February 24, 2021
February 24, 2021
You’re likely wondering, what in the world is Deuterium and how could it be so important to health if you’ve never heard about it?
Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Despite being discovery in 1933, deuterium has received very little attention (1). Being considered scarce, it has largely been regarded as insignificant.
But, as researchers dig deeper into the science of cellular function, the role of deuterium is slowly evolving and its impact on biological systems is better understood. Simultaneously, it’s clear that despite its scarcity, deuterium's impact is massive—especially in the modern world.
First, What is Deuterium?
Hydrogen is the first element on the periodic table with a single proton in its nucleus. However, hydrogen comes in three naturally occurring forms or isotopes—protium, deuterium and tritium—which are distinguished by the number of neutrons also present (2).
Protium is standard hydrogen, or “light hydrogen,” and has no neutrons.
Deuterium is often referred to as “heavy hydrogen,” and has one neutron in the nucleus.
Tritium has two neutrons and is a radioactive isotope (for the purposes of this discussion, tritium isn’t super important).
Although deuterium shares the same properties as hydrogen, it is twice as large and about twice as heavy. Being an isotope of hydrogen, it can be a substitute for standard hydrogen in any chemical reaction. Given the drastic difference in weight and size, deuterium alters the outcome of these reactions significantly.
Protium molecular weight = 1.00794 amu
Deuterium molecular weight = 2.014 amu
Deuterium is naturally occurring, but is not present in large amounts—this is one reason it has generally received little attention. But, considering the the role hydrogen plays in nature, the drastic difference in weight and size can make all the difference—especially in the modern world (2).
What You Need To Know: Deuterium is a form of hydrogen with an extra neutron in the nucleus. This makes it significantly larger and heavier than standard hydrogen (also know as protium), which alters chemical reactions and functions involving hydrogen.
Let’s Talk Water
Now, let’s put it into practice with something we all recognize well—water!
You likely already know the composition of a single water molecule—H20—with “H” being hydrogen and “O” being oxygen. Given that there are multiple forms of hydrogen, there are also multiple forms of water.
Water can also be classified as “light” versus “heavy.” Water with common hydrogen (or protium) is considered “light” because it doesn’t carry the additional neutron in hydrogen’s nucleus. “Heavy” water, on the other hand, carries the additional neutron—this is often represented as D20 instead of H20.
Bulk water (like a glass of water)exists as a collection of water molecules, which means both protium and deuterium will be present to some degree. The standard concentration of deuterium in water is roughly 150 parts per million. However, levels can vary drastically based on region and conditions. Fun fact: One of the strongest predictors for deuterium content is latitude and elevation, with deuterium levels dropping as you go higher in both.
Why is this important?
Water is the most common molecule in the human body and plays a massive role in our biology—specifically at the mitochondrial level.
What You Need To Know: Water is the collection of molecules. Given that there are several forms of hydrogen, there are several forms of water. “Light" water has a protium molecule, whereas “heavy” water has a deuterium molecule—this is often represented as H20 vs. D20. This is important for cellular function and overall health.
Mitochondria + Deuterium
Mitochondria are tiny organelles found within every single cell with the exception of red blood cells.
The mitochondrial volume (number present) within a cell can vary widely and depends on the energetic requirement of the particular organ or tissue. You can likely guess where the greatest volume lies—your heart, liver, muscles and brain as these areas have a significant demand for energy. With an estimated 37 trillion cells and thousands of mitochondria per cell, it's safe to say mitochondria play a significant role!
Our mitochondria are responsible for a number of important functions, which they work around the clock to carry out. However, the most important jobs are the production of metabolic water (which is deuterium depleted), heat and Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), the energy to fuel function.
To produce energy (ATP), our mitochondria break down organic material from foods and liquids into electrons and protons. The electrons go through a series of proteins called complexes—this is called the electron transport chain (ETC). The energy released along the way is dissipated as heat or used to “pump hydrogen ions (H+) from the mitochondrial matrix to the intermembrane space and create a proton gradient…ATP synthase, also called complex V, uses the ETC generated proton gradient across the inner mitochondrial membrane to form ATP” (3).
This final step is where deuterium comes into play (sometimes). The ATP synthase is a highly protected, fragile nanomotor, spinning at 6-9,000 RPMs. When deuterium is introduced through poor quality food or water, it breaks the ATP synthase, rendering it useless and decreasing energy production.
The spinning ATP Synthase has another critical job. It simultaneously produces water! This process is also interrupted when deuterium enters the equation.
Wait, you mean our mitochondria generate water? Yes! And not just any water.
The water produce in the process is referred to as “Metabolic Water.” Not only is it deuterium depleted, metabolic water is recycled for mitochondrial function and signaling.
Dr. Laszlo Boros, a leading expert on deuterium, highlights the importance of this process in saying, “metabolic water’s deuterium load regulates cellular and mitochondrial functions, including interfacial protein interactions, energy production via ATP synthase’s proton transfer velocity, molecular crowding and cell growth" (4).
The ability to produce metabolic water and energy efficiently is critical for optimal cellular health—anything that disrupts this process or makes it less efficient will result in cellular chaos. Chronic cellular chaos equals chronic disease.
Our modern lifestyle tends to introduce excess deuterium through poor food and habits. Not to mention, our ability to deplete deuterium efficiently is being challenged (we'll talk more about this later). Sadly, this is resulting in chronic dysfunction.
What You Need To Know: Mitochondria are responsible for creating energy in the form of ATP—this requires protons to be pumped through a delicate nanomotor called the ATP Synthase. When deuterium replaces standard hydrogen, it breaks the tiny the ATP synthase. This hinders cellular energy production and acts as a signal for further breakdown. Mitochondria are also responsible for creating metabolic water, which is critical for optimal cell signaling and function.
Deuterium Depletion and Optimal Health
Energy is the currency of life. The health of any system in nature is a reflection of how efficiently energetic demands are met.
For humans, mitochondria lie at the center of this delicate interplay and their ability to meet our energetic needs is the ultimate measure of health. Anything that inhibits mitochondrial function will only create dysfunction and disease.
Optimal Health = Optimal Mitochondrial Function
With this perspective in mind, deuterium’s impact becomes clear.
By damaging our mitochondrial nanomotors, deuterium disrupts the production of energy and metabolic water, negatively impacting cellular processes and structure—this creates dysfunctional cells.
As deuterium load increases (as is common with modern lifestyles), the volume of damaged mitochondria increases and energy/metabolic water output is further decreased. Continuing this pattern chronically leads to disease. Unfortunately, this often becomes a vicious cycle.
The critical question then becomes—What lifestyle choices can we make to lower and deplete deuterium?
What You Need To Know: Health is a reflection of your mitochondria’s ability to meet energetic needs—anything that inhibits this process will create dysfunction and disease. Deuterium damages our mitochondrial nanomotors beyond repair, disrupting the creation of energy and metabolic water. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for chronic disease.
How Do We Deplete Deuterium?
Biological systems want to deplete deuterium. In fact, you could argue it’s their primary goal.
For biological systems living in harmony with nature, deuterium depletion is a fact of life. But, humans have created a lifestyle that challenges this process with poor diet, lack of sleep, an abundance of artificial light, etc.
Luckily the solution to this complex problem is simple—return to nature! In fact, all the keys to lowering deuterium levels are free and accessible.
The solution is two-fold:
1.) Avoid introducing excess deuterium.
A seasonal diet is critical for lowering deuterium intake and balancing depletion.
Think of deuterium as a delicate balance.
The deuterium content of food is a byproduct of its environment. Similarly, our ability to deplete deuterium is a byproduct of our environment.
When we eat out of season (i.e. eating a banana in December in New England), we introduce deuterium at a level greater than our environment will allow us to deplete. This is a recipe for cellular dysfunction.
Eating seasonally creates a perfect match between cellular function and environment and ensures we take in only the amount of deuterium we can actually deplete.
Nature has designed fat to be low in deuterium—choosing sustainably sourced, organic fats is a great way to take advantage of this. Think about it like nature doing the work for you.
Be aware of quality—unfortunately, there is massive availability of artificial, modified fats, which are super high in deuterium. Additionally, protein derived from commercial agriculture is often fed deuterium rich foods and forced to live disconnected from nature. This makes them higher in deuterium as well, which can negatively impact your health. Focus on finding local, sustainability-raised, and processed meat for the least deuterium load.
Additionally, fat appears to be the most efficient input for metabolic water and energy production—see below (5).
100 grams of fat = 110 grams of metabolic water
100 grams of carbohydrate = 55 grams of metabolic water
Low quality water is going to have a greater concentration of deuterium, rapidly increasing levels in our body. The most common example would be highly treated water (municipal tap water, for instance). While there are companies offering water that has been manipulated to lower deuterium levels, they can be expensive.
Your best option is to collect spring water or research brands coming from higher latitudes with lower deuterium content.
There’s a growing trend to drink as much water as possible. Given the quality of most water, this can create excess deuterium and lots of damaged nanomotors.
Our bodies, when operating correctly, are highly efficient at creating metabolic water—introducing deuterium rich water makes little sense.
Drink when you’re thirsty and don’t force water intake merely for the sake of drinking more water. Your body will tell you when it needs it.
2.) Help our mitochondria work better so they can produce more metabolic water (deuterium depleted water).
Light is critical for optimal cellular function—this includes the production of energy and metabolic water.
Each part of the sun’s spectrum interacts with our cells in a specific way, helping them to be more active and efficient in a host of functions. Missing out on natural light throughout the day creates cellular chaos, decreasing production of metabolic water and energy.
Additionally, our cells rely on signaling from the sun to align function with environment—this is called our circadian rhythm. Again, without these signals, they are unable to operate correctly and will lack efficiency in their critical functions.
In addition to natural light exposure, focus on creating an optimal light environment.
Non-native, artificial light creates cellular dysfunction. When our cells are not functioning correctly, deuterium depletion is a challenge. Avoid artificial light whenever possible and block the rest with an effective pair of blue blocking glasses.
Although we may actively avoid the cold, our mitochondria love it! In fact, they were built to function better in the cold.
Better function = increased/efficient metabolic water and energy production
Exposure to cold also builds our brown fat stores. Brown fat is packed with mitochondria and constantly producing heat—both are advantageous in depleting additional deuterium, producing energy and generating metabolic water.
Sweating is a natural mechanism for lowering deuterium levels. This can be done simply through sun exposure or jumping in a sauna!
The relationship between deuterium and sleep goes two ways.
Sleep, and melatonin specifically, is critical for helping our cells function properly and recover from the demands of life. This means focusing on quality sleep is important for depleting deuterium and keeping levels low.
At the same time, excess deuterium can create sleeping issue, further challenging your deuterium depletion processes. This can become a dangerous pattern that quickly compounds.
For great sleep and low deuterium, focus your full day on prioritizing choices that lower deuterium and help create quality sleep.
Exercise (and movement in general) is a great tool for boosting mitochondrial function and increasing your mitochondrial volume.
As you exercise, your mitochondria need to compensate for the additional demand, which means they produce more energy and more metabolic water. They also produce more mitochondria—this is called mitochondrial biogenesis—which also means more energy and metabolic water. Not to mention, a little sweat helps. Altogether, this is a great formula for lowering deuterium levels.
Exercise, of course, should be balanced with proper recovery to avoid cellular stress and inflammation—both of which decrease production of energy and metabolic water.
Breathing is another way we naturally deplete deuterium. Focusing on an effective breathwork practice is a great way to ensure you are breathing properly and intentionally.
Why Is This Suddenly More Important?
Excess Deuterium = Mitochondrial inefficiency = Chronic Disease
Deuterium isn’t new, nor is human exposure to it. But, what has changed is our modern way of living, which has elevated our deuterium load and challenged our ability to deplete it naturally.
First, the modern diet does not align with our evolutionary template. Our ancestors were limited to what was available seasonally—this meant the food consumed matched their environment and was deuterium depleted.
Today, we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want.
While this may seem like progress or convenience, it creates a fundamental problem: much of what we consume is not matched to our environment. This means different latitudes, water and greater solar energy.
By eating outside of our natural environment, we break our fundamental design, introduce elevated levels of deuterium and chronically disrupts our mitochondrial function—bad news!
Second, food itself has changed drastically over time.
Today, a majority of the food supply is dominated by artificial carbohydrates. These cheap food substitutes are typically filled with chemicals, heavily processed, covered with pesticides and produced synthetically. Even what we would consider “natural food” like organic fruits, vegetables and protein can be subject to soil depletion and poor farming practices. Altogether, this is a recipe for excess deuterium.
Third, we’ve all but eliminated the lifestyle factors that naturally deplete deuterium.
Human development occurred in alignment with nature and deuterium depletion was a part of existence.
But, for most, modern living has created a disconnection from nature—we spend most of our time indoors, in front of screens, relatively sedentary, and eating low quality foods. Unfortunately, this challenges our ability to deplete deuterium effectively, leading to chronic mitochondrial dysfunction (a.k.a disease).
Is Deuterium All Bad?
No! Context certainly matters—especially in nature.
In fact, it appears deuterium is important for growth. This is seen in early stage infants and plants, both of which seem to have higher deuterium levels early on (6).
But, as we age, the balance swings towards deuterium being disruptive. That’s why it’s important to incorporate deuterium depleting lifestyle factors to ensure optimal cellular function and health.
Can I Test My Deuterium Levels?
Yes! Testing and tracking anything is a great way to measure progress over time.
Is it necessary? It depends—if you are serious about depleting deuterium and understanding how your lifestyle impacts your levels, then having some data is great. However, if you’re actively reconnecting with nature and doing everything listed above, you should be good to go.
Do your research and make the decision that is best for you!
Deuterium and its impact on biological systems is complex (but fascinating) and in the modern world, pervasive.
But, what truly matters is the solution—and fortunately, it’s simple! By reconnecting with nature, you can keep deuterium levels low, boost mitochondrial function, and feel great—day in and day out.
See you in the field.