They say that the best answers are sometimes the simplest ones – and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to antioxidants.
You’ve heard plenty about antioxidants over the years, and how important they are to stopping disease and protecting your overall health.
But it turns out that the simplest of antioxidants, hydrogen, may be the most powerful and versatile one around.
Hydrogen isn’t just the simplest antioxidant, but also the simplest of all molecules. Containing one proton and one electron, hydrogen is the ‘H’ in H2O (water) and in HCl (hydrochloric acid); and you can find it in all plants, the human body, and even the sun.
We’ve learned plenty about how hydrogen can combat oxidative stress and disease in our bodies. And according to a recent review of studies published in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine, this simple gas molecule may hold the key to slowing your body’s ageing process to a crawl.1
When inflammation begets inflammation
Because of its small size, hydrogen is able to move anywhere in the body – including across cell membranes, the blood brain barrier, and even into the cell structures that produce energy (i.e. mitochondria). Because it’s able to pass into parts of the cells in the body and the brain where other antioxidants can’t go, hydrogen can have a special role in protecting us from potential illness and cell damage.
In order to understand these remarkable effects, we have to understand the nature of aging and inflammation in the body – both of which are largely a result of something called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress creates ‘free radicals’ – substances that attack and damage DNA (including in the mitochondria), proteins and fats in the cells, or enzyme systems meant to maintain our state of health.
These free radicals in turn create other free radicals in the body, and a cascade of inflammation and tissue damage occurs – a hallmark of chronic disease. When this damage occurs, the mitochondria in the cells stop functioning properly… and without their ‘power house’, the cells die. Whether this oxidative stress comes from environment, diet, chemicals and toxins, infections, emotional stresses or injury, the results are the same.
But studies of autoimmune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis have shown that hydrogen therapy lowers inflammation and interferes with the messengers of oxidative stress over a broad range of illnesses.
It’s even been suggested that psychiatric illnesses may respond to this remarkable therapy, since illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder involve oxidative stress and inflammation.
Neutralise the damaging effects of radiation
Although the research suggesting that antioxidants can interfere with cancer treatments is questionable at best, many oncologists and patients are wary of taking antioxidants while having cancer therapy – even if the antioxidants would help to modify symptoms.
The answer to this conundrum may very well lie in this simple element, hydrogen. You see, radiation damages and inflames the body while it does its dirty work, creating something called ‘hydroxyl radicals.’
The hydroxyl radical is particularly damaging to cell tissues, and it isn’t easily eliminated by the normal detoxification processes. But because hydrogen gas is a very stable molecule, it’s unaffected by most so-called free radicals – and it has the unique ability to turn hydroxyl into harmless water.
And hydrogen water and other forms of hydrogen can neutralize hydroxyl radicals without interfering at all with the cancer-killing effects of radiation. In one randomised clinical study of people with liver cancer, those who drank hydrogen water (versus placebo water) demonstrated a clear improvement in quality of life and symptom reduction.
(Bone marrow, intestine, skin, and brain are some of the other tissues studied for the radioprotective effects of hydrogen.)
What’s more, no side effects were reported… and, in fact, very few side effects have ever been reported with hydrogen water therapy. Hydrogen water can protect against not only the radiation of cancer treatments, but also ultraviolet rays and their damaging effects on human skin.
Your skin changes with the ravages of time and environmental effects – but human studies have demonstrated that applying hydrogen water directly onto the skin both protects the skin directly through its effect on RNA expression and lowers the inflammatory cytokines that can damage the skin long term.
Some studies have even demonstrated that burned skin heals faster and with less oxidative damage when exposed hydrogen therapy. In one Japanese study, chronic pressure sores in elderly patients healed faster when the patient was given hydrogen water through their tube feedings.
And in another Japanese study, subjects who bathed daily in hydrogen water showed improvements in wrinkles in just three months. A cardiac event doesn’t have to be a heart-breaker
Multiple laboratory and animal studies have looked at the use of hydrogen therapy to prevent cardiac damage in the event that the heart’s blood supply gets cut off temporarily. This dangerous condition occurs when oxygen is decreased to cells as a result of heart attacks, strokes, or other injuries (ischaemia). Blood then sometimes is restored to the tissues acutely (reperfusion) in a way that can actually damage tissues more.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that hydrogen therapy can protect tissues, particularly cardiac tissue, from this type of injury. Other studies have used hydrogen gas to protect hearts and other organs during transplantation. Still other studies have shown that hydrogen therapy protects the lungs from damage during cardiac bypass surgery.
An interesting possible use of hydrogen therapy is its effect on blood pressure and its consequences. In one animal study, oral hydrogen prevented the development of hypertension and hypertrophy of the heart muscle wall. In another study, on humans, drinking hydrogen water versus placebo water lowered systolic blood pressure almost immediately.
Stop nerve damage in its tracks
Neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and ALS offer another area that seems to be amenable to hydrogen therapy. Several animal models of Parkinson’s disease have demonstrated a prevention of further damage to the substantia nigra part of the brain – and even some improvement of function.
In one mouse study, a significant reduction of the loss of dopaminergic neurons (which are damaged in PD) occurred by simply putting hydrogen into the drinking water.
Most exciting was a pilot double-blind, clinical trial of humans with Parkinson’s performed in Japan. All the patients were on levodopa, a Parkinson’s medication, but some of them were also given a litre of hydrogenated water a day for 48 weeks. The rest of the group was given placebo water.
The treated group actually showed improvement on standardised scales of function!
Just add more H to your H2O
Every cell in the body is attacked by free radicals at least 10,000 times a day, so it’s critical that we ingest – in our food and in our supplements – powerful antioxidants to offset the effects of free radicals and oxidative stress.
Substances such as vitamin C and E, glutathione and alpha lipoic acid, plant-based flavonoids, and enzymes such as SOD are all antioxidants that can offset the ravages of free radical damage.
I’ve started to take hydrogen water myself to see if it has any effect on my Parkinson’s symptoms, and I’ve begun to incorporate it into the healing programmes of patients who have inflammation and oxidative stress (which is, basically, everyone).
I’m excited to add it to anti aging protocols as well. Drinking hydrogen water gets the hydrogen into the bloodstream rapidly and efficiently. Remarkably, hydrogen can be dissolved into water without changing the water itself, nor its taste, colour or other properties.
And it’s so mild and innocuous that it doesn’t affect the normal function of the cells. There should be little or no adverse effects of hydrogen therapies.
We’re currently using a GMO-free supplement product called ‘H2 Absorb’ at my clinic. It’s a tablet that, when plopped into a bottle of water, dissolves hydrogen into it while it fizzes. For more information, visit www.RothfeldApothecary.com.Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 10, Issue 9 • September 2016
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.