Hydrogen Water vs "Ionized Alkaline Water" False Claims Clarified
Everyone who works with me knows I am loathe to answer questions regarding hydrogen water and the long list of "magic waters," which all claim to be a panacea. My desire to distance myself, Drink HRW, and hydrogen water from "magic waters" was the title of an interview I did a supplement industry media source. What makes matters worse is that many of these technologies, such as alkaline ionized water, make small amounts of hydrogen previously mentioned, the scientifically validated benefits of hydrogen. However, hydrogen water is not a panacea, although looking at many marketers' claims, it is easy to see why skeptics thing it is being reported as such.
Ionized Water Claims
The claims of some ionizer sales reps are criminal, and parent corporations who after years or decades have done little to no crack down on this are absolutely complicit in the crimes and misinformation. In fact, the Malaysian government moved to crack down and ban the sale of "Kangen water" in the country due to widespread illegal disease claims back in 2016. Some of the common claims that ionizer sales reps make have infested themselves into hydrogen water communication despite the best efforts of many prominent individuals in the field to extirpate them, myself included. We now know that only the hydrogen gas acts as a therapeutic agent, thanks to recent comparative studies in which H₂ gas was added to ionized water that produced H₂ below the therapeutic threshold¹. This should come as no surprise, as the claims from ionized water proponents have long been baffling and not rooted in science.
It probably comes as no surprise to many of you familiar with the early hydrogen water and alkaline water ionizer industry, that the machine I first bought that motivated me to create hydrogen tablets was a Kangen machine. As I detail in Hydrogen Tablet Origins Part II, not only was I disenfranchised with the unethical and illegal claims being made surrounding the water (I bought the machine due to early interest in hydrogen gas research), my machine ended up producing below the detectable threshold via the titration method (when scaling the water volume, I determined it around 0.03 mg/L). While not going into the illegal medical claims made by many peddling water ionizers, here are some of the more questionable proposed benefits of health.
Oxidative reduction potential (ORP), is one of the most common tests ionizers sales reps will do on water to show why their machine is "superior." Tap water and bottled water typically show a positive ORP, indicating they are pro-oxidation. That said, ionized water will typically measure a significantly negative ORP, indicating it has the potential to reduce oxidation or be an antioxidant. Ignoring the fact that there is no evidence that antioxidant supplementation has potential harmful effects (including all cause mortality and cancer), this line of reasoning regarding ORP as a legitimate measurement tool doesn't hold weight.
A negative ORP indicates that a substance could act as a reducing agent. Knowing that a water has a negative ORP does not tell us anything about its therapeutic potential. To know this, we must know what the exact reducing agent is as some could be toxic and harmful, while some oxidants could be beneficial. We know that when it comes to ionized water, hydrogen gas will create a negative ORP. How the negative ORP is determined when H₂ is in question is via the Nerst equation, which pits a greater emphasis on pH than it does on H₂. This means that a highly alkaline water with a low amount of G₂ may read to have more negative ORP than a highly saturated hydrogen water with a lower pH! This is detailed in great length and accuracy by H₂ Sciences, the maker of the H₂ Blue titration reagent, here. In the previously mentioned study, where only H₂ was shown to be a therapeutic agent, the control water was measured as having a high negative ORP. Also, there are four articles on ORP here. (see ORP information)
"Living water vs dead water. All I can says is LOL"
Many claim that reverse osmosis or "RO" water lacking minerals is "dead water," while ionized water with minerals is "live water." Of course, this is just marketing on using the terms "living" and "dead" water that has no scientific basis. Obviously, the body needs minerals, which we get primarily from food and also some from our drinking water than what is already naturally occuring in the source water. There is a membrane in the electrolysis chamber that separates the negative and positive electrodes, which is the entire reasons that is is even possible to make alkaline and acidic water. Therefore, it's not like the minerals are going from one side to the other, since they cannot migrate through the membrane. Perhaps the most used parlor trick to show that RO or distilled water is "dead" and ionied alkaline water is "living" is the light bulb trick. Since pure water cannot easily conduct electricity, by cutting one of the wires going from the power source to the light bulb and then placing the two cut wires inro RO water, the light bulb either does not light up, or does so only a little bit. However, when using alkaline ionized water that contains minerals, the light bulb lights very brightly. The audience is then left in spectacular awe at the importance of drinking "living water." Of course, the source water originally used to make the alkaline ionized water would have worked equally well, and if you have low mineral source water, then you can't even make alkaline ionized water with it. Similarly, by simply adding some table salt to the RO water, or even arsenic and heavy metals, the light bulb will immediately light up in proportion to how much is added.
One baffling claim that many alkaline and ionized water proponents make is that drinking ionized water "alkalizes your body." Firstly ignoring the ridiculousness of this from a physiological standpoint, we must address how preposterous this is from a chemical standpoint. One common confusion is the relationship between pH and alkalinity of a solution. Most believe they are one in the same, but that is false. The pH of the solution corresponds to the total amount of hydrogen ions, whereas the alkalinity is determined by carbonates and bicarbonates. A high pH doesn't necessarily indicate a strong ability to buffer acids.
In fact, when considering alkaline ionized water, despite having a high pH, the buffering capacity is almost nonexistent. In one conversation I had with Tyler W. LeBaron, he explained that after working out the math, a single teaspoon of baking soda possessed a stronger buffering capacity than 10,000 liters of alkaline ionized water (pH 8.7)! If the goal was truly to "alkaline" your body, there are far more effective and less costly ways to do it than a water ionizer costing thousands of dollars. To further drive home the lack of direct relation between pH and buffering capacity, when dissolved in 500 mL of neutral water, our tablets tend to initially measure between, 5.0-6.0pH, which is acidic, yet are stoichiometrically quite alkaline.
Concerning the actual desire to "alkaline" your body, this is where it gets even more preposterous. The pH of our body is tightly regulated. If we go too alkaline or too acidic, it leads to very serious health consequences or death. If food and water could easily and significantly alter our blood's pH, we would be in serious trouble. Some argue that our internal buggering system gets taxed and depleted, leading to mineral deficiency. If this is the case, ionized water is a terrible solution as it, as described above, has very low buffering capacity.
Many of the claims on the need to "alkalize" the body rest on the Nobel Prize Otto Warburg won in 1931 on cancer. Proponents of ionized water and the alkaline diet, argue that cancer favours an acidic environment and cannot live in a sufficiently alkaline environment. While the latter is true, neither can any other cell in your body.
These proponents also conveniently ignore the last 90 years of research on the subject, in which our understanding has grown in orders of magnitude. Otto Warburg made great discoveries in his day, that said, it is dishonest and illogical to distort his research for the purpose of selling the ridiculous, omitting all of the later research on the subject.
This claim has been persistent throughout marketers, both of ionizers and other hydrogen water methods, despite being completely bogus. some state that hydrogen water increases cellular hydration by creating water from reducing the hydroxyl radical. If this happens in vivo, (in the living body) it would be negligible in water creation.
Others fall to "structured water" claims, suggesting that ionized water clusters it into patterns that make it easier for them to enter your cells. Water molecules enter our cells one at a time, in single file tightly regulated by aquaporins. The proposed "micro clusters" ionizer marketing reps speak of is complete nonsense, and if they did exist, they would not be able to enter the cell clustered together anyways. The molecular Hydrogen Institute has a nice article debunking this, including noting that not even the Japanese scientists researching ionized water believe in this claim, typically quickly decrying it as pseudoscience.
One desperate attempt to claim superiority by ionzer raps is the existence of "platinum nanoparticles" in ionized water, which as been cited in a few in vitro studies as a potential beneficial agent.²³⁴ One call study showed "increased radical scavenging activity" of hydrogen and platinum nanoparticles over hydrogen alone. ⁵ This is meaningless when considering some key points:
- The concentration used in the study was not corrected for what would be the impact in vivo, so the dosage was ridiculously high.
- Hydrogen does not directly scavenge radicals in vivo.
- We have in vivo models demonstrating that using ionizers, higher doses of hydrogen are effective whereas lower dosages are not. The ionized water would be delivering these platinum nanoparticles at both dosages, so the low concentration typical in most ionizers is ineffective, synergy with platinum nanoparticles or not.
- There are no studies on a living being showing this suggested synergy.
- Some studies suggest liver toxicity from ingesting platinum nanoparticles. ⁶⁷⁸
- The results of the study are expected because hydrogen alone can reduce radicals in vitro, and platinum nanoparticles alone can reduce radicals. So together, you will at least have additive effect of reducing radicals than either alone. Just like if you add vitamin C or something else.
Kangen water sales reps widely claim that their ionizer is the only "licensed medical machine," granted by the Japanese health authority. On a closer look, that claim doesn't stand up. All ionizers must be registered with the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare because the water is being ingested, just like dental floss is also a medical device according to the FDA, a designation which does not require any evidence of efficacy or allow for any claims. The Molecular Hydrogen Institute has a good breakdown of this here.
Hydrogen Water False Claims
Some claims regarding hydrogen water are made across the industry, and not just by those selling water ionizers. Here is some clarification on two of the biggest:
Not a Powerful Antioxidant
Some marketers claim that hydrogen water is the "most powerful antioxidant" with absolutely no substantiation or accuracy. In vivo hydrogen water is likely no a direct conventional antioxidant at all, but rather regulates production of our body's own natural antioxidants, such as glutathione and enzymes such as catalase and superoxide dismutase via activation of the NRF2 pathway. Even in vitro, where hydrogen has show to act as a direct free radical scavenger, the novelty of molecular hydrogen wasn't on its power, but on its selectivity, owing to how WEAK of an antioxidant it is.
Not an Anti-inflammatory
Similar to how molecular hydrogen is not a direct antioxidant, but rather seems to be able to regulate the production of antioxidants (and some beneficial oxidative stressors, such as nitric oxide), hydrogen is not an anti-inflammatory but rather regulates production of proteins that are either pro- or anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is a good and necessary bodily response to stress, it is when it is chronic or responds beyond necessary that it is an issue. Not only are claims that hydrogen water is an actual anti-inflammatory illegal, as inflammation is a drug specific claim according the FDA, is it inaccurate.
Many companies, both in the hydrogen water space and in the "magic water" space, feel the need to make up a bunch of false miracle claims to peddle their goods. Not only do we not believe in this approach, we intend to fight those who do head on. We prefer to let the results of our clinical research and our understanding of the field do the talking; and of course, we do love to hear the positive feedback from our customers and followers!