Hydrogen and Skepticism

August 05, 2019 9 min read 2 Comments

Hydrogen and Skepticism

It’s a common trend amongst those promoting hydrogen water products to believe the science is being “unfairly attacked”. With 1,200+ publications showing a benefit in 170 models across every organ in the mammalian body, how could anyone in their right mind ridicule it as pseudoscience? With millions of testimonials across the world and ongoing research from public teams, how can skeptics say it is no better than placebo?

Skeptics are right to question hydrogen water for many reasons. First, the onus of proof is on the claimants. As proponents, we need to understand the science of hydrogen therapy, whether it be hydrogen water, inhalation or saline, and formulate factual and logical positions that are accurate with the findings, incorporating appropriate reservations regarding limitations when necessary.

As I wrote in my Open Letter Regarding Testimonials, while testimonials are important and need to be considered, they are the lowest form of evidence. Regarding hydrogen water and other hydrogen therapies, the majority of research is in vitro or in animal models. The human research is predominantly small pilot studies with little replication work in many cases (outside exercise and metabolic conditions), with some being uncontrolled trials.

While there are many reviews on hydrogen therapy, they are literature reviews and not systematic reviews. Literature reviews are subjective articles, opinion-based, and designed to give an overview on a subject. Systematic reviews are far more thorough and assess the credibility and merit of each individual study and are done in a manner attempting to remove bias. A full comparison between the differences on literature and systematic reviews can be found here.

While hydrogen therapy research is working its way up the pyramid, it isn’t all the way up. There are a lot of questions we still need to answer, and years of clinical research needs to be done to formulate clear protocols for different situations.

Reasons for Skeptics to Default to Derision

The next question that often comes up in those convinced of the benefits of hydrogen water is why this field is attacked more fervently than others with far less science? Molecules with a few in vitro studies, even fewer in rodents, and none in humans, are often heralded as “promising” and given a boost in the media, garnering attention, and further research, while the mainstream media’s coverage on hydrogen research, mostly focusing on hydrogen water, has been largely devoid of positive coverage. The coverage is often that it has “no basis in science” and has “no evidence”. While I could begrudge the situation and lay blame, I’d prefer to dissect the reasoning, pursue solutions regarding education, and encourage discourse with those skeptical.

Why do skeptics default to immediate skepticism and derision? The same reasons I did, the same reason Dr. Holland did, and the same reasons many others have. As I detail in my “Hydrogen Tablets Origins” series which is about to start running, I knew of the potential of molecular hydrogen for years before I finally became excited about it. I engaged in heated arguments with proponents of ionized water and their illegal and dubious claims. Dr. Holland’s original first email to me stated this:

I have been designing and synthesizing drugs for over 15 years and have a lot of experience in the requirements needed for a compound to prove its effects in a double blind randomized clinical trial, and this formulation would never pass those requirements. The formulation that you are talking about is pseudo science at best and has absolutely no health benefits other than those experienced by placebo.” 
- Dr. Holland, 2015

As many of you know, within a few months, he was a partner in the company and excited about hydrogen water research and what we were doing. As he stated in our recorded conversation, he isn’t sure how many patents he has, but the work we did on our hydrogen tablets is one of his proudest achievements.

Most skeptics, or individuals with appropriately developed critical thinking skills, have a formed heuristic regarding “magic water” and immediately dismiss and attack any claims as such. Unfortunately, many proponents of hydrogen water position it as a magical panacea, which it is not, and many others insert other pseudoscientific water related claims, further muddying the science. I discussed this in my “100 voices” article with what happened in Korea and Japan and why I decided to private label my technology.

A desperate situation may arise if a new skill, the efficacy of which is open to doubt, is given a false interpretation by its discoverers. “

- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy

Further complicating matters and increasing skepticism is that the first reaction of most educated in biochemistry, physiology, or even chemistry and engineers trained in gas solubility is that none of this makes sense. Hydrogen gas is inert and most do not expect it will have any biological effect. Further, it is not particularly soluble in water. In fact, carbon dioxide is over 1000x as soluble! While this would seem to further drive the nail in the coffin of hydrogen water, literature reviews in the topic have noted that hydrogen gas dissolved in water is roughly 100x as effective per dose as inhalation.i While 1.6 mg seems like a very small amount, particularly for a gas most deem inert, when considering “moles” 1.6 mg of H2 is comparable to 139 mg of Vitamin C. Even when considering in milligrams, many molecules have an effect at levels far below 1.6 mg.

Our hydrogen tablets get further skepticism for the fact that we deliver several times what is allowable under SATP when considering both dissolved and quasi dissolved gas. We at Drink HRW were even extremely skeptical of what was going on and our discovery was not a “eureka” moment, but a “that’s funny” moment, like with one of my favourite quotes from Isaac Asimov. We feel comfortable with our claims as before we made them, we submitted them to numerous skeptical third parties to falsify, while simultaneously attempting to falsify ourselves. In science, assertions cannot be “proven true”, they simply fail to be “proven false”. After a battery of tests and attempted attacks from all competitors, what we did was not “proven false”, with results replicated through many tests and many third parties. This simply means the results are “likely true”, although with new technology, controls, and testing methods in the future, our position and claims may need to adjust based on new evidence.

Even with the knowledge regarding moles, our ability to deliver several times the dosage, and the existing literature, many other issues still exist. Importantly, we do not yet know the exact mechanism of action of hydrogen gas. Meaning, we know many of the pathways it works through and have noted thousands of changes in gene expression, but we do not know how. Even if the hydrogen gas as a form of hormesis hypothesis holds true, we do not know why it is stress, as the safety is so well established and the dosing is so much lower than even slight narcosis during deep sea diving.

We need to further explore mechanisms of action, which is something we at Drink HRW are in talks with a University to provide some funding to pursue- this isn’t something we can “use in marketing”, but something that is needed to understand what we are doing. The results won’t be exclusive to us, but for the betterment of the field of science. While this is a question “unanswered”, I believe we know enough to be excited about the research and we know more about hydrogen gas than many actual drugs that have been prescribed for decades. I detail this in an upcoming piece.

Complicating this matter further, many of the early and current research papers draw conclusions that do not make sense. This often happens, especially in green literature, when researchers do not have an expert appropriate to an area. For instance, a conclusion based on the data from a medical doctor may seem absurd to a biochemist. What is important is that we do not disregard the data due to erroneous conclusions. That said, we need to seek correct conclusions and clarifications. Especially when the prevailing conclusions have yet to be reconciled with other known facts. It is our duty to pursue correct conclusions and drive towards a greater and more coherent understanding of the subject.

Whenever truth and error are amalgamated in a coherent system of conceptions, the destructive analysis of the system can lead to correct conclusions only when supplemented by new discoveries. But there exists no rule for making fresh discoveries or inventing truer concepts, and hence there can be no rule, either, for avoiding the uncertainty of destructive analysis.”

- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy

Knowledge is growing at an unfathomable rate. So is pseudo-knowledge. We need to form snap judgements to dismiss ideas that seem inappropriate in order to prioritize what we learn and what we avoid. When doctors or specialists in other areas are interviewed and asked for an opinion on hydrogen water, they are likely completely unfamiliar with the research, making them immediately dismissive of hydrogen water. As such, they state they are skeptical of any benefits. This has more to do with “lazy journalism” with authors failing to understand that expertise in one area does not necessarily translate to an opinion in another. Further exacerbating this is the trend of negative articles, so journalists read what their peers have published and enter the subject with a bias.

I do not fault the journalists, or even the experts quoted for this. I do not fault the skeptics for their skepticism. The blame falls solely on the proponents of hydrogen water and gas research that have not been loud enough, coherent enough, and convincing enough. Without education, debate, and attention, there is no way to educate those skeptical to change their opinions.

This example should stand for many others which teach the same lesson; namely that to deny the feasibility of something that is alleged to have been done or the possibility of an event that is supposed to have been observed, merely because we cannot understand in terms of our hitherto framework how it could have been done or could have happened, may often result in explaining away quite genuine practices or experiences. Yet this method of criticism is indispensable, and without its constant exercise no scientist or technician could keep a steady course among the many spurious observations which he has to set aside unexplained every day.”

- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy

Conversely, as proponents of the research, we need to do our best to reject dubious claims and educate other proponents towards accurate statements. Our allies are in a position to do us more harm than good, running the risk of “guilt by association”. Even claims that seem innocuous can lead to a false perception of the truth or increase skepticism. Recently, my friend Prof. Ostojic published a paper regarding false claims on hydrogen water.ii He touches on important topics, such as unsubstantiated claims made from a medical perspective, products claiming the benefits of H2 that contain no or below the therapeutic threshold of H2, but also touches on something that surprised me and gave me pause to consider my own opinions and reflect on what I stated before without proof.

In a search of the literature he found no mention of hydrogen levels in the “miracle spring waters” at sites such as Nordenau and Lourdes. This is something that is heavily referenced in marketing and writing across all proponents of hydrogen water, and I have heard other researchers state it as well. Perhaps there is trace amounts of hydrogen water at these sites, but we need to publish proof of it. It is not preposterous to think there could be. For instance, sampling the oldest water ever discovered in the world (Ontario, Canada, estimated to be 1 billion years old) detected dissolved hydrogen gas.iii The onus of proof is on the claimant, and to make even an innocuous claim as such, proof must be provided.

Further, we must do our best to be critical of the research coming out on hydrogen water, to search for errors and flaws. We cannot use every new study as a form of confirmation bias. The more we want something to be true, the more critical we must be. If we are not, those attacking the field will be, and if we have not considered all of the possibilities, even if we are right, and the results are true, we will not be prepared to debate.

True knowledge leads to true doubt. Experts are not experts in a field because they know everything, they are experts because they understand the limitations and what is not known and realize others have not made it to this realization yet. By using new information as confirmation bias, we risk depriving ourselves from ever obtaining true understanding and expertise. Science relies on skepticism to move forward. Without challenges to ideas, they cannot evolve and grow. Without skepticism, both from active researchers on the subject and those outside the field, there is no direction except towards confirmation bias. That outcome is not science, but engineering a result to prove a hypothesis or pseudoscience. Skeptics make us all better, and we should thank them. Science adjusts its views based on what is observed. If we want to call hydrogen water real science, we must do the same. We must also understand our position so we can work towards adjusting the views of those skeptical, the only path towards truth.

While my enthusiasm of hydrogen water is very high, I am much more hesitant to make grand claims than others. The more I understand, the more hesitant I am. For all of you reading, while hydrogen water has great promise and the research is exciting, it has a long way to go. The greater the claims you make, the greater the evidence is needed to justify them.

Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence”
- Christopher Hitchens

ii https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924224419303644


2 Responses

Alex Tarnava
Alex Tarnava

August 29, 2019

Thanks Ray! I suspect that for those that are healthy without major issues, a slight bump in energy or maybe better sleeping is all that will be noticeable. (Many researchers feel the same). That doesn’t mean it isn’t working, as it will still be “protecting”. For those with serious damage they may feel the benefits immediately, and for high level elite athletes they will likely notice the benefits imemdiately as well as they are so in tune with their bodies.

Ray Gebauer
Ray Gebauer

August 19, 2019

Excellent article. I use your product every other day, and believe it is very good, even though I don’t see any major differences, although I believe I have more energy. I intend to continue using it.

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