A quick science lesson: The chemical makeup of regular water is two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen (hence the name H2O). Hydrogen water is created when extra hydrogen molecules from dissolved hydrogen gas are added into regular drinking water. This means that there is more hydrogen in the water and less oxygen—which purportedly confers antioxidant benefits and improves athletic performance.
Before you ask, it's not the same thing as alkaline water. “Alkaline water is put through either electrolysis, which separates molecules before siphoning out some of the acidic ones and leaving more alkaline ones, or it has minerals added or naturally contains them to bring its pH above seven,” says says Kelly Jones, RD. But its core chemical makeup is still H2O.
Hydrogen water is not necessarily a new thing; it's reportedly been a mainstay of Japanese wellness culture for at least a decade. But celebrity dermatologist and skin-care founder Nicolas Perricone, MD, brought it to mainstream American attention over three years ago when he started selling his own hydrogen water product for $3 a can. Several companies, such as HFactor and HTwo, now sell hydrogen water, while others sell expensive machines that can turn tap water into hydrogen water.
But does this enduring trend actually hold water? Not all experts are convinced.
Are there any benefits to hydrogen water?
Given that the body is roughly 60 percent water—and that we lose lots of it during the day through sweat and urination—it's important to drink enough to keep things running smoothly. “Staying hydrated is important for daily functions, such as blood flow, muscle contraction, and maintaining energy levels," says Natalie Rizzo, RD. (The golden rule is to drink enough so that you're peeing regularly, about every two to three hours.)
All water confers these benefits; however, proponents of hydrogen water say the beverage does even more for health. “The makers of hydrogen water [often] claim that the extra hydrogen can reduce inflammation and muscle soreness,” says Rizzo. One very small study from earlier in 2020 of around 40 people found that people who drank hydrogen-infused water had fewer inflammatory responses than those who drank regular water for four weeks. But given the small study size, that benefit is far from conclusive.
Other proponents of the drink say that the additional hydrogen has an antioxidant effect and creates more energy and cellular activity in the body, but most studies are not randomized or double-blind, nor were conducted on large groups to back up these claims, says Jones.
“One small study showed that drinking hydrogen water may improve mood, but this study needs to be replicated on a larger scale,” Rizzo adds. That's because the sample size of the study was only 26 people, which is hardly big enough to spell out meaningful results for a huge population of people.
Another crossover study on hydrogen water only included 10 soccer players. “It concluded that hydrating pre-workout with hydrogen water reduced blood lactate levels—a measure of fatigue with high intensity exercise—and improved maintenance of intensity, but also concluded that more studies were needed to determine mechanisms as to why this might occur,” Jones adds.
Are there any downsides to drinking this stuff?
Hydrogen water is safe and it will keep you hydrated. However, you're likely not getting anything particularly beneficial from swigging on it that you couldn't get from regular water.
Plus, it's fairly costly. A pack of 12 eight-ounce cans of Dr. Perricone's hydrogen water will cost you $32; a six-pack of 11-ounce HFactor pouches costs $16; a pack of 28 16.9-ounce HTwo pouches costs $61. Compare that to free water that comes out of your tap, or even other kinds of bottled water (a 12-pack of 30.4-ounce Poland Spring water bottles goes for $20 on Amazon) and you've got the opposite of a bargain. That said, if you like how it tastes and want to pay extra, all power to you.
“In general, with cost in mind, it's much more useful for the general public to just focus on drinking enough total water as well as ingesting more fruits, vegetables and whole plant foods,” says Jones. You’ll get the fluids you need and won’t need to waste extra money on another kind of water that’s not backed enough by science.
“It’s more expensive than regular water, and I don’t think there is enough evidence to prove that it's beneficial,” Rizzo agrees.
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