Everyone looking at hydrogen therapy. But does it work?

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Here at a health center in London, inhaling hydrogen-enriched air through a tube. At the same time, the gas seeps into a pair of goggles, where it plays with my eyes in a gentle breeze.

This is my first experience with molecular hydrogen therapy, which has been popular in Japan and China for several years and is now making a comeback in the West. As word spreads of its potential benefits as a broad antioxidant, wellness centers are adding hydrogen to their menu of treatments.

I’m a general science journalist who takes a generally skeptical view of alternative therapies. However, I was intrigued enough by the anecdotes of friends and acquaintances who have benefited from molecular hydrogen to research the evidence for its effects. Could gas really have a role to play in healthcare?

The Suhaku Space clinic in London

My introductory session was at the Suhaku space in South Kensington, where owner Atsue Morinaga, a physiotherapist and acupuncturist from Japan, introduced hydrogen inhalation therapy in May 2023. I then visited The Wellness Lab in Knightsbridge , where director Jaynee Treon, a holistic health practitioner, has been offering hydrogen since 2021.

The clinics generate hydrogen in an electrolytic cell that splits water into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen. The typically used concentrations of about two percent hydrogen are well below levels that can burn or explode in air.

Both centers clearly explain the scientific rationale behind hydrogen therapy as the gas reduces oxidative stress throughout the body, for example by scavenging free radicals such as hydroxyl. I definitely felt better after my sessions, although I was there more in the spirit of investigative journalism than to treat specific symptoms. My nose and airways were noticeably clearer, and my eyes felt bright and shiny. As a big believer in the placebo effect, if you expect something to make you better, it can’t prove that the benefits I experienced were directly caused by the hydrogen, but I’m happy to give it some credit.

To demonstrate an immediate effect, Suhaku invites clients to look through a microscope at the small blood vessels under the skin at the base of the nails, before and after the therapy. The hydrogen seemed to uncoil some of my more contorted capillaries and improve blood flow.

Hydrogen therapy at the Knightsbridge Wellness Lab
Hydrogen therapy at the Knightsbridge Wellness Lab

Hydrogen therapy has a long history, with experiments going back more than two centuries, says John Hancock, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol. But scientific interest was sporadic until 2007, when Ikuroh Ohsawa and colleagues at NipponMedical School published a landmark paper in Natural Medicine.

That experiment in Japan demonstrated an anti-inflammatory effect of hydrogen, which reduced damage to tissues suffering from oxidative stress. Since then, there have been more than 2,000 studies of potential medical applications, Hancock says. They have covered diseases that could benefit from hydrogen therapy, including diabetes, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. No toxic side effects have been reported.

But all the studies carried out so far have been relatively small, points out Grace Russell, also at UWE. I would like it to go beyond the fringes of wellness and lifestyle, she says. Data from a larger trial focusing on inflammation, including thousands of people instead of the tens or hundreds so far, are the key needed to bring it into the medical mainstream.

Hydrogen therapy in the Suhaku Space
Hydrogen therapy in the Suhaku Space

Russell says one barrier to raising funds for a large clinical trial is that funders like to know the biological basis of a proposed therapy. Scientists are beginning to investigate how hydrogen in a molecule that is biologically inert can have effects on the body, but the mechanisms are uncertain. No NHS hospitals or clinics have adopted the therapy in the UK.

Some people see hydrogen as snake oil therapy, which it clearly isn’t, he says. I think there is potential to at least mitigate the biochemistry that happens when we are sick.

In the US, Tyler W LeBaron has run a Molecular Hydrogen Institute that has been promoting scientific information about the therapy since 2013. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation and pseudoscience, he says. But the number of wellness clinics offering various types of hydrogen therapy is growing rapidly in the US.

One method that is becoming popular is to bathe in hydrogen water. People bathe in highly concentrated hydrogen water, LeBaron says. This is a really cool delivery method because the hydrogen molecule is so small that it will penetrate right through the skin.

The hydrogen bath sounds delicious, but for now I’m content to inhale the therapeutic gas. Personally, I will continue to test hydrogen, although the scientific jury is still out.

40 for 30 minutes at Suhaku; 44 atWellness laboratory

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Image Source : www.ft.com

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