Hydrogen Water Isn't Better Water
Experts confirm what we already expected: Adding molecules to H2O doesn't make it a cure-all.
Welcome to Wellness Lies, our list of the most pervasive misfires in the effort to feel and look better. We asked the experts and consulted the best science on all the questions you have about each of these wellness fads. Read the whole list and share with your most misinformed friends and family members.
We all know LaCroix is just carbonated water with a hint of natural fruit flavor. But what about the function-over-fashion waters, the ones that promise real health benefits? For instance, alkaline water—which was a whole thing a few years ago—was supposed to regulate your pH but was actually completely useless unless you had certain health issues. Now let's look at another popular “enhanced” water: Hydrogen water.
What is hydrogen water?
Hydrogen water is created when you add extra hydrogen molecules to water, which, yes, already contains hydrogen and oxygen. (This is done via electrolysis, or the splitting of molecules.) You can buy hydrogen water in a can from celeb beauty doc Dr. Perricone, in a tablet to add to your own bottle, and you can even shell out a couple thou for a pricey machine to split your own molecules at home.
But why? Is there something wrong with regular water? Does our body need more hydrogen?
Proponents of hydrogen water claim that the extra hydrogen reduces inflammation in the body, is an antioxidant, and can even improve mood disorders. “A few animal studies looking into rat models of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of neuroinflammation showed some promising ability of hydrogen-rich water to protect against these diseases,” says Elroy Vojdani, a Los Angeles-based functional medicine practitioner whose focus is autoimmune, neurodegenerative, and autoinflammatory conditions. “However, changes in animal models don’t always work the same way in human beings.”
Some popular hydrogen water companies, such as Hfactor, claim that hydrogen water will increase your athletic performance and help reduce muscle fatigue. This, it seems, is an overstatement. Let’s take a look at what reputable science is available to back up the claims.
Are there any benefits to drinking hydrogen water?
“There certainly are a lot of claims currently being made about hydrogen-rich water, but the amount of scientific evidence to back these claims at this time is weak,” Vojdani says. “There is one study that was performed on a small group of human subjects in Japan which found that the participants blindly and randomly given hydrogen-rich water reported less anxiety and an overall improvement in quality of life based on answers to a questionnaire.” Keep in mind that a study this small should be taken with a grain of salt.
“Interestingly, in that same study, they investigated well-established blood testing looking into total body inflammation and found no difference in those test values between the two groups, which argues against the claim that hydrogen rich water reduces body inflammation,” Vojdani says.
Experts agree that the benefits touted by hydrogen water companies were dubious, to say the least. “I, for one, am highly skeptical, mainly because it makes little biologic sense,” says Morton Tavel, clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine. “Health claims regarding hydrogen water are based on no acceptable scientific data in humans.”
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Tavel goes on to say that the claims are tempting, but that we shouldn’t be fooled. “Although the idea of ‘antioxidant’ activity sounds good, at least based upon in vitro and small animal studies. I do not believe that any drugs or antioxidant agents, per se, have ever been proven to be beneficial through their purely antioxidant properties,” he says.
When we reached out to Hfactor for comment on this, a PR rep said that they "have a large amount of published research in both humans and animals and there are medical experts and doctors who can speak to its efficacy." There is indeed research on the way hydrogen water could affect muscles, but as our experts confirm, the trials were done on animals, with the exception of few small studies done on people with illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis. A rep at Dr. Perricone Hydrogen Water sent us a lengthy list of research backing the efficacy of hydrogen water when we reached out for comment—the list contained 16 animal studies, a few small ones in humans with chronic illness, and the Japanese study described above.
Medical professionals are unsure about whether hydrogen water works—and beyond that, no one is clear on what kind of hydrogen water might yield the promised superpowers. “It’s not clear how much hydrogen is needed to have any ostensible therapeutic benefits and how much water you’d have to drink to reap the potential rewards," Tavel says. "The amounts of hydrogen in the various products currently on the shelves vary widely, and there is no regulation to standardize formulas—mainly because there isn’t a solid scientific base to determine how much is needed to affect any condition. The bottom line is, before any recommendations could be made, we need more research.”
Is it risky to drink hydrogen water?
Hydrogen water is not actively bad for you either. “The studies done to date have not reported any negative health effects, and I haven’t seen any negative reactions in my patients in the clinic who have tried hydrogen water. Hydrogen water is GRAS-certified by the Food and Drug Administration, which means that it's generally recognized as safe,” Vojdani says.
But your best bet, water-consumption wise, is to “try to find the cleanest source of water you can get your hands on and drink it out of the cleanest container that you can get your hands on,” Vojdani says. “Try to find a source of water that is going to minimize your exposure to chemicals and heavy metals...and drink it out of something that doesn’t have the potential to harm you.” His two favorite mediums are glass and BPA-free stainless steel.
So you can save the money you’d spend on hydrogen water, invest it in a light, chic bottle and a decent filter. (However much you decide to spend on the filter, it should meet NSF (a non-profit testing lab that develops standards for the quality of different substances) certifications—here's a list of which ones reduce lead, which is one of the substances that can be dangerous.) You’ll be doing your body good and you’ll also be able to pat yourself on the back for not buying into the fancy-water hype.
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