this potential benefit.

Conclusion

Stress, both psychological and physiological, accumulates every day from almost every angle. Molecular hydrogen is not a magic cure. But it does show significant potential in assisting your ability to handle these stresses and overcome them. It is not a standalone, and cannot be relied on as a magic pill, but with the proper utilization along with other healthy lifestyle practices it can be a tremendous ally.

And for those of you thinking your stress levels are low, so hydrogen water may not be able to help, a recent clinical trial just demonstrated that hydrogen water can reduce inflammation, increase antioxidant response, and reduce apoptosis even in healthy participants, and especially those over 30 years old.[64]

The Best Hydrogen Water Source

Hydrogen water concentrations can vary widely, as much as 150x. Further, not all hydrogen water levels have demonstrated to be therapeutic, with higher concentrations and doses showing a greater benefit. Fortunately, one technology is head and shoulders above the rest.

Drink HRW tablets have provided third party gas chromatography results, demonstrating they have the highest dosage and concentration in the world.

The Drink HRW tablets are the most clinically validated source of hydrogen water, with 6 clinical trials and 2 case studies published as of September 2020, and another 15 clinical trials and 4 preclinical research programs underway.

Drink HRW tablet technology is also the only legal supplemental form of hydrogen in the USA, having received New Dietary Ingredient status from the FDA.

Let the experts help determine your hydrogen water choice, with both researchers and pro athletes alike determining Drink HRW is the best option.