What Is Molecular Hydrogen & Does It Really Have Health Benefits?

What Is Molecular Hydrogen & Does It Really Have Health Benefits? Hero Image
Photo: Alita Ong

The next big thing might be the smallest, most prevalent molecule in the universe. Yet this is probably the first you’re hearing of hydrogen in terms of health. Well, according to many wellness thought leaders ahead of the curve, in the next few years, hydrogen is going to be the buzziest nutrient on the market, celebrated for its jaw-dropping anti-aging, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic effects.

Have you ever heard of molecular hydrogen?

If all those claims sound too good to be true—I get it. So here's a little background on the science: Hydrogen—the original element that gave birth to the periodic table—is extremely reactive and almost immediately bonds with another hydrogen atom to form molecular hydrogen, or H2 gas. Due to its uniquely small size, mass, and neutral charge, H2 is able to more effectively penetrate not only cell membranes but also the blood-brain barrier and even the cell nucleus—where it's thought to protect DNA and enhance mitochondrial health.

Peer-reviewed scientific research suggests that there are three main properties of molecular hydrogen that enable it to have therapeutic effects:

1. Antioxidant power.

Molecular hydrogen acts as a selective antioxidant, targeting only the worst of the free radicals, the hydroxyl free radical (also known as OH). When H2 meets OH, H2O happens. In other words: Molecular hydrogen elegantly converts the most toxic free radical into water—with zero negative by-products!

2. Activation power.

H2 supports the body’s in-house antioxidant system through selective activation of specific cell-signaling pathways that are thought to contribute to the regulation of a "wide variety of antioxidant, detoxification, and cell survival genes."

Photo: @diane39

3. Novel cell modulation.

Due to its ability to access the nucleus and mitochondria, molecular hydrogen produces a unique cell-modulating effect that can positively affect cell signaling, cell metabolism, and healthy gene expression, resulting in substantial anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-obesity, and anti-aging effects.

The spectrum of potential medical applications for H2 is staggering, but admittedly we’re still in the early days of understanding exactly how hydrogen works as a bioactive molecule in humans. Tyler W. LeBaron, executive director of the Molecular Hydrogen Foundation, a science-based nonprofit focused on advancing the research of H2 as a medical gas, states, "Although the research on hydrogen looks promising in the cell or animal models, more long-term clinical trials are required to confirm its efficacy in humans."

OK, I'm interested. So how do I try it?

The most convenient and effective method of ingesting H2 is via hydrogen-infused water. When evaluating the merits of an H2 product, the most important parameter to consider is H2 concentration measured in parts per million (or ppm). Seeing as a hydrogen-generating machine costs over $5,000 dollars, the two most popular and affordable types of hydrogen water products are hydrogen-generating tablets and ready-to-drink hydrogen water. Here's what you need to know about both:

1. Hydrogen tablets.

Hydrogen tablets can potentially create the highest ppm of any H2 product on the market, depending on the formula. They consist of a special type of magnesium with some natural organic acids that, upon interacting with water, breaks open the bonds of H2O, creating a cloud of H2 nanobubbles, with the bonus side product of magnesium ions.

The ppm is between 0.8 and 10 ppm, depending on formula and method of preparation. These require 8 to 12 ounces of water and a reaction time between one and six minutes, depending on formula. Some formulas require a tightly sealed container filled to the rim. They are very portable and range from tasteless to a mild metallic taste and smell. The price is about $30 to $60 per bottle.

2. Ready-to-drink hydrogen water.

Ready-to-drink hydrogen water is currently the most popular of the H2 product types globally because of its ease of use. It's usually around 1 ppm, but some get up to 2 ppm (in cans only). It requires aluminum packaging to prevent H2 leakage. Not all packages are equal. Some have a very mild taste or are flavored with fruits and other sweeteners. The price is about $2.50 to $5 per package.

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