Friday, March 4, 2011

I am maximally-skeptical that there currently exists any evidence that drinking deuterium-depleted water has health benefits or will cure disease.

Because of our lab's interest in the biophysical effects of heavy water--both heavy-hydrogen water, D2O, and heavy-oxygen water, H2O18--I received a very friendly email inquiry today.  The person suffers from a health problem and currently hopes that drinking deuterium-depleted water will help with that condition.

As a scientist and a health consumer, I am maximally-skeptical of any medical claims related to drinking deuterium-depleted water.  This is despite that fact that I think there's a good chance that cells may behave differently if deprived of deuterium, which exists in all natural water sources.  The reasoning for my skepticism is very straightforward.  There is a dearth of any published scientific or medical research utilizing deuterium-depleted water.  As I will note below, there are less than a dozen research papers on the topic.  So we really don't know.  There is almost no evidence.  We don't know whether drinking large quantities of deuterium-depleted water will be helpful or harmful or negligible.

There is much more evidence, though, that the quantity of water that would need to be consumed is quite large.  Because deuterium is natually-occurring, there's a lot of it in your body!  It would take a long time of drinking lots of D-depleted water to have a systemic effect.  My interpretation of the existing evidence is that by far the most likely outcome of this therapy is that it will generate profit for whomever is selling the D-depleted therapeutic water.

Because I think it's a shame that a Google search for "deuterium-depleted water" is overrun by claims of cures for horrible diseases, I asked the person who wrote me if I could send my response on my blog instead of privately.  So that perhaps our discussion could benefit more people.  The person kindly agreed and so I will post his email:

Dear Steve,
I enjoyed reading your blogs and noted that you work with D2O.
I have a medical condition that I want to treat with alternative methods - one of them is drinking "light" water.
Do you know, or can you suggest any resources for the following:
1. how to make "light' water, with D2O concentration of below 50ppm 2. who does D2O concentration testing in the us for water samples 3. who makes light water (for sale) 4. any scholarly literature on this topic...
Any info will be much appreciated and shared with fellow friends who are in need.
Thank you very very much!!

Here is the reply I would have sent, but instead post publicly:

Dear ___, 
Thank you for your kind message.  I am sorry to hear of your medical condition.  I am not an expert on the medical effects of deuterium-depleted water.  In fact, I am not aware of any medical experts on this topic.  As a scientist, I am maximally-skeptical of any claims of currently-known medical benefits of drinking deuterium-depleted water.  I'm not saying it will help or hurt you, I'm saying that I don't think anyone is close to knowing whether it will be helpful, harmful, or negligible.  There is almost no published, rigorous research on the subject (your question #4), and thus any claims are probably speculation.  I would suggest talking to a medical doctor, which I'd guess you've done plenty of, since they know almost infinitely more about the human body than I do.  However, I would think that any medical doctor, or indeed any living person, would merely have to guess, because I do not see any experimental evidence beyond just less than a dozen published reports which have yet to be challenged or supported. 
Below I will put responses to your specific questions, and I wish you the best, 
Sincerely,
Steve 
1. I don't know of an efficient method for producing mildly-deuterium-depleted water.  The deuterium-depleted water we use in our research is much more depleted.  We obtain it from Sigma, a chemical supply company, and it is roughly $100 per 100 milliliters (a few ounces).  As you may know, you would probably need to drink a lot of water over many days to appreciably deplete deuterium from your body.  This would surely be expensive.  And like I said above, as far as I can ascertain, it's unknown whether it would be helpful, harmful, or negligible.
2. I don't know who does D2O testing.  I'd be skeptical of anyone offering these services related to this medical purpose.  Incidentally, deuterium-rich water is inexpensive.  You could easily mix D-rich water with regular water and see if the purported D2O-testing company is able to correctly discern the difference. 
3. We so far have only purchased from Sigma.  See for example product #195294.
4. I have read two scholarly papers on the subject, both from a research group out of Hungary.  I found both papers very interesting, but I also am highly skeptical of the interpretation of their results.  A good place to find scholarly papers related to biology or medicine is on Pub Med.  This link will hopefully take you to a search for articles related to deuterium-depleted water.  I can only see one that is freely available.  Google Scholar is another place to search, but it will not be limited to biological articles. 
I actually find this topic fascinating, as far as whether life has evolved a beneficial use for naturally-occurring deuterium.  We have a side project in our lab to see whether we can notice any effects on tobacco seed growth.  We're using tobacco seeds because they are tiny, so we don't need much water to see an effect.  We got this idea from Gilbert N. Lewis, who did the initial studies in the 1930's that showed that too much deuterium affects life. One of the reasons I find this side project on deuterium-depletion so fascinating is that I see it as an open mystery.  That correlates well with my skepticism of claims related to therapeutic effects of drinking light water.

Below, I will embed a comment thread from FriendFeed, and also there are potential comments on the blog itself.  I expect them to be a mix of helpful and derisive...hopefully more of the helpful type!

20 comments:

  1. I would like to draw your attention to this more recent publication in Journal of Cancer Therapy (Vol. 2 No. 4, 2011):

    http://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=7799&JournalID=125

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  2. Hi Steve,

    I enjoyed this post. I do enjoy when scientists debunk odd and misleading claims! Just because something is unusual does not mean it is imbued with healing powers. How often have we seen this in history?

    This is Joanne (@sciencegoddess on twitter) and I'm stopping by each @scio12 attendees blog to see what's out there, to give a shoutout on twitter and say HI!

    I look forward at least to a wave in NC in about a month!

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  3. Thanks, Joanne, I look forward to seeing you @ #scio12 too!

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  4. Hi Steve,

    I just ordered deuterium-depleted water as an additional treatment for usual cancer treatment. Besides Hungary, the water is also produced and bottled in Romania.

    Take a look here to see more about it: http://www.qlarivia.ro/index.php?lng=2

    Alex

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  5. Well, since deuterium is found in all water, from 120 to 160 ppm, first you would have to research the health of the area with the lowest deuterium, and since it collects and stays in fat tissue, the depleted deuterium water would have to have a way to draw out the deuterium from the fat. Is there a way? The body has been shown to have 5 gm of deuterium on death. I am curious to know what happens to the deuterium load upon body death. Even more frightening is the idea that it is being added to dextromethorpin cough syrup for a new pharma designed to 'calm' elderly or agitated patients. The new Thorazine.

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  7. Yes, I am aware of those websites and the companies attempting to profit from selling deuterium-depleted water. Like I detailed above, I remain skeptical that there is yet solid research to back up these claims.

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  9. Heavy water is known to be poisonous. Thus, by eliminating natural deuterium in your bloodstream you can increase your absorption capability for artificial one, like in the case of leakage from a research facility. Also, by getting lighter, your overall health increases.

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  12. Hi Steve,

    Great post. I, myself researching D2O, stumbled upon the papers and got very skeptical. Meanwhile I'm quite convinced it is fraud.

    There is one additional thing that particularly worries me. Almost all research seems to be done by one particular group in Hungary, probably lead by Gábor Somlyai. He himself has founded and owns a company that sells DDW for a horrendous price (http://store.preventawater.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=61_62). If this is not the ultimate conflict of interest! The company cites almost exclusively the authors papers in dubious journals.

    The extremest example I could find is a 'case study' (not even controlled, hence completely unscientific) where subjects had to purchase the water themselves from the author's company! This was, to my surprise even disclosed at the end of the paper (http://deuteriumdepletion.co.uk/download/DDW_anti_aging.pdf).

    As you said, the lack of other papers is a strong argument for the claim being unfounded. The potential benefits of an easy cancer therapy are so huge that it is very unlikely no one has tried (and failed, but did not publish) to reproduce the experiment.

    Do you have an idea how to protect people from the fraudulent claims?

    Best regards,

    Cornelius

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  13. Hi Cornelius, Thank you for the excellent comment! No, I don't know how better to protect, except by trying to spread the word like you are and encouraging people to do the same kind of analysis of the information.

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  14. Hi, guys!
    All this discussion here is about using deuterium-depleted water as adjuvant cancer therapy. Still, there was a research on actually using D2O to inhibit cancer cell replication and even induce apoptosis.
    http://ar.iiarjournals.org/content/25/5/3407.full.pdf

    So, considering that D2O slows reactions and cell division, how can others imply the opposite - that deuterium depleted water slows down the progression of cancer, when this "light water" is actually so pure, that helps regeneration and so on? To me, a better regeneration and proliferation sounds like a boost for tumor cells!

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    1. Thank you for your comment! The paper you link to is strange. High concentrations of D2O were found to be toxic to ALL eukaryotic cells shortly after the purification of D2O by Lewis in 1933. So, it is not at all surprising that cancer cells are killed by high concentrations of D2O--non-cancerous cells from those same tissues would also be killed. Again, that's not to say that some anti-cancer therapy involving D2O could emerge, but the results of the paper you link to don't lead to any obvious therapy.

      As to your other question: it remains possible that there is an "optimal" amount of D2O for "optimal" growth of cells or organisms. This optimum may in fact be ZERO. Or it may be close to the small amount that occurs naturally. Or, it could even vary widely depending on the cell type and organism. For example, there could be organisms that live in heavy water reactors that prefer a high concentration of D2O.

      I think those are all fascinating questions that are unanswered. But my main point remains that there is no evidence for beneficial effects on humans of drinking deuterium-depleted water.

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  15. As far as I've read about all this D2O and DDW stuff (not so many studies, actually), they say that a replacement of 25% of the water by D2O would lead to cell cycle arrest and only a concentration of 50% of D2O in the organism would actually kill it. While I am very skeptical about the use of deuterium-depleted water, I still think about the possibility of drinking the opposite - D2O. Back in the 30's, when it was discovered and separated, the scientist drank it with no obvious harm to the body. Of course, in limited amounts. Now, considering all the adverse effects of the conventional chemotherapy, why not D2O? Frankly saying, I've come to this D2O thing on my own, prior to googl-ing it and finding the article I provided above. I've been wandering around for some time and, one day I came on "low polarity of cancer cells". Then, I went to searching for the possibilities of increasing the polarity, which is said to be done by increasing the molecular mass of the substance. As we consist mainly of water, I thought about... heavy water, and googled it. Here I came. Strange thing... Also, I came to this stuff by considering one more strange study, by some scientist Ling, who has another theory concerning the structure of the cell membrane - the "polarized water theory". In the paper he published, he describes the experiments that, as he claims, prove he was right and the "sandwich" model of the lypo-protein membrane is not feasible. That stuff again lead me to thinking about light water, low polarity of the cell membrane and high penetrability of the cancer cell, which consumes high amounts of glucose. Is there a possibility that cancer cell membrane would be indeed more "porous"?

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    1. Hi -- Well, I certainly think you're doing the right thing by reading and evaluating for yourself--kudos! A problem with using oral DDW or D2O is that the hydrogen isotopes will spread throughout the body. There is no way to specifically target the cancer cells. So, I would think that a person would get sick / injured before there were an appreciable affect of D2O on the tumor cells. Similar to what happens taking, say, anti-cancer drug taxol.

      Like I think I said in the original post, it's possible that drinking a lot of either DDW (or D2O) may either increase or decrease the risk / progression of some types of cancer or any diseases. I'm just saying that there is nowhere close to any reliable studies out there--and thus the people selling the DDW for a miracle cure are way ahead of any science or medicine.

      The way you're posing questions are as testable hypotheses, and I think that's great! You're not claiming you have a miracle cure, but rather you're pointing out avenues that could be explored. That's a good way to do it.

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  16. Here's this article by Ling:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1484329/

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  17. Yes, speaking about the availability of D2O in the tumor micro-environment, it would be probably the same as using taxol (or any other conventional chemo). But, considering the "greed" of cancer cells, chances are that water, any kind of water, would be also first of all consumed by those cells. Supposedly, D2O might harm immune cells in the same manner, as those divide fast as well. Thank you for you reply. Though I'm not a biologist, I hope that some day I'll be lucky enough to get into some lab to test it on my own...

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  18. This site gives a procedure to make your own DDW http://www.dancingwithwater.com/deuterium-depleted-water-what-is-it/ and although they do sell some materials to use (Bamboo salt and Crystal Energy) these are optional and there are alternatives.

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