Hydrogen/deuterium ratio – a key regulator in living organisms

Dr Gábor Somlyai, based at HYD LLC for Cancer Research and Drug Development, in Budapest, Hungary, outlines research into the medical benefits, especially for cancer, of deuterium-depleted water

The stable isotope of hydrogen, deuterium (2H), was discovered in 1931 by Harold C Urey, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934. It has been known for decades that, due to the 100% mass difference between 1H and 2H (Fig 1), molecules containing deuterium behave differently in chemical reactions; D-bonds are more stable and split 6 to 10 times more slowly than those of hydrogen bonds. 

A broad variety of morphological and physiological changes have been observed in deuterium-enriched environment, including changes in cell processes such as cell division or energy metabolism. There are certain species-specific limits to their tolerance of heavy water; some organisms are able to grow in heavy water (deuterium oxide, D2O), but the growth of tobacco plants slows dramatically, due to increased 2H2O concentration, while mammals cannot tolerate heavy water over 25% concentration.

The availability of a sufficient amount of heavy water led, over the following decades, to extensive research on the effects of it and deuterium. The basic view, using heavy water in high concentration, was that, because there are ‘only’ 155 heavy water (D2O) molecules out of 1 million 1H2O (one 2H2O out of 6,420 1H2O molecules), or 155 2H atoms out of 1 million 1H, in oceanic water (155 parts per million, ppm), nobody expected any effect from the naturally occurring D in living organisms at natural concentrations.

The 155ppm D-concentration is equivalent to 12-14 mmol/L in human plasma and, compared with calcium’s 2.24-2.74 mmol/L, magnesium’s 0.75-1.2 mmol/L, potassium’s 5.0-5.1 mmol/L and glucose’s 3.3-6.1 mmol/L concentrations, deuterium is present in similar concentrations in living organisms.

Initial research into cancer

The question as to whether naturally occurring deuterium and the deuterium/hydrogen ratio could have an important, central role in living organisms was first asked by myself in 1980, as a student at the biology faculty of the University of Szeged (Hungary). After earning my PhD with a scholarship from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, I began to investigate the biological importance of naturally occurring deuterium as a senior research fellow at the Hungarian Institute of Oncology in 1990.

The research revealed that the applied, deuterium-depleted water (DDW) inhibited the growth of tumour cell lines in vitro and, given as drinking water, it caused complete tumour regression in mice that had been transplanted with a human breast cancer cell line. The study suggested that the higher D/H ratio is the key signal to initiate increased, cancerous cell division, which is the consequence of the selective elimination of the light hydrogen by the activated Na+/H+ exchange system, increasing the intracellular pH.7-9 We also observed a progressive reduction in brain metastases in patients consuming DDW (Fig 2).

The role of a higher D/H ratio when initiating cell growth was also confirmed in vitro; a D-concentration higher (300-600 ppm) than natural, stimulated cell growth. Other studies also confirmed the growth inhibitory effect of DDW in vitro. DDW was tested in other situations and a positive effect was found on long-term memory in a rat study; another study revealed a correlation between a higher D-concentration in drinking water and an increased susceptibility to depression.

DDW’s anti-aging effect was confirmed in the Caenorhabditis elegans model system. In a preclinical, animal experiment DDW enhanced the effect of insulin and improved glucose uptake of the cells in diabetic rats. Levels of blood glucose, fructosamine and HbA1c were clearly and significantly lower in animals that received DDW water, as well as insulin levels. These results suggested that, due to an improvement in insulin sensitivity, DDW can be successfully used in patients with metabolic syndrome.

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