When I first heard about athletes using hydrogen rich water (HRW) for performance enhancement, I was skeptical. (There’s so much snake oil and pseudoscience out there that I’ve become dismissive most anytime someone mentions a new trick up their sleeve.) Last month, a trusted friend and gymnastics coach mentioned a few medical studies that got my attention. This coupled with rumors that the Miami Dolphins football team has started using HRW, I decided to dig into the medical literature to see for myself if there’s really something going on here. Science ahead!
Well, it actually looks like there is something going on here. All of these studies were conducted in 2010 or later, but it’s worth noting that the number of medical research articles about HRW has grown exponentially since 2007. Source The results are
statistically significant. Most, but not all studies were double-blind and placebo controlled, which is important to me when making any sort of assessment. Check it out…
Pubmed Articles that point to a health or performance enhancing benefit of HRW
- Hydrogen rich water (HRW) is non-toxic, inexpensive, easily administered, and can readily cross the blood-brain barrier. Source
- This study showed that drinking hydrogen water pre-workout “reduced blood lactate levels and improved exercise-induced decline of muscle function” Link to Study
- This study demonstrated an improvement in lipid profile by an increase in HDL and a decrease in the total cholesterol/HDL ratio. Consumption of hydrogen rich water generated via a magnesium stick demonstrated improvement in the levels of oxidative stress markers associated with metabolic syndrome and boosted the body’s antioxidant activity Link to Study
- In this study, “The consumption of hydrogen-rich water for 6 weeks reduced reactive oxygen metabolites in the blood and maintained blood oxidation potential.” Link to Study
- Although the test subjects were mice, this study provides some sound evidence that hydrogen water improves neurological function in the animal model for multiple sclerosis. Link to Study
- Although not placebo controlled, this study demonstrated that HRW had an alkalinizing effect on the blood. (Athletes, especially weightlifters, eat a lot of red meat, which can lower blood pH and cause a host of neuromuscular and cardiorespiratory issues.) Link to Study
Mechanism of Action
How does HRW work it’s magic? In our bodies, hydrogen functions as a therapeutic antioxidant by selectively reducing cytotoxic oxygen radicals. This means hydrogen protects DNA, prevents inflammation, prevents cellular decay, and combats out-of-control cell growth, the root of most cancers. Hydrogen selectively neutralizes toxic cell damaging free radicals by bonding to them. Free radicals have an unpaired electron, which makes them very reactive. Free radicals are linked to neurological disorders, inflammatory disorders, cancer, diabetes, early cell death, and aging.
Naturally occurring “free hydrogen” is not very accessible to our bodies because unbound hydrogen molecules are rare. Hydrogen gas is the smallest molecule in the universe, is very rapidly diffusing, and is hydrophobic. This means it can pass freely through the cell wall so that it can work it’s magic in the nucleus of the cell, specifically to the mitochondria where it can repair oxidative stress.
Most hydrogen in our bodies is bound to oxygen atoms to form H2O, or water. Hydrogen gas is a relatively light gas, and evaporates quickly. The good news is that drinking HRW provides hydrogen that is easier for our cells to use. The by-product of hydrogen gas bonding to free radicals is H2O, the most harmless and easily transported molecule in the human body.
Is it Safe?
Hydrogen gas has no known toxicity. It been used in deep sea diving since the 1940s to prevent compression sickness and is commonly produced by our intestinal bacteria. Hundreds of studies with human based trials have shown no risk factors. In short, yes it is very safe.
If you’re even remotely interested in HRW, this excellent presentation is a must watch.
How to make your own HRW
Here are 2 methods for making your own HRW at home. These methods work because malic acid
Ingredients you will need
- Food grade malic acid (find it on Amazon)
- Magnesium rods of the highest purity possible (here’s a good option on ebay. These rods can be cut in half)
- A container with an airtight seal such as a Powerade plastic bottle.
- Test tube with cork stopper. (get it on Amazon. This is a pack of 20, but you only need 1)
- Place 1.5 grams of malic acid into the test tube
- Place magnesium rod into test tube
- Fill test tube with water up to about 1 inch below the top of test tube and place cork stopper. The cork stopper should allow the hydrogen gas to escape the test tube via the natural crevices that occur in all natural cork. Sometimes, the cork is very dense and may create too tight of a seal. If this is the case, a small hole should be made in the cork to create a vent. This can be done with a piercing needle or a drill bit. The reaction inside the test tube has now begun, so work quickly.
- Place test tube into plastic bottle
- Fill Bottle with water leaving ZERO room for air. The bottle must be completely full of water so that the hydrogen will be forced into the water by the pressure created during the reaction. Fill the bottle slowly and carefully such that the water surface is slightly convex at the top of the bottle. Then carefully place the lid into the convex water surface and screw it down tight. The reaction inside the test tube should be evident as tiny bubbles can be seen exiting the cork. If no bubbles are seen, then the cork needs to be pierced as described in step 3.
- Place the bottle in the freezer for 30 minutes
- Remove bottle from freezer and agitate the bottle by hand for at least 2 minutes.
- Do not open the bottle until you are ready to drink the water as hydrogen will begin to evaporate immediately.
- Hydrogen rich water has a half life of 2 hours, so it’s best to drink it quickly.