Hydrogen is the simplest chemical element found on Earth and the most abundant one in the Universe. At standard temperature and pressure, hydrogen exists as a diatomic gas, H2. Because it is lighter than air, hydrogen gas rises in the atmosphere and does not occur in appreciable quantities on Earth. However, quite contrary, it is one of the main constituents of planets and stars, like the Sun. When two hydrogen atoms in the Sun’s core combine to form an atom of helium, the all-familiar radiant energy is given off. On Earth, hydrogen is found mostly in molecular forms with other elements. In combination with oxygen, it makes up water – a molecule essential for sustaining life.
Clearly, despite its light weight and chemical simplicity, hydrogen is critical for life on Earth in many aspects. It powers the Sun, makes up water and has the potential for use as an energy carrier, but what about its medical application? Let’s take a look at how far research has explored the use of hydrogen for medicinal purposes.
Breaking the ground for new research on hydrogen. In 2007, a study published by researchers from the Institute of Geriatrics at Japan Medical University attracted significant attention of the research community and laid the foundation for a new scientific field of exploration. The study found that inhaled hydrogen gas protects the brain against ischemia-reperfusion injury and stroke, likely via the antioxidant mechanism.1 Researchers also demonstrated that H2 is an effective ·OH radical scavenger in cultured cells and pointed to its ability to rapidly diffuse across the membranes. Since then, numerous studies have focused on understanding the potential therapeutic value of hydrogen and hydrogen-rich water in various disease models.
Treatment with hydrogen. Treatment with hydrogen, most often delivered in the form of hydrogen gas, hydrogen-rich saline solution or hydrogen-rich water, has been shown to have various preventive and therapeutic effects in emergency and critical care medicine.2 In two animal model studies, hydrogen gas has been shown to ameliorate intracerebral hemorrhage3 and reduce hyperoxic lung injury in vivo.4 Hydrogen gas also has applications in diagnostic medicine. The hydrogen breath test is used in clinical practice to detect abnormal bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, or to diagnose the malabsorption of lactose or fructose.5
The effects of hydrogen-rich water. Numerous published research studies have focused on elucidating the potential benefits of hydrogen-rich water. One preliminary study found that drinking hydrogen-rich water effectively reduces oxidative stress in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and significantly reduces the symptoms associated with this condition.6 In animal model studies, supplementation with hydrogen-rich water has also been shown to have beneficial effects in prevention of types 1 and 2 diabetes,7 brain ischemia/reperfusion injury,1 and parasite-induced, chronic liver inflammation.8 One group of authors found that hydrogen improved glycemic control in type one diabetic mice by promoting glucose uptake into skeletal muscle,7 while another group observed that ingestion of hydrogen-rich water is associated with the reduction of serum concentrations of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and free fatty acids.9
Several studies looked into the effects of hydrogen-rich water on the cardiovascular system and lipid metabolism. Treatment with hydrogen-rich saline had an anti-inflammatory effect on rat hearts with regional myocardial ischemia/reperfusion.10 Data from a different study on human subjects has shown that treatment with H2-rich water causes a decrease in serum total cholesterol and LDL levels and improves HDL function in patients likely suffering from the metabolic syndrome.11 The mechanism by which hydrogen improves lipid metabolism and atherosclerosis is still largely unknown, although it is postulated that it involves hydrogen’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Brunswick Labs recently tested the effect of a hydrogen-rich water product supplied by Sierra Productions Research on the intestinal permeability and uptake of glucose. Caco-2 cells, derived from a human colon carcinoma cell line, were used in the Caco-2 absorption study as an in vitro model of the human intestinal epithelium. Incubation of Caco-2 cell monolayers with 6.25%, 12.5% and 25% v/v hydrogenated water caused a time-dependent decrease in glucose permeability.
The same hydrogen-rich water product was also tested for its effects on SIRT1 gene expression in human umbilical
More interesting research is on the horizon. Wherever water flows, some form of life exists. Outlined research indicates that hydrogen-rich water might exert beneficial effects, beyond its purely nutritive value. However, additional research, particularly in the form of large-sample size clinical studies, is needed to draw any definite conclusions. Furthermore, a comprehensive look into the mechanism by which hydrogen-rich water exerts its beneficial effects is also necessary, since the primary molecular target(s) of H2 are still unknown. Although H2 is involved in regulation of gene expression and protein-phosphorylation, the connection between this regulation and oxidative stress response is also unclear.endothelial cells (HUVECs). SIRT1 expression has been shown to ameliorate the onset and progression of age-related diseases (cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and metabolic disorders) in transgenic animal models. Thus, the potential beneficial effects of SIRT1 have made it an interesting therapeutic target for age-related diseases. After treatment with hydrogenated water, the level of SIRT1 expression increased in a dose-dependent manner, suggesting its potential utility in activation of SIRT1 expression. It would be interesting to explore further the potential implications of this water product on glucose metabolism and age-related disorders.
The use of hydrogen for preventive and therapeutic purposes is a rapidly emerging field of investigation which will surely see significant growth in years to come. For illustration, in the period from 2009 to 2014, there were 45 National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) projects funded in China alone.2 Brunswick Labs looks forward to staying on top of, and actively contributing to, exciting new developments in this field.
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- 8. Gharib B, Hanna S, Abdallahi OM, et al. Anti-inflammatory properties of molecular hydrogen: investigation on parasite-induced liver inflammation.C. R. Acad. Sci. III. 2001; 324: 719–724.
- 9. Lio A, Ito M, Itoh T, et al. Molecular hydrogen attenuates fatty acid uptake and lipid accumulation through downregulating CD36 expression in HepG2 cells. Med Gas Res. 2013; 3(1): 6.
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- 11. Song G, Li M, Sang H, et al. Hydrogen-rich water decreases serum LDL-cholesterol levels and improves HDL function in patients with potential metabolic syndrome. J Lipid Res. 2013; 54(7): 1884-1893.
Jasenka Piljac Zegarac is a scientist and freelance writer. She holds a PhD in biology and a BS degree in biochemistry, and contributes on a regular basis to several health and science blogs. Her research articles have gathered more than 900 citations. She may be contacted for assistance with a variety of science and medical writing projects. Jasenka can be found on LinkedIn.