Is Hydrogen-Rich Water Good For You?

When someone asks you about a natural health product you haven’t heard of, what is your gut response?

For many years, mine was, “If I haven’t heard of it, it must not be that good.”

I thought I knew of all the natural products that actually worked. My ego often got in the way of me being open-minded.

In 2014, two things happened that changed my perspective. Vanessa decided to get started with essential oils, and I tore my bicep tendon while deadlifting.

I hadn’t heard much about essential oils, and after Vanessa had been using and talking about them for a few months, I finally started paying attention. I was impressed. Really impressed by what I read about them.

In the middle of the year, I tore my bicep tendon, and with a goal of getting back to deadlifting in half the time the surgeon said it would take, I read and investigated all sorts of unique therapies.

My eyes started opening to how much effective stuff I didn’t know about. Today, when someone asks me about something new, I’m more likely to be open-minded and learn or experiment before forming an opinion.

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Hydrogen-rich water started hitting my radar, and before I jumped to conclusions, I read and researched. I quickly realized there was another natural health option I wasn’t previously aware of.

The research fascinated me.

I’ve been missing out on yet another potential tool in my health and fitness arsenal. I’m not alone, though. Hydrogen-rich water is a relatively new concept in the United States.

Before you dismiss what you might hear, take a look at some of the information I’ve collected below. Then give it a try. What have you got to lose, other than a few more trips to the bathroom from drinking more water?

What is hydrogen-rich water?

As the term suggests, “hydrogen-rich water” is water that goes through an electric or chemical reaction, significantly increasing the concentration of hydrogen molecules.

The health benefits of hydrogen were first explored several decades ago. Hydrogen-rich water was first tested in 2004 in Japan. The first human study of hydrogen-rich water took place in 2008. As science and public acceptance go, it’ll probably be another 5-10 years before the term “hydrogen-rich water” is known by much of the public.

Hydrogen-rich water has been shown to be as effective in delivering hydrogen to the body, as the inhalation of hydrogen gas, which is reserved for a clinical setting, since the hydrogen tanks are flammable.

Hydrogen and Free Radicals

Hydrogen is a free radical scavenger, or antioxidant, which is why scientists became interested in using it for supporting optimal health. Free radicals, or reactive oxygen species, cause damage to the membranes of cells. They are thought to be the main cause of aging, and the development of cancers.

Some free radicals are actually healthy. The simple act of breathing or lifting your arm produces some free radicals. But when the production of free radicals, or exposure to them from the environment, exceeds what we can handle, we run into problems.

Hydrogen gas can be inhaled by patients in a clinical setting. Hydrogen is also delivered via an IV, and over the past several decades, has been shown to be beneficial in a concentrated water.

Hydrogen gas has a very low molecular weight, so it diffuses through tissues quickly once it is consumed.

In the body, higher concentrations of hydrogen appear to do three main things:

  1. Acts as an antioxidant: Hydrogen gas has the ability to quickly diffuse throughout the body and pass through tissues including the blood brain barrier, where it can find free radicals.
  2. Signals gene expression: It can have a positive health effect on other areas of the body that are not related to the development of free radicals, because it actually switches certain genes on or off to support optimal health.
  3. Alkalinizes the blood: Hydrogen has an acid-lowering effect, meaning it helps to slightly increase the pH of the blood. Our pH does not vary much, or our cells would die, but a very slight decrease in pH, can lead to fatigue and decrease in physical performance.

If you’re interested in reading research, one of the most thorough review papers on the topic is titled Molecular Hydrogen as an Emerging Therapeutic Medical Gas for Neurodegenerative and Other Diseases. The review cites 87 papers on studies on humans, animals, or using disease models. Twenty-one of the papers showed an effect from inhaling hydrogen gas, 23 from drinking hydrogen-rich water, and 27 from intraperitoneal administration or drip infusions of saline, and the rest from a few other deliveries.

The authors also point out that the effects of hydrogen have been documented in the majority of tissues, including “the brain, spinal cord, eye, ear, lung, heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, intestine, blood vessel, muscle, cartilage, metabolism, perinatal disorders, and inflammation/allergy.” The delivery methods varied as mentioned above.

Hydrogen-Rich Water and Exercise

I always search for a healthy edge when it comes to my workouts and fitness level. I selfishly wanted to find some evidence of its use in healthy individuals to improve performance.

In one study, male soccer players consumed a total of 1500 mL of hydrogen-rich water, spread over three time periods leading up to a VO2 Max test, completing a 30 minute cycling session at 75% of the tested VO2 Max, and completion of 100 knee extensions. Drinking the hydrogen-rich water reduced blood lactate levels and improved muscle fatigue.

In another study, runners drank a liter of hydrogen-rich water each day for seven days. They saw an improvement on their maximal rate of exertion. They could run at a faster pace and had lower levels of lactate while running at 8.1 miles per hour.

In my opinion, hydrogen-rich water could have its greatest performance-enhancing effect by reducing the buildup of lactate, allowing an athlete or fitness enthusiast to perform longer, or with greater intensity. You might be able to handle more walking lunges, or several more pushups or cleans before fatiguing.

I remember reading research about athletes mixing baking soda in their water as a way to reduce the buildup of lactate. The good news was it worked. The bad news was that if you took just a little too much, you’d get diarrhea. That’s really bad news if the diarrhea hits you in the middle of a long run, or halfway through your squat workout when it hits you. I never tried it.

Hydrogen-rich water seems to have a similar performance effect without side effects.

Additional Documented Health-Promoting Effects

Hydrogen-rich water has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol levels, and improve HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) in patients with markers for metabolic syndrome. What I found interesting about this is that one of the best ways to improve HDL cholesterol levels is through exercise. Yet, simply drinking hydrogen-rich water, which can easily fit into someone’s lifestyle, also raised HDL cholesterol.

A study of patients with muscular diseases who drank 500mL per day, showed a reduction in lactate levels and a reduction in fasting blood glucose and triglycerides. It seemed their mitochondrial function improved, which would improve the markers mentioned.

Another study tested patients undergoing radiation therapy for liver tumors. Radiation creates a very high level of free radicals. The hydrogen-rich water helped maintain antioxidant capacity in the patients, helped prevent their typical loss of appetite and overall, improved their quality of life scores.

In an animal study on Alzheimer’s Disease, hydrogen-rich water was shown to help improve mental function. HRW has also been shown to be beneficial in animal studies on Parkinson’s.

The use of hydrogen-rich water with neurodegenerative disease is especially interesting, because the brain uses a large amount of energy – about 20% of your daily energy – and it uses a high level of carbohydrates for fuel. The energy production has the potential to produce a lot of free radicals. Consuming the hydrogen-rich water may be help maintain healthy brain function.

Hydrogen therapy has also been shown to be helpful with type 2 diabetes, hemodialysis, inflammatory and mitochondrial myopathies, and brain stem infarctions.

To be clear, we’re not talking about “cures.” Hydrogen-rich water is not a treatment. It’s most powerful effect seems to be that it helps the body do a better job of what it should already be doing.

In My Opinion…

Based on the research I’ve read, hydrogen-rich water has very promising health benefits for a variety of systems in the body.

As is always the case, there is more animal research than human research. The research on both humans and animals is pretty fascinating for something as simple as “enhanced water.”

It has a strong safety record, and holds much promise.

Some will cross their arms and say “I need to see more research.” Like I said, I used to be that way as well. Today, I’d rather be open-minded and give something like this a try.

There is a LOT of research available already. However, if you wait for conclusive proof that something will work for everyone all of the time, you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities to improve your health.

After investigating, I’ve decided to do my own personal experiment. I plant to start my day with a bottle of hydrogen-rich water, use a bottle before working out, drink another after working out, and one to two more later in the day. Perhaps I’ll add to this post with my experience in the future.