Hydrogen is the smallest element on the periodic table, though in its pure form, it tends to exist in a diatomic state, or as H2, which is a gas. This is because electrons are unstable by themselves, and like to pair up, but each hydrogen has only a single electron. In the H2 state, each atom can share the other atom’s electron, and everybody is happy. (This will be important later.)
The body produces large amounts of it in the gut already, though excessive amounts of it are diagnostic of SIBO.
And yet, H2 has quite a number of health benefits (as does H2S, also produced by SIBO when needed—perhaps SIBO is therefore a problem symptomatically, but even so, it may be the body’s adaptive response). H2 serves as a gasotransmitter throughout the body, and it’s a powerful antioxidant with unique properties because of its small size. It can easily penetrate otherwise tight barriers, diffusing into cells, even into the cell nuclei and mitochondria, as well as across the blood brain barrier.
Molecular Hydrogen (H2) Decreases Oxidative Stress
As I mentioned earlier, electrons like to have a buddy. As long as they do, they won’t cause any trouble. When an electron is unpaired, however, it becomes highly reactive, a free radical.
The nutritional world has been abuzz with discussion of NAD+, the activated version of Vitamin B3, as a super supplement for oxidative stress, energy, and anti-aging. This is because it’s one of the primary electron donors into the mitochondria, where food and oxygen turn into energy. However, all antioxidants throughout the body exist in a kind of continuous dance; one quenches a free radical, but then becomes useless itself until it’s recharged again by another antioxidant. NAD+ can become NADPH with an extra hydrogen donated by H2, such that it can donate electrons to the main antioxidants in the body, primarily glutathione, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E.
Not only that, but the enzyme that breaks down NAPDH called NADPH oxidase (NOX) turns on in the presence of oxidative stress, inhibiting the job of NADPH. H2 will mitigate activation of NOX when it might otherwise be overstimulated, at the same time that it converts NAD+ into NADPH, making it beneficial on both sides of the equation.
H2 also stimulates the Nrf2 pathway, which regulates the body’s overall responses to oxidative stress and subsequent inflammation. This pathway increases NADPH production, glutathione production, and autophagy, among many others.
H2 selectively scavenges many powerful free radicals produced inside the body in response to oxidative stressors, including OH- and ONOO-, which are associated DNA damage. These free radicals can also oxidize lipids, triggering cardiovascular stress and can inactivate proteins as well—so H2 protects against this too.
At the same time, some reactive oxygen species serve a physiologic purpose in the body, and H2 leaves these alone.
In other words, H2 acts as a smart antioxidant, creating homeostasis between free radicals and antioxidants, rather than quenching them all indiscriminately.
Molecular Hydrogen (H2) Regulates Inflammatory Responses
Oxidative stress causes tissue damage, while inflammation is the result. Because of this, regulated oxidative stress would be expected to decrease a hyperactive inflammatory response — and indeed it does.
This study of parasite-induced liver inflammation showed that breathing high pressure H2 gas could reverse it, while this Hepatitis B study showed that oxidative stress and inflammation led to improved liver function as well.
Molecular Hydrogen (H2) Studies for Wound Healing and Tissue Damage
We would expect that with less oxidative stress and inflammation, the body would be less susceptible to tissue damage, which is also the case.
This mouse study showed that H2 mitigated nicotine-related testicular injury, while this rat study showed that H2 water (see delivery methods below) decreased the injury to the stomach lining otherwise induced by aspirin. This rat study shows that damage due to ischemia/reperfusion (where the tissue didn’t get enough oxygen for a period of time and then got too much all at once thereafter) was mitigated due to H2 as well.
Molecular hydrogen also helps with tissue repair after the injury has occurred, regardless of the part of the body in question. This study shows that it is effective in healing a wound of the oral palate.
This study shows that it can help heal testicular injury due to radiation (though again, we can probably assume that the cause of injury is less important, provided the obstacle to cure is gone).
Several studies showed that various delivery methods of H2 can benefit retinal damage. This study showed that retinal ischemia/reperfusion injury that has already occurred can benefit from H2-loaded eye drops. This study showed that the trigger for injury didn’t matter, H2 was still beneficial, in various methods of delivery. This study showed that even if the optic nerve is crushed, H2 can be beneficial for healing.
Molecular Hydrogen Studies for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease
Because Molecular Hydrogen can cross the BBB, it’s been studied for various neurological diseases, especially Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s Disease is heavily associated with exposure to environmental toxins. This study suggests that the mechanism has to do with degradation of melanin levels, because melanin can trigger production of H2 from water, thus implying that low H2 levels in the body could be part of the problem in Parkinson’s in the first place.
Even concentrations of H2 water as low as 5% decreased symptoms of Parkinson’s in this animal study. This mouse study showed that concentrations as low as 0.08 ppm were strangely as effective as much higher doses in reducing loss of dopaminergic neurons. This clinical trial found the same result in humans.
Because H2 is effective at reducing oxidative stress and subsequent inflammation, this rat study shows that it likewise can improve cognition and memory in Alzheimer’s
Molecular Hydrogen for Metabolic Syndrome
Energy metabolism goes back to the mitochondria. This does potentially imply that those struggling with weight despite their best efforts at diet and exercise may be suffering from mitochondrial dysfunction.
This study shows that indeed, long-term intake of hydrogen water not only leads to lower weight and body fat, but also lower blood sugar, insulin, and triglycerides.
This study shows that H2 can work almost as well as insulin in regulating blood sugar levels!
This study also shows that Type-2 Diabetics benefit from reduced oxidative stress secondary to high glucose levels, too.
Molecular Hydrogen Studies for Cancer
Certainly, since chemo produces oxidative stress in the process of killing cancer cells in many cases, H2 can help alleviate some of the side effects of chemo after the fact.
However, it also appears that H2 gas can suppress the growth of cancer cells themselves, too. This is perhaps due to the fact that studies are now showing that cancer cells produce more reactive oxygen species than normal cells, which contributes to various elements of cancer growth and progression.
This study does show that it can block the progression of lung cancer.
Delivery Methods for Molecular Hydrogen
Studies I came across discuss breathing pressurized H2 gas, intravenous delivery, and intraperitoneal delivery—while these might be more highly concentrated and thus more effective, they’re not the most practical for everyday use.
Hydrogen water is far more convenient, and safer. The down sides are that H2 doesn’t dissolve extremely well in water, and because it’s a gas, it can easily evaporate, and it’s therefore hard to control the dose. Usually after thirty minutes of oral consumption, there’s no trace of it in the bloodstream anymore. Because of all of this, there remain some questions about how hydrogen water can possibly be effective, though the studies certainly suggest that it is. This study did find one possible explanation, that H2 can accumulate in the liver, though this seems only a partial explanation at best.
You can purchase H2 tablets at 9 mg per tablet to dissolve in water and make your own hydrogen water (), and the usual recommended dose is 1-2 tablets per day. There are also various machines that can make hydrogen water from regular (filtered!) water as well, though these are of course far pricier.