There are plenty of things in the wellness world that seem a little woo-woo, and many are harmless. Will turmeric lattes solve all of your wellness woes, from fatigue to bloating? Nah. But they’re pretty and they taste delicious, so why not?
That said, the idea that regular water infused with hydrogen, or with an alkaline pH, can have so many more health benefits than plain old H2O, really sends up some red flags. Even if these “wellness waters” won’t hurt you, charging people extra for something that looks and tastes exactly the same as the stuff that comes out of the tap is a pretty bold move.
To help set the record straight on what these souped-up waters claim to do, and what the actual science says, we asked experts to weigh in.
Hydrogen water’s claim: It works as an antioxidant, and can help reduce inflammation.
Essentially, hydrogen water is regular water with extra hydrogen molecules added through electrolysis. Advocates claim that these extra hydrogen molecules have major benefits. “In theory, the idea makes sense: Free hydrogen molecules are involved in neutralizing free radicals in the body, and the more of them that are available, the more they can act on free radicals and reduce inflammation,” explained Ali Webster, a registered dietitian and associate director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation.
Science says: This might happen, but there’s no proof.
While researchers have started looking into the long-term effects of regularly drinking hydrogen water, it’s too soon to say whether the stuff actually does anything. “There have been a few randomized controlled trials conducted on the effects of hydrogen water in humans, but these have all been small and short in duration,” Webster said. We really don’t know whether the proposed effects have any legitimacy. In other words, it’s a scientifically backed hypothesis that extra hydrogen molecules might work as antioxidants, but it’s far from proven.
“Even if benefits were known, it’s still not clear exactly how much hydrogen water you’d have to drink to see any identifiable health improvement,” Webster said.
Alkaline water’s claim: It’ll help boost your body’s ability to maintain a healthy pH.
The idea behind alkaline water is that its higher (more alkaline, less acidic) pH will neutralize acid in the bloodstream and help the body more easily maintain an ideal pH. Maintaining this ideal pH is literally essential to proper bodily function, so you’d think alkaline water would be a great idea, right?
Science says: Your body likely doesn’t need help, and if it does, water can’t help.
See, your body is really good at maintaining a stable blood pH of 7.36 to 7.44 (slightly alkaline). If your blood falls out of this range for any significant period of time, it’s likely you’ll die. “If you have healthy kidneys and lungs, your blood pH is held in a very tight range,” said Kris Sollid, a registered dietitian and senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council. “The pH of our blood is something the body takes very seriously. It’s among the most regulated of all our biological processes, which, thankfully, even the most expensive bottled water can’t interrupt.”
What’s more, even if your body did need help with pH regulation, alkaline water isn’t the way to do it. “The truth is that what we eat and drink only affects urine pH — it does not impact the pH of our body or blood,” Sollid said. “This is an important distinction that is often glossed over.” Everything we eat or drink passes through our stomach, where the pH is super acidic (between 1.5 and 3.5) before it hits our bloodstream. “If you drink alkaline water, the hydrochloric acid in your stomach simply neutralizes it.
“There is some evidence (from a small study of 100 people) to suggest that alkaline water might benefit healthy people to rehydrate after exercise, but more work needs to be done on this topic before any recommendations can be made for exercise recovery,” Sollid said. And, she added, “conclusive research in the general population does not support claims that alkaline water holds magical powers or that it even supports health.”
The only proven benefits of hydrogen and alkaline water are that they’re hydrating, like all water.
“Drinking enough water is a vital part of maintaining our health,” Webster said. Tap water, hydrogen water and alkaline water can all do this, so there’s not any health reason to avoid hydrogen or alkaline water. But “the biggest harm at this point looks like it’s inflicted on your wallet: Hydrogen water is expensive! It’s often sold for at least $3 or $4 a bottle,” Webster said.
Sollid agreed: “The type of water you choose to drink (alkaline versus tap, for example) has no impact on your health. The most important thing to know about H₂O is this: Drink it, it’s good for you, especially if you substitute it for caloric beverages.”
If you’re thirsty and all you can find is hydrogen or alkaline water — unlikely, but hey, you never know! — go ahead and drink it up. Otherwise, tap is just fine.