The Actions of Hydrogen in the Body
Molecular Hydrogen has now emerged as a ‘surprising’ molecule with broad therapeutic potential. Over 1000 scientific studies indicate there may be a beneficial effect for over 150 conditions including fatigue, cognitive impairment, pain, inflammation, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and cardiovascular function.
Hydrogen: the simplest, smallest, and most abundant element in the universe…
Hydrogen is one of only four elements present in every living organism (along with carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen). Its therapeutic uses stem from its actions as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant mediator, and cell signalling molecule.
What Does Hydrogen Look Like?
A hydrogen atom usually has one proton and one electron, but most have no neutrons. Naturally occurring atomic hydrogen is rare due to its tendency to bond with most other elements.
Elements bond together by sharing electrons. A hydrogen molecule consists of two bonded hydrogen atoms.
Hydrogen in the body is usually bound to carbon and nitrogen. It’s part of almost every molecule in your body: DNA, proteins, sugars, and fats.
The hydrogen bond – which forms between atoms that “share” a hydrogen atom, is one of the most important interactions that make biological molecules behave as they do.
Free Radicals and Antioxidants
Quite simply, a free radical (often referred to as a radical) is an atom or molecule with an unpaired electron. Free radicals can be positively charged, negatively charged, or neutral.
There are two main types of radicals that exist in the body: Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and Reactive Nitrogen Species (RNS).
An antioxidant is a molecule with the ability to donate an electron and thus neutralize free radicals.
Any molecules with a spare electron are inherently unstable and will steal an electron from another molecule in order to increase their stability. This causes the molecule that has just lost an electron to become unstable. So another free radical is created.
If this happens to enough molecules in the cell it results in damage to the cell. If it happens to enough cells, the result is tissue damage.
Main oxygen-based radicals are:
- Hydroxyl radical
- Hydrogen Peroxide
Major nitrogen-containing radicals are:
- Nitric Oxide
Contrary to what supplement vendors tell us, free radicals are not always ‘bad’.
Unlike what we hear in the advertising world, some of them are actually essential. They play a vital role in the body’s immune system by helping to eliminate viruses, bacteria, and abnormal cells. They are also important for gene expression (whether a gene is switched off or on) and cell signalling (how cells talk to each other). We, therefore, need to be cautious with many antioxidant supplements because they may inhibit essential necessary actions of ‘good’ free radicals.
In a healthy body, there is a balance existing between the generation of radicals and the antioxidant enzymes that neutralize them.
Oxidative stress occurs as a result of an imbalance between the production of ROS/RNS and the body’s ability to detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage. Cells are protected against oxidative stress by an interacting network of antioxidant enzymes. These are:
- Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) (superoxide radical)
- Catalase (CAT) (hydrogen peroxide) and
- Glutathione Peroxidase (peroxide).
Molecular Hydrogen is an excellent and unique antioxidant support. It is specific to the hydroxyl radical and has been studied to increase the body’s natural antioxidant molecules. Due to its small size, it easily crosses cell membranes and has access to parts of the cell that other antioxidants are too large to reach.
Molecular hydrogen has been shown to increase the levels of SOD, Catalase and Glutathione peroxidize. It appears to be increasing the body’s innate antioxidant mechanisms.
Hydrogen as an Anti-inflammatory
Believe it or not, inflammation is essential to our body’s immune system. It is how our body naturally responds to any threatening stimuli. It naturally follows an increased blood flow to an area of infection or injury, and in turn, increases the supply of immune cells and healing nutrients to the area.
Anti-inflammation: Essential for immunity and healing.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of health conditions including obesity, the development of cardiovascular health problems, blood sugar abnormalities, abnormal cellular changes, and arthritic complaints.
The inflammatory reaction results from the release of a number of molecules (usually referred to as mediators) that send a signal to the cells and molecules that are needed for healing. In chronic inflammation, the body continually releases these mediators which result in a constant state of low-level inflammation. This inflammation also causes an increase in oxidative species.
The main molecules that have been shown to be affected by molecular hydrogen are Nuclear Factor kappa B (NF-kB), Tumour Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNFa) and Interleukin 6 (IL-6). These molecules have been shown to increase the release of many other inflammatory molecules. The reduction of the release of these molecules is an important part of reducing chronic inflammation.
Genes, which are made up of DNA, act as instructions to make molecules called proteins. Genes can be turned off or on depending on the stimulus they receive. In chronic inflammatory states, the genes that tell the body to release inflammatory mediators are permanently switched on so inflammatory molecules are constantly released. The molecules that can induce a change in gene status include NF-kB, TNFa, nitric oxide, peroxynitrite, SOD, glutathione, and catalase. Molecular hydrogen has been shown to directly or indirectly decrease excess circulation levels of all these molecules and thus is a potential agent for turning inflammatory genes off.
Hydrogen and Cell Signaling
Scientists have long believed that only proteins such as hormones and neurotransmitters, and minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium were capable of being used as cell signalling molecules. It is now known that gases can also act in this role.
Gases that act as cell signalling agents are Nitric Oxide, Hydrogen Peroxide, Hydrogen Sulfite, Carbon monoxide and – it has recently been established – molecular hydrogen also plays this role.
The ability of cells to perceive and correctly respond to their microenvironment is incredibly important. It is the basis of development, tissue repair, and immunity as well as normal tissue homeostasis.
Errors in cell signalling are responsible for diseases such as cancer, autoimmunity, and diabetes. Many of Molecular Hydrogen’s abilities to reduce oxidative damage and inflammation stem from its role as a cell signalling agent.
Indications for Molecular Hydrogen
Research based on over 1000 scientific studies on the potential health benefits of molecular hydrogen has shown a number of conditions, especially those with a strong oxidative and inflammatory element in their progression, may be improved by the therapeutic use of Molecular Hydrogen.
These conditions include, but are not limited to:
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Cardiovascular health
- Cognitive function
- Gastrointestinal Function including
- Liver detoxification capacity
- Chronic pain and inflammation
- Abnormal cell division
- Immune function
We are indebted to scientist Tyler LeBaron and Naturopath Erica Whisson for this summary.