Over 500 molecular hydrogen studies now extol the health benefits of molecular hydrogen (H2), an antioxidant supplement that is getting a lot of attention these days. Researchers have linked this tasteless, odorless, flammable gas to helping battle more than five dozen illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and Alzheimer’s.
Molecular hydrogen also helps with sports injuries and may even fight cancerous tumors.
Yet, scientific skepticism has played a large role in why molecular hydrogen is just now coming into its own. Researchers have had a hard time believing an inert gas with only two atoms (the minimum to form a molecule) could have health benefits. But it’s the smallness of molecular hydrogen that makes it an ideal antioxidant. It is possibly the only antioxidant molecule that can reach inside the mitochondria (power generators) of a cell where it reduces oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is one of the major causes of most lifestyle-related illnesses, cancers, and the aging process.
Molecular Hydrogen Studies: A Closer Look At The Science
To better understand how this simple molecule packs such a potent punch, one needs to examine the chemistry.
Electrons orbit around atoms. Sometimes, the outermost ring is not always full, which results in the atom searching for electrons to fill the outer ring by taking from other atoms. Other times, the atom will lose all of its electrons in its outer ring to find stability. In other cases still, they share electrons by bonding together with other atoms. Generally, the atoms will not split in any way that leaves another atom unstable, but the weak bonds split and create unstable atoms, also known as free radicals. The volatile atoms react with other compounds in an effort to gain the missing electrons which allows them to become stable. Once the molecule steals an electron (known as lipid peroxidation in cell membranes), the other molecule becomes a free radical, and the process just continues. The domino effect of the free radicals stealing electrons eventually causes damage on a cellular level.
Everyday living (metabolism) causes harmful free radicals. Smoking, herbicides, radiation, and pollution all lead to free radicals. Antioxidants found in vitamins, certain foods, and even wine help to combat free radical damage. But when there aren’t enough antioxidants available, or they can’t penetrate cellular membranes, the damage continues, especially as we age.
Molecular Hydrogen Really Penetrates
Molecular hydrogen is not only small but it’s the lightest element in the Periodic Table of Elements. This makes H2 extremely bioavailable, allowing it to even get through sub-cellular structures. Molecular hydrogen is hydrophobic, meaning it is not diluted by water, which allows mitochondria access. In contrast, vitamin C as an antioxidant is hydrophilic, meaning it becomes diluted in water so it has problems in trying to pass through a cell’s fatty layer. When H2 enters into the subcellular compartments, it attacks the cytotoxic oxygen radicals such as oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS), which are generated as byproducts of oxidative stress. This is important according to a scholarly analysis that appeared in Scientific Research earlier this year, because, in excess, ROS/RNS can induce cumulative oxidative damage to cellular macromolecules, which causes cellular dysfunction, cell death, and can lead to various full-blown diseases. Simply put, H2 protects proteins, RNA, and DNA from free radicals.
Not Your Conventional Antioxidant
Molecular Hydrogen Foundation founder and executive director Tyler LeBaron calls H2 “a unique and superior molecule” because it can also activate the Nrf2 pathway and increase the endogenous levels of glutathione and other antioxidants if they are lower than they should be.
Nrf2 is a powerful healing protein that is latent within each cell in the body. Molecular hydrogen has the ability to activate Nrf2 proteins through something known as the Nrf2 pathway. Once released, Nrf2 proteins migrate into the cell nucleus and bond to the DNA at the location of the Antioxidant Response Element (ARE) or also called hARE (Human Antioxidant Response Element) which is the master regulator of the total antioxidant system that is available in all human cells.
“Molecular hydrogen’s cell modulating properties in biological systems is what affords it with various anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, and anti-obesity effects,” says LeBaron.
The exact mechanism of how hydrogen modulates is still being investigated. A recent publication in Scientific Reports provides good evidence to suggest that one of the mechanisms through which hydrogen accomplishes the various cell-modulating effects is by modifying lipid peroxidation in the cell membrane. In cultured cells, at biologically relevant concentrations, hydrogen suppressed the free radical chain reaction-dependent peroxidation. In other words, molecular hydrogen can interrupt the oxidation of lipids, which has been implicated in disease states such as atherosclerosis, IBD, ROP, BPD, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, kidney damage, preeclampsia, and others.
Hydrogen The Yin To Oxygen’s Yang
In retrospect, we shouldn’t really be surprised by molecular hydrogen’s potential. As the Molecular Hydrogen Foundation website puts it:
Hydrogen has an intriguing history. It is the father of all elements of the universe, and along with oxygen, it has been intrinsically involved with evolution of life in both prokaryotes (molecules with cell walls like plant molecules) and eukaryotes (molecules without cell walls like animal molecules). It is the extremes of oxygen and hydrogen that provide balance between oxidation and reduction, which is vital to life. Not surprisingly, this intimate relationship of oxygen and hydrogen has remained with higher organisms including plants, animals, and humans. However, until recently, research has only focused on the importance and toxicity of oxygen dismissing the role of hydrogen altogether, which negates the toxicity of oxygen — focusing only on one side of this Yin and Yang type relationship.
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Molecular Hydrogen Studies: Safe And Simple To Take
Fortunately, you don’t have to understand all the science behind H2 to reap its benefits. There are several ways to get molecular hydrogen into your system including drinking hydrogen infused water, inhalation, taking an H2 bath, or putting H2-saline into the eyes. The easiest and probably most efficient method is by simply dropping an H2 tablet in water and then drinking it. In all cases, molecular hydrogen enters the bloodstream and is transported throughout the body.
“All this takes place without unpleasant side effects because when H2 neutralizes a free radical, the byproduct is water,” says Dr. Mark Sircus, whose medical practice is based on medical science and long years of clinical experience.
And there doesn’t appear to be an upper limit of use.
“The more hydrogen infused water we consume the better,” says Sircus, “especially for those suffering from a particularly grave condition that needs to be turned around quickly.”
Thomas Ropp Longtime journalist Thomas Ropp is an environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest ten years ago and helped with reforestation projects to expand the habitat of the endangered mono titi monkey. He has dual residency in the United States and Costa Rica.
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