Molecular hydrogen (H2) therapy is a new but publicly little-known approach to treating human ill-health. The Molecular Hydrogen Institute (MHI), a science-based non-profit body, publishes information on all aspects of hydrogen therapy. Research on this therapy is still in its early phases but about 1,000 research articles have been published to date concentrating on cell cultures and animal models. More long-term trials are needed to confirm the efficacy of H2 therapy in human medicine.
Peer-reviewed research, quoted by MHI, suggests H2 therapy can help to combat the top 10 deadly diseases listed by the American Centre for Disease Control, and that it has therapeutic potential in more than 170 human/animal disease models, in every organ in the body, and without chronic toxic side effects. Hydrogen therapy is certified as safe by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The range of conditions quoted as benefiting from H2 therapy includes metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis B, wound-healing, recovery from radiotherapy, cognitive impairment, athletic performance and more. Also, bacteria naturally resident in the human gut generate large amounts of hydrogen known to have beneficial effects on health.
Hydrogen normally exists as molecular hydrogen gas (H2) where two hydrogen atoms are bonded together
There are 92 naturally occurring elements, ranging from hydrogen, the smallest/lightest, to uranium, the largest/heaviest. Hydrogen and helium were the first two elements formed in the Big Bang, about 14 billion years ago. Hydrogen is uniquely important to humans. Our sun is essentially an enormous ball of hydrogen undergoing fusion to form helium and radiating energy to supply the Earth’s only external source of energy, without which life would be impossible.
Hydrogen normally exists as molecular hydrogen gas (H2) where two hydrogen atoms are bonded together. In H2 therapy, hydrogen, generated by electrolysis, is most commonly administered via inhalation of a 0.6-1.5 per cent mixture of hydrogen in air (below flammability level) or drinking hydrogen dissolved in water at up to 1.6 parts per million. Because H2 molecules are the smallest in nature and are non-polar, they rapidly enter body cells, easily moving across membranes into subcellular compartments to exert their effects.
How does H2 exert beneficial medical effects? Among its many proposed activities, its role as a selective anti-oxidant gets most attention. In 2007 Ikuroh Ohsawa and others (Nature Medicine Vol 13) demonstrated that administration of hydrogen gas to rats suffering from stress damage had therapeutic effects by relieving oxidative stress.
And now, a short digression into chemistry. Atoms have a central nucleus, containing protons and neutrons, surrounded by a planetary system of orbiting electrons. The chemical properties of atoms reside in the orbiting electrons. Atoms combine to form molecules by interacting with their outer orbitals in such a manner that ensures the electrons in these outer interacting orbitals are paired.
The energy essential to run our cells is generated by breaking down foodstuffs (principally sugars) in the presence of oxygen
When a molecule is broken in such a manner that the resulting fragments have unpaired electrons in their outer orbitals, the fragments are called free radicals. Free radicals are extremely reactive. In biological cells free radicals, unless controlled, react indiscriminately with other vital molecules (proteins, lipids, nucleic acids), disrupting cellular structure and function. An uncontrolled free radical can be visualised as a manic super-sharp scissors, randomly rushing about cutting up the fabric of the cell. H2 can neutralise dangerous free radicals.
The energy essential to run our cells is generated by breaking down foodstuffs (principally sugars) in the presence of oxygen. This process inevitably generates free radicals, called reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS). But the cell has mechanisms to control these normally-produced ROS/RNS – in fact these particular free radicals are essential to good regulation of the cell. However, if ROS/RNS are generated in excess, eg as a result of smoking, ingesting pollutants, excessive alcohol etc, they are dangerous to the cell, causing oxidative stress that may initiate disease, such as cancer. It seems H2 therapy can neutralise dangerous R0S/RNS while leaving useful ROS/RNS alone.
The only H2 therapy clinic in Ireland I know of is the H2 Clinic, in Bishopstown, Cork, established in 2017 by osteopath Noel O’Connor. He reports that clients experienced “very favourable results on a number of conditions over the past six years, including rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, neuropathy, allergies, chronic skin conditions and long Covid”. But H2 therapy is no panacea – while 73 per cent of clients reported satisfaction with the treatment, 27 per cent reported little/no benefit.
While much research remains to be done to elucidate its exact usefulness in human medicine, it seems that H2 therapy has the potential to significantly ameliorate a wide range of human ailments.
- William Reville is an emeritus professor of biochemistry at UCC