More and more people are being affected by Alzheimer’s as they age, yet new treatments seem to be providing underwhelming results. But a new study published in The Current Alzheimer Research may be especially promising.  It suggests that drinking hydrogen-rich water daily may not only prevent memory problems… it may actually help to improve memory.  And perhaps most impressive is that these changes were seen not only in their cognitive abilities but also in their cells.

The team led by University of Tsukuba randomized 73 people above the age of 67 years, to drink 1.26 (300mL) of H2 water (H2-group) or placebo-water (placebo group) for 12 months.  The participants all had memory problems, but didn’t have dementia or alzheimer’s disease. The scientists also looked at the effects of H2 in transgenic mice at risk for alzheimers.

 “We wanted to peak into the brain matter of mice to see if hydrogen could reduce neurodegeneration,” says Kiyomi Nishimaki, Medical Doctor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the University of Tsukuba, and author of the study.

At the clinical studies onset; they took tests of language, memory and cognition, named objects for language and recalled words for memory.  They also scanned their brains so the team could look at deposition of Apo-E, a protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease. At the end of the 12 months, the team tested the participants again for memory cognition, language, praxis and orientation; and scanned their brains.  The study was double blind so the participants did not know if they belonged to the H2 or placebo group (until after the study was over).

It turned out that memory scores of those who had taken H2 improved by 1.89%, results comparable to alzheimer’s medications (cholinesterase inhibitors) like donepezil.  On the other hand, the control group’s score declined. “If you improve memory score by at least 1.89%; the overall global impact on public health is immeasurable,” said Dr. Nishimaki.

Memory decline develops over many years and could be a sign of future dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that affects more than 5.4 million people in the US, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The brain scans also revealed significantly less ApoE4 – a destructive lipoprotein that is a strong risk factor for Alzheimer’s – in the hypothalamus and amygdala of the brain which controls memory, decision-making and emotion.

“The animal study also showed promising results,” says Nishimaki.

To test memory, mice were presented with a foreign object.  After the mice were given some time to explore the foreign objects, the total time they spent was measured.  24 hours later, the the mice were presented with the same object, and the total time they spent sniffing and exploring the object was again measured.  When mice would lose memory; the time and frequencies of sniffing and/or exploring the objects should be equal in the training session, showing that mice showed a similar interest of the object because of lack of memory of or familiarity with the objects.  

Mice were also tested for brain degeneration via 8-OHDG, a marker of oxidative stress, and other antibodies, markers of inflammation.  Studies have shown oxidative stress and inflammation are linked with alzheimer’s, says Nishimaki. Oxidative stress breaks down lipids in the brain forming highly reactive proteins that clump in the brain.  H2 has been shown to decrease oxidative stress and we wanted to see if this could happen in the brain,” says Nishimaki. Would it go hand in hand with reducing Alzheimer’s risk?

Mice were tested at 18 months for each of the above, memory impairment, oxidative stress and even lifespan.

“People with alzheimer’s have shorter longevity… could H2 prevent this?  Mice were the perfect test subjects given their short lifespan”, states the study’s ‘discussion.’

The results are a telling story.  It turns out that memory function of mice who’d started drinking H2 at 1 month of age… had significantly improved.  They recognized the foreign object upon seeing it a second time. In contrast, the control group score declined. And brain scans also revealed significantly less 8-OHDG and antibodies.  “The H2 mice even lived, on average a longer life than the control (normal water) mice,” says Nishimaki.

Mice that began drinking H2 water (group III) 8 months into the study when memory was already severely impaired and neurodegeneration so severe, still fared far better than mice who drank no H2; in memory, neuro-degeneration and lifespan.

The new study is exciting since its a true clinical study and earlier evidence regarding the therapeutic effects of H2 had not been established in a clinical setting.  Researchers have long observed that some groups of people with atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis have lowered their condition with hydrogen treatment. H2’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects are thought to underlie its neurological effects.  It’s been shown to disrupt the role of ApoE. “ApoE can clog vessels in the brain. It uses oxidative mechanisms to break down lipids and form proteins as byproducts. These proteins clump in the vessels and can lead to vessel damage in the brain,” says Dr. Nishimaki.

That H2 decreased ApoE might be the biggest clinical significance of its antioxidant effects and Alzheimer’s prevention.

More work will need to be carried out to determine just how much hydrogen water folks should drink for its brain-boosting benefits.  

In the meantime, if you love hydrogen water and drink it fairly often, the new study suggests that you’d probably do well to continue.

Works Cited

Nishimaki, K., Asada, T., Ohsawa, I., Nakajima, E., Ikejima, C., Yokota, T., … Ohta, S. (n.d.). Effects of Molecular Hydrogen Assessed by an Animal Model and a Randomized Clinical Study on Mild Cognitive Impairment. Current Alzheimer Research, 15(5), 482–492. http://doi.org/10.2174/1567205014666171106145017

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