Is the use of FOOD GRADE hydrogen peroxide in the human body safe or effective? Some say yes, others are equally convinced that the answer is no.
Benefits: Can Humans Ingest Hydrogen Peroxide Safely?
Well, yes and no. Before you attempt the drink the Hydrogen Peroxide that is in your medicine cabinet, STOP! This is not a FOOD GRADE product. Intended for topical use only, this type contains various stabilizing ingredients such as phenol, sodium stanate, acetanilde and certainly other undesirable non-food ingredients. There are several grades of hydrogen peroxide. All but one of these also contain non-food ingredients. These grades of hydrogen peroxide include the standard 3% pharmaceutical grade mentioned here. You probably have this type in your bathroom medicine cabinet.
There are other grades of increasing concentration such as Beautician Grade (6%) which is commonly used in salons to 'bleach' your hair blond. Reagent Grade (30% strength) is for scientific uses (such as boiling flesh away from bones in forensics, etc. and for dissolving elements.)
There is an Electronics Grade hydrogen peroxide which is around 32% strength, and Technical Grade concentration which has phosphorus added in addition to the usual stabilizer ingredients as before. None of these are 'food grade' and therefore cannot be ingested under any circumstance.
Next is Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide at 35% strength. This grade is pure; it has no additives or other stabilizers added. In its full concentration it can also burn the skin so hazardous materials handling precautions are recommended (rubber gloves, eye protection, etc.) There is another, still more concentrated grade coming in at 90% strength. This one is used as an oxidizer in rocket fuel to feed the SRBs (solid rocket booster) of rockets such as the NASA Space Shuttle, and other ballistic rockets.
Food Grade hydrogen peroxide is the only preparation that is deemed safe for human ingestion and then, only when it is properly diluted. But is it safe? The controversy around ingesting diluted hydrogen peroxide as a health tonic has been around since the 1920s and both camps are vehement on their contentions over health benefits.
Hydrogen peroxide is very stable and has a long shelf life although all commercial preparations that are kept away from sunlight will still degrade in strength, and at a rate of perhaps 10% annually. It will degrade faster when exposed to sunlight and probably any kind of light source for that matter. This is likely why it it is sold in dark bottles. But, what is hydrogen peroxide? How is it formed and is it created in nature?
Natural Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) from the Sky, Dissolved in Rainwater
High in Earth's upper atmosphere, unstable molecules of oxygen called ozone are created by sunlight, lightning and cosmic rays all interacting with rarefied oxygen molecules. Ozone is the unstable molecule of three oxygen atoms having the chemical formula "03." Heavier than oxygen (O2) these ozone molecules all by themselves drop slowly towards Earth where they come into contact with water vapor and become part of the rain water.
These free radicals join chemically with the water vapor and become naturally-occurring hydrogen peroxide. This in turn falls to the ground dissolved and highly diluted in rain water. The formula can be realized something like "O3(free ozone radical of oxygen) + H2O(in the form of water vapor) = H2O2(hydrogen peroxide) + 02(standard oxygen molecule.)"
This is a very diluted amount that falls to Earth as rainwater of course but it is present in rainwater, in the lakes, oceans, ponds and it is even in snow! The presence of hydrogen peroxide molecules is one of the reasons why rainwater is better for your indoor houseplants than ordinary tap water. The houseplants are receiving more oxygen into their roots and leaves via this 'oxygenated water' which is otherwise denied them.
It is also a gardener's secret to dilute a small quantity of hydrogen peroxide into potable water for garden plants. This creates larger yields of fruits, vegetables and flowers than even rainwater alone. In Europe, tap water is often purified with a Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide added at the distribution point, much like western tap water is chlorinated. Curiously though, Hydrogen Peroxide is many times more efficient at killing bacteria than Chlorine.
Admittedly though, pollution in today's modern atmosphere is gathered by much of the available hydrogen peroxide naturally present in rainwater and lesser than optimal amounts actually reach the ground when it rains. But still, it does. Here again this is also part of why the air always smells so much cleaner after a rainstorm: the hydrogen peroxide in the rainwater has cleansed atmospheric pollutants and swept them from the air to the ground.
Where Else is Hydrogen Peroxide Produced?
Hydrogen peroxide is also produced naturally within the human body. Vitamin-C is known to fight infections and oft-cited for its alleged ability to prevent colds and flu, or reduce their severity. In the human body, Vitamin-C produces a weak metabolic version of hydrogen peroxide and perhaps this too is part of the health benefit of the sunshine vitamin. The good aerobic (oxygen-loving) bacteria in the human body benefit from this additional oxygen while the bad anaerobic (oxygen-hating) bacteria do not. The health benefits become seemingly obvious.
We all know that a topical application of pharmaceutical hydrogen peroxide on a cut or scrap kills germs, and that this is a good thing. It is the drinking (or injecting) of small dilute quantities of FOOD GRADE Hydrogen Peroxide that has most people scared and confused. The jury is still out on this health controversy but the proponents claim all sort of wonderful benefits of ingestion of diluted Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide.
The detractors however are opposed with equal resolve. Injuries from ingesting improper dilutions or improper (non-Food Grades) hydrogen peroxide have occurred, including death. It is such a powerful oxidizer that the Food Grade type must be highly diluted in (non-chlorinated) water prior to use. It should also be ingested no less than one hour prior to eating, or three hours after the last meal to avoid undesirable interaction with the digestion of food. This metered ingestion must be administered in very small quantities of just several drops in a glass of water, and built-up gradually to a manageable dosing regimen for a period of time ranging from days, weeks or perhaps as long as 6-months.
The internet is full of sites which both advocate and debunk the use of Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide for health. One must read the facts from both sides and decide for themselves. Truth or dare: is this really helpful or is this a bunch of deluded hype with potentially dangerous side effects?
There are virtually no incidences of severe poisoning from the common 3% concentration of hydrogen peroxide (which is typically stored in a medicine cabinet) while most reported cases of hydrogen peroxide poisoning involves the 35% Food Grade preparation. This degrades fast and is thus stored by the consumer in the refrigerator to slow this degradation. Often, the 35% preparation is diluted by the consumer and re-bottled. This makes is easily confused with potable bottled water if not properly labeled. It is up to the consumer to ensure that both the full-strength and repackaged product are labeled and considered hazardous materials to prevent accidental overdose of this product. As little as a mouthful swallowed can potentially be lethal, or certainly require medical intervention.
More reading: Hydrogen Peroxide / Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2007, Oct.