My first encounter with ”hydrogen” gas was on my 4th birthday. I was amazed at what the gas could do to regular boring balloons. Since hydrogen is lighter than air, my mom told me, it makes balloons levitate. Although helium supersedes hydrogen because of hydrogen’s explosive nature, all I remember was that it added a serene feeling to my birthday party. Turns out that hydrogen can add calm to more than just birthday parties, but people with asthma too!
Research on hydrogen-based therapy has gained popularity in the past ten years because of hydrogen’s newly discovered antioxidant properties. We’ve known that hydrogen molecules can enter our cells and eliminate damaging “oxidant” molecules like free radicals. Those oxidants could otherwise cause inflammation or damage the body. Now, a recent study claims that hydrogen is able to alleviate inflammation, such as allergic asthma. The study suggests that hydrogen works by “reprogramming” how allergy-causing immune cells produce energy.
To better appreciate the anti-allergic role of hydrogen, it is important to understand how immune cells cause allergy symptoms in the first place. A normal healthy cell produces energy by a long yet efficient pathway called oxidative phosphorylation. However, cells from asthmatic patients switch to a different pathway that produces energy quickly but inefficiently. That process actually produces lactic acid – the same acid that makes your muscles hurt when working out. Hydrogen steps in and reverts the allergy-causing cells to using the more efficient, beneficial pathway – reducing inflammation.
To see this in action, scientists injected hydrogen-rich saline into asthmatic mice. By measuring a reduction in the amount of lactic acid, the group showed that hydrogen apparently reduced airway inflammation.
It is remarkable that something as simple as molecular hydrogen can reduce asthma. Just imagine the improved quality of life of asthma patients upon drinking hydrogen infused water or Gatorade without having to spend money on prescription drugs.