What Is Deuterium and How it Hurts Our Bodies

Category: | Date: 17/05/2020

Did you know that there’s more than one kind of hydrogen? There are actually three different types, which means that your drinking water may not be quite as clear cut as you think it is.

You need ordinary water to live–it’s a basic fact of life. But if you swap out the usual version of hydrogen for deuterium, you may be staring down some significant health consequences.

What is deuterium? And how can it negatively impact your body?

Here’s a closer look at what deuterium is, how it affects your body according to science, and why it’s time to cut deuterium out of your life.

What is Deuterium?

Deuterium is one of three naturally-occurring isotopes of hydrogen. Other highly unstable hydrogen nuclei have been synthesized in laboratories, but only these three isotopes have been observed in nature.

The most common hydrogen isotope, protium, has one proton and no neutrons. Deuterium, by contrast, has one proton and one neutron. The third isotope, tritium, has one proton and two neutrons.

Thanks to these neutrons, deuterium and tritium are sometimes referred to as heavy hydrogen or heavy water . That’s because they’re more massive and heavier than protium, though all three isotopes are stable. In non-chemistry speak, that means none of them are radioactive.

Wait, There’s More Than One Hydrogen? Does That Mean I’m Drinking It?

Yes, there is more than one hydrogen floating around in the world. As for whether you’re drinking it, that depends.

The natural abundance of deuterium between water sources varies, but it’s far less common in nature than protium (which is why we differentiate heavy water from plain old water). How much less common, though?

Put it this way: most estimates say that the ocean contains roughly one deuterium atom for every 6,400 hydrogen atoms , which means that 99.98% of the hydrogen in the ocean isn’t deuterium. That said, again, the natural abundance varies from one source to the next.

Most of the heavy water in the world isn’t there naturally–it’s deliberately refined for use in nuclear reactors.

How Deuterium Works–and Why It’s Different

What’s the big deal about one neutron instead of none?

In all chemical reactions, deuterium enters with all the characteristics of protium. It is, after all, still an isotope of hydrogen. It forms equivalent compounds and will behave in more or less the same way as regular hydrogen.

However, that one extra neutron means that deuterium forms stronger bonds than regular hydrogen. This is best explained through the kinetic isotope effect.

The Kinetic Isotope Effect

The kinetic isotope effect, or KIE, is a phenomenon in chemistry associated with isotopically substituted molecules exhibiting different reaction rates.

So, in plain English, it’s the effect that happens when you substitute one isotope for a very similar isotope and notice that they behave slightly differently. In fact, the most common isotope used in light atom isotope effects is substituting deuterium for protium.

We won’t make you break out your old chemistry textbook, but the gist is that if you have two isotopes, deuterium and protium, they have two different zero-point vibrational energies.

Remember when we said deuterium has a neutron and protium doesn’t? That means that deuterium is more massive than protium.

That’s important because a more massive atom/molecule has a lower frequency of vibration and thus has smaller zero-point energy . Lighter molecules vibrate more frequently and thus have higher zero-point energy. Basically, lighter molecules like protium are more mobile than
deuterium.

This is important because it means protium has a lower bond dissociation energy than deuterium. Basically, because the atom is more mobile, it’s easier to break the hydrogen bonds it forms. Deuterium, on the other hand, forms more stable hydrogen bonds. More stable bonds mean you need more energy to break them.

What It’s Used For

This particular feature means that deuterium has two primary scientific uses: as a tracer in research and in nuclear reactors.
By strategically replacing protium with deuterium in a key location within a reacting molecule, scientists can essentially hack hydrogen . If swapping in deuterium slows the reaction, scientists know that the carbon-hydrogen bond is likely broken before the rate-determining transition phase.

This is important because scientists already know that it’s harder to break deuterium bonds than protium bonds, thanks to the reaction’s starting point. Knowing whether deuterium slows a reaction down lets scientists know where the rate-determining transition phase is, allowing them to know where to focus their speed.

In nuclear reactors, deuterium allows scientists to use natural fissionable uranium, saving them the trouble of refining uranium first. Basically, because deuterium slows the reaction down, uranium nuclei are able to capture fast-moving neutrons and start the process of nuclear fission.

Why Deuterium is Bad for Your Body

That’s all fine and good for nuclear reactors, but what does it mean for you, as a human?

Well, it means that deuterium is consistent. In humans, as in nuclear reactors, it slows things down. A lot. Think six to ten times slower than regular water.

And while that’s fantastic news for fissionable uranium, it’s very bad news for the human body.

Remember, the reaction is slowed down because it takes a lot more energy to break deuterium
bonds than regular protium bonds.

And that’s where things get ugly for the human body.

Heavy Water and Mitosis Take mitosis, for example. Mitosis , when a parent cell divides into two identical daughter cells, is an incredibly common process in the human body, one of the two types of cell division (the other, meiosis, results in four identical daughter cells).

Cell division is a universal process among living organisms. It’s how cells pass on their genetic material. It’s how, when you have a papercut, your skin slowly but surely knits itself back together again.

Basically, when your cells get the signal that it’s time to make more of themselves, they launch the process of cell division. Key to this process are spindle fibers , which are protein structures that help equally split the parent chromosomes in half to create two identical copies in mitosis.

Basically, after a series of checkpoints to ensure the spindle fibers are in place and ready for action, the cell begins simultaneously splitting the chromosomes by breaking the bonds between the base pairs.

Hydrogen bonds are essential to DNA–they’re what gives DNA its helical shape. Here’s the problem: most of the time, your body forms these bonds with protium, not deuterium. When it forms the bonds with protium, the cell has an easier time breaking the DNA bonds when it’s time to divide.

However, deuterium bonds are considerably stronger than protium and require more energy to break. And while stronger bonds in your DNA might sound like a great idea, that actually makes it significantly harder for mitotic spindles to split your DNA. It requires a lot more time and energy and increases the chance of splitting errors, which means you’ll get two almost identical cells.

And because we don’t live in a superhero movie, those genetic mistakes aren’t going to give you superpowers. What you’ll get, over time, is a mess of cells with mucked up DNA, which means the cells are doing their jobs while relying on a poorly transcribed instruction manual.
They’re not able to function as they’re supposed to–and that’s bad news for you, the organism that needs those cells to function.
Mitochondria and ATP Synthase Those stronger bonds will also get you into trouble in other areas of your cells. One of the big
ones is the mitochondria.

Mitochondria are essentially the power plants of your cells. Most of the energy your cells get comes from these little workhorses. And it’s thanks to a process called oxidative phosphorylation.

The matrix of mitochondria produces a chemical called NADH, which is used by enzymes in the mitochondria’s inner membrane to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The key to this process is an enzyme called ATP synthase. The mitochondria produce energy by storing it in bonds in ATP. When a cell needs energy, it gets it from the mitochondria by breaking the ATP bonds and capitalizing on the energy.

Can you guess where we’re going with this?

The introduction of deuterium introduces two problems. First, it creates an issue with ATP synthase. Then, when that’s said and done, it creates issues with ATP bond breakage. ATP synthase is essentially a rotary motor. Basically, it spins in order to do its job. The problem
is that deuterium doesn’t vibrate the way protium does, even though it can swap in for protium on a biochemical level. The nanometers have to work harder to break the deuterium bonds, which means your cells have to work way harder to generate energy.

The Deuterium Exchange Effect and KIE

As you can see, the deuterium exchange effect, brought to you by KIE, has detrimental consequences for your body. The important thing to remember is that, biochemically, your body treats deuterium the same way it would treat normal hydrogen. It is, after all, still hydrogen, and can be used in all the same processes as protium. The problem is that deuterium doesn’t actually behave like protium. Beyond the atomic level, that has a few noteworthy consequences for your body.

Cellular Slowdown

One of the big ones is cellular slowdown. Deuterium isn’t as eager to break apart as protium, which means cells have to work a lot harder
to achieve the same effect. Basically, they’re burning through more effort to work toward the same goal, even though they’re not accustomed to burning that much energy to complete those processes.

Deuterium’s slowness is a benefit in nuclear reactors and in science labs. But in the human body, it slows down processes that weren’t meant to be slowed down, whether that’s cell division or energy production. Fatigue One of the consequences of this slowdown is fatigue. On a molecular level, your body has to expend more energy to do the same processes, and it gets less payoff for the effort. The mitochondria, which produces most of the energy your body uses, has to work harder to produce the ATP your body needs to create energy, and it takes
longer to do so.

That means that it takes longer to access the processes needed to create energy–and because hydrogen bonds are the building blocks of much of the human body, it’s harder for the body to break those bonds when it needs to.

Dizziness

Funnily enough, one of the unexpected effects of deuterium is dizziness. That’s thanks to your inner ear. The vestibular system , the organ of balance, is found in the inner ear. It’s made up of two otolith organs and three semicircular canals, all filled with fluid. When you move your head, the fluid moves with you. This bends the sensory hair cells in the inner ear, which in turn send information to the brain via the nerves.
Each of the three semicircular canals is responsible for sensing a direction. The otolith organs, on the other hand, are responsible for sensing acceleration, such as when you run, fall to the ground, or take an elevator.

However, the system relies on the fluid shifting the hair cells in the inner ear. Deuterium, as we’ve already discussed, is more massive than protium. This is why heavy water is differentiated from regular water–it’s denser and more viscous. An unusually high concentration of deuterium in your system would actually make you dizzy because it would alter the density of the fluid in your inner ears.

Deuterium Depleted Water for Better Health

What is deuterium?

The short answer: not a good idea for your body. So why are you still taking the chance that your water might contain deuterium? We know that the water you drink is essential to life. We also know that you shouldn’t compromise on the basic necessities of life–especially not water. That’s why we offer high-quality deuterium depleted water for people who want to invest in their own wellbeing. Ready to make the switch? Check out our shop today to find better water options!

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