Health News Digest


October 3, 2016

Hydrogen As A Therapeutic Agent

By Michael D. Shaw

Consulting the literature, one can find several hundred references to the use of hydrogen as a medical therapeutic agent. Indeed, a number of comprehensive review articles on the topic—each one replete with scores of citations—have appeared in the past few years. The first documented use of hydrogen in medicine appeared in 1888 (from Milwaukee surgeon N. Senn), describing its use as a diagnostic aid by insufflation. With such inflation of the gastro-intestinal canal, more accurate diagnoses on penetrating wounds of the abdomen could be effected.

As to actual hydrogen therapy, we would have to wait until 1975, and an article published in Science entitled “Hyperbaric hydrogen therapy: a possible treatment for cancer.” Free radicals (any atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in an outer shell) have long been implicated in the aging process and cancer. Knowing that hydrogen (as a potent reducing agent) kills free radicals, three researchers from Texas wondered what it would do against skin tumors in mice. “Marked regression of the tumors was found.”

Bingo! What about oxidative stress? As Andrew Weil, MD puts it: “Oxidative stress is the total burden placed on organisms by the constant production of free radicals in the normal course of metabolism plus whatever other pressures the environment brings to bear.” Certainly, we have inherent mechanisms to fight this.

He concludes: “A good case can be made for the notion that health depends on a balance between oxidative stress and antioxidant defenses. Aging and age-related diseases reflect the inability of our antioxidant defenses to cope with oxidative stress over time. The good news is that with strong antioxidant defenses, long life without disease should be possible.”

Hydrogen is about as good as it gets in fighting oxidative stress. According to a 2016 comprehensive (46-page) review article entitled “Clinical Effects of Hydrogen Administration: From Animal and Human Diseases to Exercise Medicine”: Since it is a gas, it can be given by a variety of methods, and as a gas or if dissolved in fluids, hydrogen has extraordinary penetration and tissue distribution properties. It can easily penetrate cellular membranes and enter intracellular compartments (unlike most supplements). Likewise, in contrast to many antioxidants, hydrogen also has the advantage of being able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier.

And, consider one more advantage of hydrogen therapy. An important subset of free radicals are the reactive oxygen species (ROS). Notably, despite their cytotoxic effects, low concentrations of ROS function as signaling molecules, regulating various processes in the cell. Hydrogen does not seem to affect these “good” ROS.

Several labs in Japan have been interested in so-called functional water—including reduced water (extra hydrogen content)—since the 1930s. Thus, Japanese researchers were intrigued by the 1992 occurrences in Nordenau, Germany. By chance, guests at a local hotel drank water that was later found to contain extra hydrogen, possibly because it had absorbed certain minerals. Word spread that a variety of health problems seemed to improve, based on ingestion of this water.

A number of studies would confirm the water’s therapeutic effects. And, as noted, there are now many papers on hydrogen’s beneficial effects. According to a 2012 article in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity entitled “Molecular hydrogen as an emerging therapeutic medical gas for neurodegenerative and other diseases,” hydrogen gas has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on over 150 human diseases. Surely, consuming water containing extra hydrogen would be a great way to administer the substance.

At this point, we should introduce Molecular Hydrogen Foundation—a non-profit scientific organization supported by the leading international researchers in the study of hydrogen. We’ll close with a comment from Tyler LeBaron, the group’s founder and executive director…

It is not surprising to me that hydrogen has therapeutic potential because we have always been exposed to it. For example, nearly 14 billion years ago, hydrogen was produced by the Big Bang. 3.6 billion years ago the earth’s atmosphere was rich in hydrogen gas, which was essential in the genesis of life. Humans developed a symbiotic relationship with hydrogen-producing bacteria.”

Perhaps the reason that hydrogen has a beneficial biological effect is because we have been exposed to hydrogen gas since the dawn of time. I am extremely interested in knowing the primary targets of hydrogen gas.”