on December 10, 2010
I revised this review to make it more readable. The scientific citations have been moved to the end and new headings have been created. Those readers who want details and rigor can refer to the NOTES AND REFERENCES section at the end of the review. If this is not enough, the interested reader can Google the original articles and read them for him- or herself.
There is no way that buying a $875 - $4000 machine was in the cards for me, so I performed no investigation on alkaline water. Maybe alkaline water works; maybe it doesn't. I was interested in Hayashi's claim that it was the hydrogen dissolved in the water that has a therapeutic effect rather than in the water's alkalinity or Oxidation/Reduction Potential.
I do not sell Hydrogen Sticks, nor do I have any financial interest in the sale of Hydrogen Sticks.
What follows is not to be construed as medical advice.
While I have attempted to perform a sanity check for myself, this sanity check was to informal personal standards which may not satisfy the standards of a given reader.
REASONS NOT TO BUY THE HYDROGEN STICK
Alkaline Tap Water. The hydrogen stick relies on a chemical reaction between water and metallic magnesium: Mg + 2H2O -> Mg (OH)2 + H2. This reaction proceeds faster in an acidic environment and slower in an alkaline environment. Therefore, if your tap water is exceptionally alkaline, the hydrogen stick is probably not for you, unless you are willing to use bottled water instead of tap water. Or instead of using bottled water, maybe you could acidify the tap water with vinegar, bringing it to a more neutral pH - it's worth a try. On the other hand, if your water is really acidic, my guess is that the hydrogen stick will produce bubbles like crazy but probably won't last very long. Any water with a fairly neutral pH - say 7.0 or 8.0 - should be fine. 636cathleen (creator of the "Don't Buy the Hydrogen Stick" YouTube videos) has tap water that is extremely alkaline - pH 10.1, so her poor results with the Hydrogen Stick are understandable and predictable.
Drinking Habits - You Like to Drink Water Constantly Throughout the Day. The instructions for the stick emphasize that once you get it wet, you need to keep it wet. If you are the kind of person who sucks water all day long from a bottle, keeping the stick wet can be a problem - especially if you plan to use multiple sticks in a single bottle. Sergey Manukyan's review mentions the difficulty of maintaining the stick, and he makes an excellent point. I am not a big water drinker, so this problem didn't affect me, but if you are someone who wants to drink hydrogen-rich water all day long, keeping your bottle topped off will be a pain. Personally, I chug a bunch of hydrogen-rich water in the morning, top off, and then chug a bunch more at night and top off again. If you sip water all day long, it would be a hassle to keep the bottle topped off - you'd need a source of water and a way to top off the hydrogen water bottle without spilling the water and making a mess. If you happen to be near a drinking fountain or a Sparkletts water dispenser this is probably not a big deal, but if you don't have ready access to a water supply it's something to seriously consider before buying the stick.
HOW I HEARD ABOUT THE HYDROGEN STICK
I first stumbled across Hydrogen Sticks on eBay, when I searched for "alkaline water ionizer" and strange entries about plastic sticks and other entries about assorted rocks encased in stainless steel sticks popped up. I read an Ebay description for the Hydrogen-Rich Water Stick (Water Ionizer Outperforms Machines alkaline ORP pH) with a great deal of skepticism, but decided to do a little research before discounting it - primarily due to the huge difference between the cost of the Hydrogen-Rich Water Stick and that of a typical water-ionizer machine ($75 vs. $875-4000).
WHY I DECIDED TO BUY A HYDROGEN STICK
It Really Does Put Hydrogen Gas Into Water. The presence of molecular hydrogen gas in water treated with a Hydrogen Stick was confirmed by a scientific study: "The hydrogen concentration in a water bottle was maintained between 0.55 and 0.65 mM over an 8 week period." (H2 exists as a gas at Standard Temperature and Pressure.) However, the study used 2 sticks per 500ml - four times the concentration of the 1 stick per 1L that I use.
Antioxidant Activity. Molecular hydrogen, H2, specifically targets the hydroxyl radical - a Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) that is one of the most plentiful and virulent species, and which evidently does not play a part in cell regulation ("Hydrogen acts as a therapeutic antioxidant by selectively reducing cytotoxic oxygen radicals").
Health Benefits. According to a scientific study, drinking hydrogen rich water for 8 weeks resulted in a 39% increase in the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) and a 43% decrease in thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) in urine (TBARS are a measure of the oxidized and damaged fats in your body). Additionally, an 8% increase in high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol and a 13% decrease in total cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol was observed from baseline to week 4. If you want to boost your SOD levels by 40%, $75 for a 6-month supply is a bargain compared to the cost of supplements that would accomplish the same thing over the same time period. And improving your HDL/LDL ratio by 13% by merely drinking water every day seems like an easy way to improve that statistic (though I am no fan of the cholesterol scam, and once spent $350 of my own money just to get my doctor off of my back about my cholesterol levels).
Safety. "The portable magnesium stick was a safe, easy and effective method of delivering hydrogen rich water for daily consumption by participants in the study."
I Got to Perform a Personal Experiment Where a Placebo Effect Was Unlikely to Occur. I found a Hayashi article where he describes what he means by "hydrogen rich water" ("Japanese Cardiologist Dr. Hayashi's Two types of Water"). Oddly enough, this article was featured on a "Kangen Water" site, yet in it Hayashi claims that it is hydrogen-rich water that really matters, rather than pH or ORP. In his article, Hayashi says, "A week or two after people begin to use Hydrogen Rich Water, they notice that their feces have literally changed in comparison to when they were using tap water (hydrogen poor water). That is, the "blackish brown, bad-smelling, hard, heavy feces" of the tap water days changed to "light brown, soft, light feces without a strong bad odor" similar to the bowel movements that appear in the diapers of a breastfed baby...We adults tend to think that it is natural for adults feces to have a bad smell, but this is actually a great misconception...Every breastfeeding mother knows from her experience that when her baby has light- colored soft stool with very little bad odor, she can be sure that the baby is healthy, drinking plenty of breast milk, and growing well. On the other hand, when the baby has "blackish, bad-smelling, hard stool," the baby is cranky and feverish, and sometimes vomits up milk. The condition of producing offensive feces is generally called abnormal fermentation of gastrointestinal tract, which indicates the opposite of normal fermentation, but simply put, it is "decay." In other words, if the food we take in by mouth has a rotten smell (bad smell) when it is excreted from the anus, this means abnormal fermentation has taken place." Softer, less smelly stools can be easily verified, and it would be difficult to trick the body into making them.
PERSONAL SUPERSTITIONS THAT I OBSERVE WITH THE HYDROGEN STICK
Don't clean it any more than you have to. If you put it in an acid such as vinegar, the magnesium will be consumed at an accelerated rate, and your stick will not last as long. Obviously, if your stick is dead and doesn't produce bubbles any more, it's time to stick it into some vinegar that's been diluted 4:1 and hope that it comes back to life. Or if it starts looking green and moldy, by all means clean it - use common sense.
I use an old Schweppes Tonic Water bottle, because the closure seems secure. It seems to work fine, and the price was right.
Once or twice a week, I dump out all of the water, rinse off the stick, and vigorously rinse out the bottle. Just in case something has started to putrefy or I have some old germs in the water.
I originally used tap water, but I like the taste of Arrowhead bottled water better. This is all personal taste, and I doubt that it makes any difference on any therapeutic effects that the water might have.
I try not to have too big or too tiny of an air bubble inside of the bottle. If the bubble is too small, there doesn't seem to be as much hydrogen gas in the water (but this could be a hallucination - please reread the title of this section!). If the bubble is too large, I'm afraid that I'm producing a bunch of hydrogen gas that will be instantly blown off as soon as I open the bottle. I generally leave a bubble that includes the neck of the bottle and maybe 1/3" - 1/2" of the top of the shoulder.
I top off the bottle as soon as I take a drink. I try to pour the water into my open mouth rather than sucking on the bottle, to avoid backwashing and potentially contaminating the bottle with food particulates. I attempt to pour the refill water down the side of the bottle rather than splashing it into the center, because I have a superstition that the more the water is agitated, the more hydrogen gas will be dislodged and escape out of the open mouth of the bottle. Pouring water down the side of the bottle will ideally cause no bubbles or cavitation, leading to a minimum loss of hydrogen. I tend to drink a lot of water at a time rather than taking a sip or two and then topping off. I screw the bottle top back on as soon as I can.
BOTTOM LINE AND TENTATIVE CONCLUSIONS
Will I buy another stick? I don't know for sure, but I probably will if only for the odor abatement. Do I get a surge of energy? No. Do I feel healthier? No, but then again, I felt pretty healthy going into this experiment. Do I notice a difference in the water? Yes, it seems to have a bunch of tiny bubbles like really fine champagnes do, which makes it taste silky. Also, I seem to be able to drink a lot more of this water without feeling distended or stuffed - but all of this is subjective. After a few weeks of drinking it, I performed a "side-by-side" taste test using Arrowhead bottled water: I drank a bunch of hydrogen-rich water, topped off, and sipped a bit of water off the top. I emphatically preferred the taste of the hydrogen-rich water to the water that I had used to fill the bottle - but again, this is a completely subjective impression. My girlfriend says that I drink a lot more water than I used to, but this might be because I feel that I am performing an experiment.
Did I notice a change in my bowel movements? Definitely. I am normally as regular as clockwork, but early in the experiment nothing was happening for four or five days. I didn't feel plugged up or uncomfortable, and it didn't feel unhealthy, so I continued to drink the water and eventually things sorted themselves out. The stools definitely are softer, and while they still stink, they don't stink nearly as badly as previously (the diminished odor has been confirmed by an independent observer - my long-suffering girlfriend). If I stop drinking the hydrogen-rich water for a day or two, there's a noticeable difference in stool hardness and an attendant increase in odor.
Would I recommend the Hydrogen Stick to a friend? I don't know. 75 bucks can be a little steep for softer, less stinky stools, and any health benefits are kind of invisible. After all, how am I to tell whether or not I have fewer free radicals or Reactive Oxygen Species inside of my body? I am confident that drinking water that has been treated with the Hydrogen Stick is not doing me any harm. I actually feel fairly confident that it's good for me, but I have no way of proving this. Maybe it boils down to belief and trust.
636cathleen has posted several videos on YouTube: "Don't Buy the Hydrogen Stick." She says, "The tap water originally tested at 10.1 pH and +145 ORP and now after a full day of soaking with the Hydrogen stick it is testing at 10.25 pH and -77 ORP. The conclusion is that the Hydrogen stick does work a little to add Hydrogen to the water, but it must be soaked for a long time [such as a full day] to get a nice -77 ORP."
She is performing actual experiments, in sharp contrast to my theorizing and pontificating; there is no way that I'm going to slam this woman. She claims that she has no ax to grind and even though she sells alkaline water ionizer machines, I see nothing to make me doubt her claim. However, her tap water is EXTREMELY alkaline, and the Hydrogen Stick does not deal well with alkalinity.
She's a big proponent of alkaline water ionizer machines but I was after hydrogen in the water, and Hayashi says, "it is true that this cathodic water contains a large amount of hydrogen immediately after it is produced. However, since hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe, this water loses its hydrogen rapidly, and in 2001 it was revealed that it reverts to ordinary water only several minutes after it is produced." By the time most people drink the water from a water ionizer machine, the hydrogen gas that was initially there in profusion has long since departed. By contrast, in the case of a Hydrogen Stick, the sealed bottle holds the H2 gas in its interior and eventually this gas dissolves in the water. Yes, the H2 gas can and will diffuse through the shell of the plastic bottle, but enough gas builds up inside of the bottle to provide consistent levels of dissolved H2 gas in the water.
I draw the following conclusions from 636cathleen's research: if the tap water in your area is high enough to turn litmus paper blue, the Hydrogen Stick is probably not a good choice for you. And although number of sources claim that the Hydrogen Stick is unable to impart a negative ORP or to increase water's alkalinity, if the author of "Don't Buy the Hydrogen Stick" admits that the stick both imparts a negative ORP AND increases the pH, I have to believe her.
"Hyashi's water schtick" [sic] This guy claims to be a retired chemistry professor. Although I have a degree in Biochemistry, I got it a long time ago and I was a terrible student so I really don't want to argue with him. He does have a point about atomic hydrogen (H), which is extremely reactive and would definitely not persist for more than a split second in the body. In patent US 696499193 B1, the inventor proposed to "cage" atomic hydrogen such that it would not react with anything until it got fairly deep into the body, preserving its therapeutic effect until it can do some good. Hayashi himself ascribes the antioxidant effect of his Hydrogen Stick to atomic hydrogen (without much foundation, to my eyes). Hayashi really needs to update his writeup to include the proven benefits of molecular hydrogen, H2.
The professor has a short, semi-complimentary blurb about "Water containing dissolved hydrogen gas," but he cites an old article from 2007 which "does not offer any actual clinical results." Today, there are newer studies which actually do offer clinical results, and with greater than 95% confidence. Hayashi is not the only one who needs to update his writeup. The professor cites a New Scientist article from 2006 that claims to debunk antioxidant supplements - but I doubt that even the authors of this article would argue that increased levels of Superoxide Dismutase are a bad thing.
The professor then goes on to debunk some outfit that sells bottled hydrogen gas that is supposed to put dissolved H2 gas into water. Again, he has a point - bubbling hydrogen gas through water is not going to make the hydrogen gas dissolve in the water. Instead, it is going to bubble right out of the water and escape into the atmosphere, probably causing a fire hazard in the process. However, this does nothing to debunk the Hydrogen Stick, which produces hydrogen gas inside of a closed container filled with water. On the contrary, when the Hydrogen Stick is used as directed, consistent levels of dissolved hydrogen gas in the water have been detected and measured.
I'm not willing to debate this guy on the chemistry of what is happening, but I definitely see tiny bubbles in my water. I believe that the "silkiness" that has been described by some users is due to these tiny bubbles. The most persuasive study ("Effectiveness of Hydrogen Rich Water on Antioxidant Status of Subjects with Potential Metabolic Syndrome--An Open Label Pilot Study") confirms that measurable amounts of hydrogen gas are consistently infused into the water and that this hydrogen is taken into the body when the water is ingested.
NOTES AND REFERENCES (much of this has been rendered redundant by the reorganization of the material)
I went to Nature magazine's site and searched for hydrogen. I spent several minutes going through the numerous entries that popped up, and found the following sampling (note that these articles talk about hydrogen gas, H2, rather than atomic hydrogen H):
Kidney International 77, 85-87 (January (2) 2010) | doi:10.1038/ki.2009.432
Hydrogen: another gas with therapeutic potential
James F George and Anupam Agarwal
Kidney International 77, 101-109 (11 November 2009) doi:10.1038/ki.2009.421
Oral hydrogen water prevents chronic allograft nephropathy in ratsHydrogen water prevented CAN
Jon S Cardinal, Jianghua Zhan, Yinna Wang, Ryujiro Sugimoto, Allan Tsung, Kenneth R McCurry, Timothy R Billiar and Atsunori Nakao
Nature Medicine 13, 673 - 674 (2007) doi:10.1038/nm0607-673
The hydrogen highway to reperfusion therapy
Katherine C Wood & Mark T Gladwin
These articles appeared in scientific magazines, which considerably shored up my confidence that hydrogen gas dissolved or suspended in water was a health benefit.
Additionally, the bibliography of the "Effectiveness of Hydrogen Rich Water on Antioxidant Status of Subjects with Potential Metabolic Syndrome--An Open Label Pilot Study" study includes:
10. Ohsawa I., Ishikawa M., Takahashi K., Watanabe M., Nishimaki K., Yamagata K., Katsura K., Katayama Y., Asoh S., Ohta S. Hydrogen acts as a therapeutic antioxidant by selectively reducing cytotoxic oxygen radicals. Nat. Med. 2007;13:688-694. [PubMed]
11. Buchholz B.M., Kaczorowski D.J., Sugimoto R., Yang R., Wang Y., Billiar T.R., McCurry K.R., Bauer A.J., Nakao A. Hydrogen inhalation ameliorates oxidative stress in transplantation induced intestinal graft injury. Am. J. Transplant. 2008;8:2015-2024. [PubMed]
12. N.A.S.A., author Safety Standard for Hydrogen and Hydrogen Systems. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 2005
13. Ohsawa I., Nishimaki K., Yamagata K., Ishikawa M., Ohta S. Consumption of hydrogen water prevents atherosclerosis in apolipoprotein E knockout mice. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 2008;377:1195-1198. [PubMed]
14. Nakashima-Kamimura N., Mori T., Ohsawa I., Asoh S., Ohta S. Molecular hydrogen alleviates nephrotoxicity induced by an anti-cancer drug cisplatin without compromising anti-tumor activity in mice. Cancer. Chemother. Pharmacol. 2009;64:753-761. [PubMed]
15. Sato Y., Kajiyama S., Amano A., Kondo Y., Sasaki T., Handa S., Takahashi R., Fukui M., Hasegawa G., Nakamura N., Fujinawa H., Mori T., Ohta M., Obayashi H., Maruyama N., Ishigami A. Hydrogen-rich pure water prevents superoxide formation in brain slices of vitamin C-depleted SMP30/GNL knockout mice. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 2008;375:346-350. [PubMed]
16. Cardinal J.S., Zhan J., Wang Y., Sugimoto R., Tsung A., McCurry K.R., Billiar T.R., Nakao A. Oral administration of hydrogen water prevents chronic allograft nephropathy in renal transplantation. Kidney Int. 2009 in press.
17. Kajiyama S., Hasegawa G., Asano M., Hosoda H., Fukui M., Nakamura N., Kitawaki J., Imai S., Nakano K., Ohta M., Adachi T., Obayashi H., Yoshikawa T. Supplementation of hydrogen-rich water improves lipid and glucose metabolism in patients with type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance. Nutr. Res. 2008;28:137-143. [PubMed]
US Patent US 696499193 B1, "Prophylactic Therapeutic and Industrial Antioxidant Compositions Enhanced with Stabilized Atomic Hydrogen/Free Electrons and Methods to Prepare and Use Such Compositions."
In the Description of the Related Art section of this patent, Miroslav Colic gives a concise overview of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and free radicals. He points out that both Reactive Oxygen Species and free radicals can be involved in the regulation of cellular processes. I was concerned that consuming large amounts of hydrogen rich water might distort this regulatory activity, so I Googled the Web and found the abstract of an article that says that, "H2 selectively reduced the hydroxyl radical, the most cytotoxic of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and effectively protected cells; however, H2 did not react with other ROS, which possess physiological roles":
Nature Medicine 13, 688 - 694 (2007)
Published online: 7 May 2007 | doi:10.1038/nm1577
Hydrogen acts as a therapeutic antioxidant by selectively reducing cytotoxic oxygen radicals
Hayashi believes that molecular hydrogen is broken into atomic hydrogen by hydrogenases in our body (hydrogenases are enzymes that can reversibly split molecular hydrogen to produce atomic hydrogen). This is speculative but even if it turns out to be false, hydrogen gas itself is effective in counteracting one of the most plentiful and deleterious members of the Reactive Oxygen Species. I would assume that any hydrogen gas that does not encounter a hydroxyl radical or a hydrogenase will rapidly diffuse across membranes and make its way out of the body.
The clincher for me was the following article:
J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2010 March; 46(2): 140-149.
Published online 2010 February 24. doi: 10.3164/jcbn.09-100. PMCID: PMC2831093
Copyright © 2010 JCBN
Effectiveness of Hydrogen Rich Water on Antioxidant Status of Subjects with Potential Metabolic Syndrome--An Open Label Pilot Study
Atsunori Nakao,1* Yoshiya Toyoda,1 Prachi Sharma,2 Malkanthi Evans,2 and Najla Guthrie2
This article confirmed that the hydrogen stick method indeed produces measurable amounts of hydrogen: "A magnesium stick and the methods to generate hydrogen water in 500 ml bottles of drinking water. A plastic shelled product consisting of metallic magnesium (99.9% pure) and natural stones in the polypropylene containers combined with ceramics (Doctor SUISOSUI®, Friendear, Tokyo, Japan) was used to produce hydrogen. The product was capable of generating hydrogen when placed in drinking water by the following chemical reaction; Mg + 2H2O ' Mg (OH)2 + H2. Hydrogen concentrations in the water bottle (n = 3). The hydrogen concentration in a water bottle was maintained between 0.55 and 0.65 mM over an 8 week period."
The study used 2 sticks per 500ml - four times as much as the 1 stick per 1L that I used, and the subjects drank a lot of water.
Aside from Hayashi's better-smelling feces (which weren't mentioned in the study), there were other health benefits:
TBARS are a marker of lipid peroxidation which is indicative of malondialdehyde formation and lipid damage and is a well-established method for screening and monitoring lipid peroxidation . The concentration of urinary TBARS decreased significantly (p<0.05) from baseline to week 4 and week 8. Subjects demonstrated a significant increase (p<0.05) in SOD [Superoxide dismutase] from baseline to week 8. Subjects demonstrated increasing trends in 8-isoprostane from baseline to week 4 and week 8. When a post hoc sub analysis by gender was conducted, male subjects demonstrated a significant decrease in urinary TBARS from baseline to week 8 and a significant increase (p<0.05) in SOD from baseline to week 8. During oxidative damage to DNA, damaged products are usually eliminated by repair enzymes and detected as nucleoside derivatives. Urinary 8-OHdG is one adduct of this reaction and has been proposed as a sensitive biomarker of oxidative DNA damage and repair . In subjects who were current smokers, there was a trend toward a decrease in urinary 8-OHdG and TBARS levels from baseline to week 4 and week 8. Subjects demonstrated increasing trends in SOD from baseline to week 8 and 8-isoprostane from baseline to week 4 and week 8. Urinary 8-OHdG, 8-isoprostane, TBARS and SOD were higher in subjects who were current smokers (data not shown).
Subjects demonstrated a significant increase in HDL-cholesterol from baseline to week 4 and week 8 and a decrease in total cholesterol/HDL ratio from baseline to week 4 (Table 3).
Male subjects demonstrated a significant increase in HDL-cholesterol from baseline to week 4 and week 8 and significant decrease in total cholesterol/HDL ratio from baseline to week 4 (p<0.05) (Table 3).
Female subjects had a significant increase (p<0.05) in HDL-cholesterol from baseline to week 4, and a significant decrease (p<0.05) in LDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol ratio from baseline to week 4. There were no changes in HDL cholesterol, cholesterol/HDL ratio and triglycerides from baseline to week 8.
[This last sentence doesn't make sense to me, unless the benefits unraveled from week 4 to week 8 for the women. But in any case, drinking hydrogen water didn't appear to make things worse.]