Each scroll through our newsfeed presents us with the opportunity to learn more about health and wellness – or so it would seem. Sifting through the noise of flat tummy teas and BPA-free eyelash extensions can be tedious and overwhelming to those of us who are open to exploring new wellness trends. Thanks to the internet, we are perpetually bombarded with product placement and pseudo-scientists promising miracles, leaving us to our own devices in terms of discerning between fads and legitimate advancements in wellness. The latest buzz is surrounding hydrogen-rich water, or HWater, which is essentially purified water infused with molecular hydrogen and is said to be rich with antioxidants and other factors which help ease inflammation and pain. But is this trend a fad, or is there actually some science behind it?
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 studythat 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.
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.”