Hydrogen (H2) is the most abundant ­element in the universe. In fact, we literally bathe in it (H2O). While tiny, scientists are discovering that the H2 molecule may have the powerful ability to help counter many of the effects of aging and related diseases with its purported antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Although further research is needed to confirm the health benefits, ready-to-drink hydrogen-infused water and bath tablets are already widely available online.

WHY WE AGE

Research on the science of aging continues to evolve…

Free radical theory. Free radicals are naturally occurring oxygen atoms missing an electron in their outer ring, making them unstable. Seeking stability, free radicals try to bind with other atoms and molecules. Too many free radicals can create what scientists call oxidative stress, a kind of cellular rust that ages us. Proponents of the theory claim that cellular rust is behind many of the conditions and diseases of aging, from arterial disease and arthritis to vision loss and wrinkles. 

Telomere theory. Telomeres are tips at the end of chromosomes that protect the genetic information within each chromosome. Throughout your life, every time a cell divides, telomeres become a little shorter. In telomere theory, the shorter the telomere, the more your body shows signs of aging. Scientific evidence links many of the ailments of aging—high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, dementia—to shorter telomeres. 

Mitochondrial energy theory. ­Mitochondria are the energy factories in every cell. In this theory, broken-down mitochondria cause the body to work less efficiently, leading to accelerated aging and age-related diseases. 

THE HOPE FOR HYDROGEN

Although hydrogen is essential to the formation of all matter, including life-giving water, it was thought to be biologically “inert,” with no function in health or healing. But in 2007, Japanese scientists revolutionized the understanding of hydrogen gas. They showed in cellular and animal experiments that H2 could neutralize free radicals. 

Some scientists also believe that H2 is a key signaling molecule, improving communication between brain cells and blood flow in arteries. It also activates health-protecting genes that promote the burning of fat and sugar. Plus, hydrogen may cool chronic inflammation, which fuels many diseases of aging. 

In the last decade or so, there have been more than 400 cellular, animal and human studies on using H2 for health and healing, showing that hydrogen may help do many things, ­including… 

  • Prevent muscle pain after exercise
  • Protect skin from sun damage
  • Protect the brain from stroke damage 
  • Improve memory and cognition in Alzheimer’s disease patients
  • Strengthen the heart in cardiovascular disease patients
  • Lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and boost “good” HDL
  • Balance glucose and insulin, preventing or slowing diabetes 
  • Shield the retina from damage, helping to prevent and control age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma
  • Slow or stop the degeneration of cartilage, which can lead to osteoarthritis

Some of the latest studies that demonstrate just how powerful molecular hydrogen can be include…

Heart health. In a study of middle-aged, overweight women, published in the Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences, Serbian researchers found that ­swallowing hydrogen-producing caplets significantly reduced body fat, insulin and ­triglycerides—risk factors for heart disease and diabetes—during the four-week study. They theorize that H2 makes cells more sensitive to insulin, thereby improving the burning of blood fats, leading to less body fat and cardiac stress.

In a study in Circulation Journal, ­patients who inhaled hydrogen gas when they arrived at the ER after a heart attack had less long-term heart damage. 

In a study in Vascular Health and Risk Management, a team of Japanese researchers found that people who drank hydrogen-rich water had improved arterial health within 30 minutes—with 12% greater blood flow. 

Stroke. In a study published in Journal of Stroke & Cerebrovascular Disease, Japanese scientists studied people who had a stroke, dividing them into two groups. In the 24 hours after the stroke, one group inhaled hydrogen gas for one hour twice a day and one group received a placebo treatment. Those getting the H2 had less brain injury (as shown by an MRI), less severe stroke symptoms (such as facial palsy, the inability to use limbs and problems with speech) and more and faster benefits from physical therapy, as measured by function in daily living.

Arthritis. In a study published in International Immunopharmacology on people with painful rheumatoid arthritis, researchers found that a month of hydrogen-rich saline injections administered intravenously reduced “disease activity” by about 29%—meaning less pain, swelling and tenderness. There was no change in a placebo group.

HYDROGEN-ATE YOUR BODY

Although most studies to date involve inhaled or injected hydrogen gas (which is not yet approved by the FDA), proponents of hydrogen suggest a much simpler and more accessible method of ­hydrogen-ating—drink or bathe in it…

Hydrogen-infused water. Ready-to-drink hydrogen water is available. Popular brands include HFactor and Dr. Perricone. To make hydrogen water, manufacturers add odorless and tasteless molecular hydrogen gas to water, then package it in cans or aluminum-lined pouches. (The gas can escape from glass or plastic bottles.) You need to drink the water quickly—within 30 minutes of opening it—or the hydrogen levels will dissipate. 

Note: Hydrogen water is different from alkaline water, marketed under brands such as Core and Essentia. Like hydrogen water, alkaline water has been associated with antioxidant properties, but it does not contain ­hydrogen gas. 

You also can buy tablets or powders of electrolyzed hydrogen to dissolve in water (brands include Ultra H2 and AquaH2). Or you can generate hydrogen water by mixing a powdered magnesium supplement in water and letting the ­water sit for a few minutes. Another option: Putting a metallic magnesium stick in your water bottle. The most tested stick is the Dr. Hayashi Hydrogen Rich Water Stick, which uses pure magnesium and is available at Amazon.com. 

Optimal dosage of hydrogen-infused water is not yet known, but proponents say that you can drink as much as you want without harm. Start with two or three eight-ounce glasses a day. 

Hydrogen baths. You can put a ­hydrogen tablet or powder, available at Amazon.com, into your bath. Bathe in hydrogen-rich water for at least 10 minutes.

Limitations: There are no known side effects of drinking hydrogen-infused water, but more study is needed to determine the possibility of long-term side effects and health benefits. Because there are no dosing guidelines yet, drink in moderation. If using magnesium to make your hydrogen water, limit daily usage to the recommended daily amount of 350 milligrams.