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One of the biggest trend I’m seeing these days is hydrogen water. Similar to alkaline water, which was huge a few years ago, hydrogen water is being touted as having incredible health benefits. But before you shell out $8 for a bottle of water instead of drinking if from the tap, know that the latest buzzword-turned-marketing-opportunity has very limited actual science behind.
First, what is hydrogen water?
Hydrogen water is essentially a synonym of what we all commonly understand to be water here on planet earth in 2019: Dihydrogen monoxide, the combined product of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, often abbreviated as H2O and found in nature.
So, are there any real benefits of drinking hydrogen water?
The theory is that in adding hydrogen, the antioxidant content of your water is increased, which can help to decrease oxidative stress on your blood vessels (which, when left unmitigated, can lead to chronic inflammation and chronic disease over time).
In one study, 20 patients who were at risk for metabolic syndrome consumed hydrogen rich water for 10 weeks and saw a in decreased total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and significantly improved HDL cholesterol – possibly demonstrating a use for hydrogen water in reducing risk of metabolic syndrome. When a similar study was conducted on 26 healthy adults, drinking hydrogen water every day for four weeks did not decrease markers of oxidative stress when compared to a placebo group, who didn’t drink it.
Some of the most interesting research done so far has been in test tubes or animals only, showing potential links between molecular hydrogen and neurological benefits.
In other words: Studies actually done on hydrogen water in humans are very mixed in their results. And more studies need to be done to conclude the benefits of hydrogen water on different populations, including healthy adults and adults at risk for chronic disease.
I’ll admit, the idea of adding extra hydrogen molecules to water sounds, well, refreshing. And since the long-term effects of chronic inflammation on humans are well-known (long-term oxidative stress has been linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and cognitive decline), more hydrogen = a great idea in theory.
Is hydrogen water better for you than alkaline water?
If you’re in a generally good state of health (as in, you’ve not been recently told by a physician that you’re at high risk for chronic disease), you don’t need either one, unless you prefer the taste and/or enjoy carrying expensive water around, in which case, do you. They are also manufactured using different processes, and both make pretty bold health claims, which are made especially clear once you have a look at the research.
Hydrogen may help eliminate free radicals from your body, helping to protect cellular damage and therefore, decreasing disease risk.
The higher pH of alkaline water also claims to be beneficial for a slew of reasons, but most of these are redundant if you have functioning kidneys – these organs are also responsible for neutralizing the pH of your blood, so there’s not much need to worry much about it if you’re a generally healthy adult.
Is hydrogen water safe?
Like alkaline water, hydrogen water is generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration. However, there is no set standard on the amount of hydrogen that should be added to water or how much hydrogen water needs to be consumed to reap its potential benefits.
Will hydrogen water make me feel more energized?
There’s tons of hype around hydrogen water for athletes, and it’s completely understandable why this exists. When your body is in physical overdrive at athlete-level, exercise can induce oxidation (and therefore, inflammation), negating the inflammation-lowering benefits of exercise altogether (or, causing you to take anti-inflammatory supplements, which may also be less desirable). Hydrogen may help to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness by limiting lactate build-up and improving the rate at which your cells are producing energy, therefore improving your performance in aerobic exercise — but it’s still not yet substantiated how much hydrogen you’d need, or for which population this is recommended (a study published in 2019 was female athletes only, while a 2018 study was performed only on male cyclists). Both had promising (but very mixed) results, and don’t give us much to work with by way of your average, everyday exerciser.
Bottom line: Proper hydration is key not only to making sure we stay alert and energized, but also to keep everything functioning in our bodies. Most of us need to drink between eight and 10 cups (as a general rule of thumb) of water per day — and much more when we factor in heat, sweat (even if you don’t exercise — sleep sweats count, too!), medications, and humidity shifts. So if hydrogen water, alkaline water, or any other fancy version of water helps you meet your hydration goals, I say, go for it! That said, until there’s more research showing a clear and direct benefit to drinking hydrogen water daily (for generally healthy adults who are not pro athletes), I’d rather you save your money for the food version of antioxidants: veggies and fruit.