Is Hydrogen Water the Next Big Trend in Wellness? Dr. Perricone Makes His Case

The good doctor explains what’s behind the new secret sauce, how the drink might mimic the effects of exercise, and why it might be a panacea for jet lag and even hangovers.

Joan Smalls in W Magazine

The zeitgeist has caught up with Nicholas Perricone, the nutritionist and dermatologist. Health and wellness aren’t just popular these days, but 20 years after he starting spreading the gospel of lifestyle, but they’ve become a national obsession. You’ve heard of the anti-inflammatory (and wild salmon-rich!) Perricone diet, right? Celebrities like Eva Mendes credit their glow to his diet-skincare-supplement combo. Now, he’s taking on water—literally. The latest product in his eponymous skincare and supplement line Perricone MD is an energy drink made of water with an extra does of hydrogen. “Looking at the epidemiology, if we have the nation on hydrogen water, the savings to the healthcare system could be enormous,” he claimed. How you might ask? Here, the good doctor explains what’s behind the new secret sauce, how the drink might mimic the effects of exercise, and why it might be a panacea for jet lag and even hangovers.

How do you feel now that everyone has finally caught on to what you’ve been preaching for decades? Oh, it sure is because I was just trying to get the word out. I mean I don’t have to own it—I just wanted to get it out there and sure enough…At first, of course, I had tremendous resistance. I was an assistant clinical professor at Yale at the time and also owned a full time practice and there was a lot of angry reaction to this whole thing about inflammation and I can’t believe how angry people got because I suggested eating blueberries and salmon. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a political person, oh my God. Now it is mainstream, everybody’s onboard and heart disease, and cancer, and all that—it’s an inflammatory process, and Alzheimer’s as well, and so now we have everybody onboard and they’re writing all of their books and they’re going on TV, and all that, and they’re saying it, which is good. We want to educate the public. The only thing I would’ve asked was that someone should have mentioned that I was the one who stared it, but I guess people never do that. You just get the heat but you don’t get the fun. I don’t care how many people take this and run with it because the idea was from the start, ‘How can we get the world to a healthier place?’ and this is it, so the more people we have in the army the more we’re…

The better. And with that in mind how did you get into supplements, and how does one find the right supplement combination? Most physicians do not recommend supplements, but as a nutritionist I did see [the use in] supplements. I read an awful lot in the literature about certain supplements that have anti-inflammatory activity that I thought would be a nice addition to the anti-inflammatory diet if someone could afford the supplements, but I want to emphasize the fact that diet’s the most important thing. I did a lot of work and I wanted the things that were extremely bioavailable, that had activity and I put it in packets because if you have to take more than one or you have to take five or six vitamins a day it’s actually more expensive at the end of the day, so…

And impossible to follow. Yes. Right. So I did it in packets and I didn’t really think it was going to be a profit center either. I just wanted to do this as a service to my customers and it turned out it became so popular that it actually became an important item in the Perricone company, and so that’s how I got into it and I think it’s really worthwhile because when people take this supplement they get so many positive comments, about their energy levels and feeling better.

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Photo by Matt Licari.

When it comes to skin care you’re not a fan of retinoids because of the inflammatory response, right? Yeah, exactly. We have retinoic acid, which is a prescription product—that’s Retin-A and Tazorac and things like that, and of course they do show clinical improvement, but I think that a lot of the clinical improvement comes from the fact that they’re really inflammatory and what they do is the inflammation breaks down the collagen elastin and then the body goes about repairing itself and then you see an improvement, but retinoids are very, very powerful because they go right to the DNA and they up regulate certain genes. And then of course retinol in products is what you can use in a cosmetic and retinol has to be used at fairly high levels and it also is pretty labile, it’s gets oxidized and it loses its activity.

Is there a difference between chronic and controlled inflammation? Well. That’s a good question and I think controlled inflammation is just a form of chronic inflammation, but you kind of maintain the parameters or you hope you can. A lot of the acid peels and lasers and all of those things are creating inflammation and then you get the healing process, but once again I’d like to do it in a non-inflammatory way if we can and I think that many of my products are extremely active because they do up-regulate helpful genes through the use of what I call substances that are physiologic, so if they’re found in nature they’re found in the body already. Now that’s important for many reasons because, one, they’re safe, nontoxic and it’s already in your body, and two, there’s a term we use in medicine when you’re using an exogenous substance that isn’t natural to the body, it’s called tachyphylaxis, and tachyphylaxis just means that it loses effectiveness because the body compensates for that molecule, and tachyphylaxis happens with a lot of medications and also with a lot of cosmetic ingredients, but it doesn’t happen if you’re using something that’s physiologic.

Absolutely. Okay, so can you talk to us about hydrogen being one of those ingredients? All right. Okay, so I started looking at the literature on hydrogen and I know that they’ve been using hydrogen water in Japan for a couple of decades and there’s a lot of research. What caught my eye was the fact that hydrogen acts as an anti-inflammatory. Now hydrogen can be administered in many different ways. It can be administered as a gas, you can inhale it, and it could be administered dissolved in water or it could be put into an IV bag for infusion, and so it’s really a unique molecule. It’s very, very tiny. So I found something here that’s a natural anti-inflammatory, it’s an antioxidant, it has antioxidant activity, and the CS oxygen activity is really very cool. We also know that [the] phytonutrients that we find in brussels sprouts, and broccoli, and cauliflower, and kale and we know that they have great activity, a lot of it is antioxidant, but there wasn’t enough circulating in the body to account for the therapeutic effects we were seeing. Then we found out looking at the molecule that there was a portion of the molecule that has antioxidant activity, but there was another portion of the molecule that looked like a mild pro-oxidant and that was the magic, because if you put that in your body, in the cells, then the cells sensors and they up-regulate a transcription factor, a messenger called NRF2. NRF2 then goes to the nucleus, attaches to the antioxidant response element on the DNA, and then it up-regulates DNA making antioxidant proteins. so our cells become an antioxidant factory and you can’t use it up like you do vitamin C or other antioxidants because you’re constantly making new ones. So, guess what up-regulates NFR2 incredibly well?

Hydrogen. Hydrogen, yes. If you look at hydrogen, it’s an intelligent antioxidant. It’s a tiny molecule, no toxicity that diffuses through the body instantaneously that is readily available when it’s in a water form. It wouldn’t be very practical to try and breathe hydrogen as well, so if you hydric gas around it could be combustible. It also is a powerful anti-inflammatory, which is of course Dr. Perricone’s dream to find the magic bullet and here it also has effects on basically gene regulation, gene expression, and silencing negative genes so I’ve never in my entire career seen anything that can have so much activity and be the smallest molecule in the universe, and that’s why I’ve been obsessed with this project for four years now, and to finally be getting this out to the world is just such a…I don’t know. I just look upon this as a gift. It really is. It is so cool to be the one being able to do this.

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The inspiration: Cara Delevingne, just rolled out of bead. Photo: “Cara Delevingne: Style Rebel” photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott, styled by Edward Enninful; W Magazine September 2013.

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In very service-y terms, how does it work? It makes your skin behave as younger skin? When you drink hydrogen water you get really clear headed, that brain fog goes away and you get very focused and centered, but focused and centered not like caffeine stimulants or energy from sugars or carbohydrates. You’ll find that after you work out you’re nowhere near as tired. You could probably do another workout afterwards, so this energy drink…and there’s some studies if you look through some of the reviews. I think they did a study on some elite athletes. They used some isolated muscle groups like the quads and had them exercise the quad until exhaustion and then looked at the stamina, and then they repeated that experiment after drinking hydrogen water, and I think they got up to a 30 to 40 percent increase in stamina, which is phenomenal. So when people go out there, I want them to throw away their current energy drinks, which I don’t think are good for them, and I want them to try hydrogen. It’s just phenomenal, and then of course don’t forget aging skin is characterized by a decrease in energy production and so what we want to do is we want to raise energy levels in the skin and of course hydrogen can do that because when you increase levels of hydrogen, energy in the skin, then it can take in nutrients more efficiently, throw out waste more efficiently and repair the cell more efficiently, and all this adds up to reversal of the aging process.

So this is just everything you need in one go. Exactly. I wanted to make it convenient and also this is just critical that we maintain standards, that we have stability in that container and that we maintain the levels of hydrogen in a therapeutic range, because if people are out there spending money and the hydrogen is not in a therapeutic range or it varies too much, or the water isn’t pure, or all the other possibilities then it’s going to destroy probably the best thing we have going for us. It gives us incredible benefits and lowers the healthcare costs for the country so I’m kind of fanatical about details and that’s why it’s taken four years to get up and running and all the studies I did our containers, and maintaining integrity and making sure that we get the right levels and constantly doing research too to see what else we could do to make this better, and of course…

And you have to drink it within ten minutes right? Yeah, you’ll feel it. The average person who drinks it, who has never had it before, they feel it in 15 to 20 minutes. The most obvious thing that happens is once we’re about 30 minutes later everybody’s demeanor changes. They become more gregarious and they just seem happier and it’s because we’re up-regulating energy in the brain and all these good neuro-transmitters are more efficient. Then other people who travel a lot they say it completely mitigates the effects of jet lag, and I tried it of course. I use it myself back and forth to Japan, it keeps me alive, so there’s just so many good things it does to the central nervous system and it is the ultimate for jet lag, and I’m not much of a drinker but the rumor I’ve gotten it’s great for hangovers.

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Tilda Swinton, photographed by Tim Walker, W magazine, August 2011.

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