MOLECULAR HYDROGEN: AN EMERGING MEDICAL GAS WITH THERAPEUTIC POTENTIAL
DISEASES VS. HYDROGEN
The prominent and therapeutic effects of molecular hydrogen (H2 gas) are emerging to the forefront of scientific research. Humans are continuously fighting the battle against cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, diabetes, osteoporosis, chronic inflammation, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and many more.
The search for a simple method to prevent all such ailments, and in short to halt the aging process and even reverse it to youth, is not a new concept. This idea seems to be prevalent throughout the history of mankind, including the writings of Herodotus about the Fountain of Youth.1
The more research that accumulates about molecular hydrogen, the more it appears to have the sought after properties of the Fountain of Youth. A 2010 quality review article2 on molecular hydrogen, published in Free Radical Research, stated:
“It is not an overstatement to say that hydrogen’s impact on therapeutic and preventive medicine could be enormous in the future.”
Since that review article, over 400 additional articles have been published substantiating that declaration. Currently about 150 different disease models have been studied, in which molecular hydrogen appears to exert a beneficial effect (including the ones listed above).
HYDROGEN’S THERAPEUTIC HISTORY
The medicinal properties of molecular hydrogen appear to be promoted as early as 1798.3 Many years later in 1975, the departments of Biology and Chemistry from the prestigious Baylor University and Texas A&M published a great article on the potential use of molecular hydrogen in medicine in the premier peer-reviewed journal of Science4. However, it wasn’t until 2007, when an article was published in Nature Medicine,5 which showed the selective antioxidant properties and antiapoptotic (anti-cell death) activity of molecular hydrogen, that the biomedical field took strong interest in hydrogen’s therapeutic potential. Prior to 2007, only 50 articles were published regarding hydrogen as a medical gas, compared to over 500 articles within the past seven years. Perhaps the main reason why it is only recently that molecular hydrogen is being recognized as a therapeutic molecule is because of scientific skepticism. It is difficult to believe diatomic molecular hydrogen could have any therapeutic effects because it is generally considered to be an inert gas.6,7
HOW IT WORKS
Molecular hydrogen is the smallest element and lightest molecule. There are three main properties that explain hydrogen’s therapeutic effects.
1. Molecular hydrogen can easily diffuse into the subcellular compartments and scavenge cytotoxic oxygen radicals,5 thus protecting the DNA, RNA and proteins from oxidative stress.8
2. Molecular hydrogen also triggers the activation or upregulation of additional antioxidant enzymes (e.g. glutathione, superoxide dismutase, catalase, etc.) and/or cytoprotective proteins of the body.9
3. Molecular hydrogen may be a novel-signaling molecule that can alter cell signaling,10 cell metabolism11 and gene expression.12 This gives the anti-inflammatory effects, anti-allergic effects, and anti-apoptotic (or anti-cell death) effects.13
HEALING WATERS CONTAIN MOLECULAR HYDROGEN
It has also been discovered that the documented “healing” or “curative” waters of Nordenau, Germany; Tlacote, Mexico; and Hita Tenryosui, Japan waters contain dissolved hydrogen gas. 14-16 The existence of molecular hydrogen in these springs could be a result of water reacting with alkali-earth metals, or from molecular hydrogen gas-producing bacteria and algae.17
HYDROGEN HEALTH AND COLONIC BACTERIA
Some of the bacteria in our intestinal tract produce hydrogen gas from non-digestible fibers,18 which is perhaps another reason why a diet rich in fiber reduces inflammation19 and has cardiovascular20 and other health benefits.21
HYDROGEN: FROM THE BEGINNING
Hydrogen has an intriguing history. It is the father of all elements of the universe,22 and along with oxygen, it has been intrinsically involved with evolution of life in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes (e.g. hydrogenases, hydrogosomes, mitochondria, etc.). 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,23 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 oxygen24—focusing only on one side of this Yin and Yang type relationship.
We are actively working on discovering the actual molecular mechanisms and primary targets of hydrogen gas. More in vitro data is what is needed to fully demonstrate and understand the therapeutic potential of molecular hydrogen.
- 1. HOPKINS, E. W. (1905). The fountain of youth. Journal of the American Oriental Society 26, 1-67.
- 2. HUANG, C. S., KAWAMURA, T., TOYODA, Y. & NAKAO, A. (2010). Recent advances in hydrogen research as a therapeutic medical gas. Free Radical Research 44, 971-982.
- 3. CAVALLO, T. (1798). An essay on the medicinal properties of factitious airs: with an appendix on the nature of blood. Printed for the author, and sold by C. Dilly [and 2 others].
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