Alkalizing the body, supporting the immune system, and killing pathogens–the claims of hydrogen peroxide’s benefits to health are many. Some claim even claim that hydrogen peroxide will cure cancer. But is there science behind any of these claims? Does H2O2 really support a healthy body?
Some describe H2O2 as water (H2O) with an extra oxygen atom. The theory is that when ingested, the H202 breaks down in to water and oxygen, thus oxygenating the bloodstream and body’s tissues. Because cancer and pathogens can’t survive in an oxygen-rich environment, this oxygenation process is purported to support health.
When exposed simply to light and heat, H2O2 does indeed break down in to water and oxygen gas. (Source) In the presence of living cells, however, the reaction is much more complex due to other compounds and enzymes present.
“[…]H2O2 has 5 principal fates (1) reaction with Prx isoforms and oxidation of a signaling protein via a redox relay (2) direct reaction with a signaling protein (3) reaction with iron (other metals not shown for clarity) and ·OH generation (4) reaction with a protective redox enzyme (e.g., Gpx1) and (5) diffusion from source (permitting any of fates 1–4). Note the protective function of Prx and indeed catalase are not shown for the purposes of clarity. Fates 1–2 can lead to target protein modification and thus redox signaling whereas fate 3 can underpin DNA damage following the indiscriminate, diffusion-controlled·OH-DNA reaction. Signaling and damage may be linked in two important ways from there (1) modification of redox repair enzymes and (2) modulation of H2O2 levels by redox repair enzymes ” (Source)
In other words, in the presence of free iron, or enzymes containing iron H2O2 forms hydroxyl radicals (*OH) and other free radical species. (Source)(Source) Hydroxyl radicals “damage lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids, leading to cell death.” (Source) The mechanism of mercury poisoning was studied and found that mercury formed excessive amounts of H2O2 in the body, which then depleted the antioxidant gluthianone, thus creating free radical damage and promoting oxidative stress. (Source) Another study found an enzyme in the liver that reacts with H2O2 and fuels the growth of liver cancer. (Source)
H2O2 is a substance that our own cells create. And, in fact, H2O2 can kill cancer cells. Special white blood cells in our body called neutrophils are able to seek out cancer cells and kill them by squirting a little dose of hydrogen peroxide directly on the cancer cell. (Source) (Oversimplification of the process, of course.) But the problem is, H2o2 isn’t selective to just killing cancer cells; it kills all cells, including healthy ones. And many times healthy cells die more easily when cancer cells have become resistant to the oxidative stress that the H202 creates. (Source) “[…] some cells can survive by adapting to oxidative stress conditions, and selective clonal expansion of these resistant cells would be involved in oxidative stress-related carcinogenesis.” (Source)
H2O2 damages DNA in cells (Source), damages lipids in the body, (source) and depletes the body of antioxidants due to its pro-oxidant action. (source) There is no evidence suggesting that drinking any concentration of H2O2 is beneficial and many studies suggesting that it is dangerous. When ingested, it immediately damages the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat. (Source) High concentrations (such as 35% hydrogen peroxide) can be lethal. (Source)
Hydrogen peroxide is not a miracle cure for cancer, nor does it benefit the body in any way. A diet full of a variety of vegetables and fruits, limited animal protein, healthy fats, and low in processed sugars and carbohydrates is the best way to keep yourself healthy.