Could Deuterium be the Cause of Your Illness?

Fact checked by Paul Saladino, MD

The Carnivore MD himself. Relentlessly researching connections between nutritional biochemistry and chronic disease when he's not in the ocean chasing the perfect wave.

I’m super excited to feature this guest blog post by Ashley Armstrong (@strongsistas on instagram), a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, and overall super smart woman.

Also check out the Deuterium podcast!

Quick summary of this article:

  • Deuterium is a heavy isotope of hydrogen which can accumulate in our bodies, breaking nanomotors in the mitochondria
  • High levels have been associated with illnesses, and lowering our levels has been shown to result in clinical improvement.

In order to help your body deplete deuterium….

  • Eat a high fat, nose to tail carnivore diet
  • Avoid grains, starches, fruit, simple sugars, and grain-fed meat. 
  • Get outside, consider supplementing with red light therapy, and make sure you get sufficient sleep 
  • Consider deuterium depleted water, or water naturally low in deuterium, like spring water.

For a great summary video about deuterium from Dr. Boros of the Center for Deuterium Depletion check this out.

The Center for Deuterium Depletion is doing a study on those eating a carnivore diet and deuterium levels! Check it out below!

FUNDAMENTAL HEALTH STUDY

The carnivore diet is a great way to burn fat and achieve everything from weight loss to the mitigation of many symptoms of metabolic dysfunction. What’s less well-known is that these diets work because they are, in fact, low deuterium diets – i.e., have fewer of the bad hydrogens (deuterium) that destroy the mitochondria’s ability to effectively produce energy and metabolic water. Deuterium is a rare, non-radioactive isotope of hydrogen that occurs naturally in the environment where only 155 out of every million hydrogens are deuterium. People eating carnivore diets tend to consume lower amounts of deuterium because, in general, fats and proteins from these sources are much lower in deuterium. Consequently, we would assume that carnivores have lower amounts of deuterium in their tissues and organs, make more energy, and show an increased ability to deplete deuterium from their bodies. Importantly, the therapeutic power of a carnivore diet is dependent on how effective it is in lowering your deuterium levels. We further believe that your body’s deuterium levels is dependent on the source of the animal you eat as well as the beverages and water you drink. The results from the over 12,000 clients we’ve treated demonstrate that deuterium depletion becomes much more highly effective once the deuterium in your tissues and organs fall below 130 ppm (parts per million).

This study will give participants the ability to see how well their carnivore diet is working based on their deuterium levels and energy (ATP) production. It will also give them free access to an enhanced, premium CalorieMama AI app that will provide them insight into the deuterium level of the diet they consume.

To sign up for this study or learn more go here.

To learn more about the relationship between diet, deuterium depletion, and Joovv Red/NIR light read on and listen to the upcoming podcast episode!

All the details:

Do you want to live a long, chronic disease free, and radical life? You may want to pay attention to deuterium… 

Deuter what? 

Deuterium — an element that can be considered a “cousin” of hydrogen. While deuterium is a naturally existing element, high deuterium levels can wreak havoc inside our bodies and can lead to chronic fatigue, disease development, premature aging, and metabolic problems. In fact, a group of scientists and doctors are now claiming that failing of the body’s natural deuterium depletion process results in cancer, metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases [8]. 

Research studies have shown that lowering deuterium levels in the body can repair metabolic conditions, improve mood and mental health [2], increase survival time in multiple cancer types [3-5], and slow [6] or reverse [7] tumor development. 

Further, deuterium depletion is an incredibly powerful method to improve overall health, and understanding how deuterium is depleted from our bodies will give us a better understanding of why a nose to tail carnivore diet and fasting are incredible tools for disease treatment and general health & longevity. Deuterium depletion may be one of the reasons ketosis & fasting are so effective. 

In this post, I will cover all things deuterium. I will first explain what deuterium is, and how we are constantly exposed to it. I will review some specific examples of how high deuterium can wreak havoc in our bodies. I will then review my own test results, and discuss deuterium depletion steps you can follow to improve your own health.

What is deuterium? 

Deuterium is a stable (i.e. non radioactive) isotope of the element hydrogen. An isotope is a variant of a particular chemical element that has the same number of protons, but differs in neutron number (and consequently in mass number). The only difference between deuterium and hydrogen is an extra neutron, which makes it two times as heavy and two times as big, so deuterium is sometimes referred to as “heavy hydrogen”. 


Figure 1. Image from: https://socratic.org/questions/what-is-the-molar-mass-of-heavy-water-d-2o

Deuterium exists naturally in nature and inside of our bodies — it is not a toxin. However, there is a much larger concentration of hydrogen than deuterium on this planet. The concentration of deuterium is measured as ppm: parts per million, which is relative to the hydrogen concentration. So 1 ppm of deuterium means there is one deuterium atom per 1 million hydrogen atoms.

Naturally occurring deuterium helps things grow [8], so high levels of deuterium are desirable for growing plants and animals (babies!). As we age, however, we don’t need high levels of deuterium in our bodies and high levels can be disastrous. Thankfully our bodies are designed to get rid of deuterium, but only to a certain degree… 

We are constantly bombarded with deuterium leading to a net increase in our body’s deuterium levels. 

Many researchers feel that the optimal level of deuterium inside our body is below 130ppm. Unfortunately, we are constantly exposed to stimuli that can raise the deuterium levels in our body.

Our bodies have a built-in mechanism to deplete deuterium, but this only works to a certain degree. This evolutionary depletion mechanism evolved during a very different time, and in 2019 we now face a drastically different environment. 

In the modern era, we are constantly overloaded with deuterium through diet and environmental factors. Deuterium enters our bodies through the food we eat, the liquids we drink, and the air we breathe. We are constantly overloaded, and it is not our fault! 

THINGS WORKING AGAINST US: 

1. Environmental factors including pollution and global warming.

Water is made of 2 hydrogens and 1 oxygen. Water with deuterium in place of hydrogen is known as “heavy water,” and the boiling point and freezing point of this heavy water differ from regular water. Thus, “heavy water” is concentrated at lower elevations near the ocean, and higher elevations have less heavy water. 

Climate change and the melting polar ice caps have resulted in increased surface deuterium levels.The current deuterium level appears to be 10 ppm higher than it was 80,000 years ago, with the current concentration of deuterium in our water at roughly 155 ppm.

Oceans have the highest levels of deuterium, and due to climate change, this high deuterium oceanic water becomes rain water, which then waters crops…

Tap water appears to have high levels of deuterium too, and unfortunately, filters can’t filter out small elements such as deuterium! 

2. Modern diet

The standard American diet contains food with high levels of deuterium such as processed foods and high carb diets.

3. Unhealthy habits

A lot of unhealthy practices of modern life hinder our body’s ability to deplete deuterium such as insufficient sleep, little exercise, limited sunlight exposure and improper breathing. 

Your body’s ability to deplete deuterium also decreases with age, weight gain, and illness. And once your body has higher deuterium levels, it is less and less able to properly deplete deuterium. 

We don’t do enough of the things that lower our deuterium levels and the result is a larger net increase in deuterium concentration inside of our bodies.

What’s the big deal?

Okay so we have high deuterium levels in our bodies — so what? 

Well, anywhere hydrogen goes in a chemical formula or reaction, deuterium can also go, and hydrogen is used A LOT in the body.  

Deuterium accumulation can wreak havoc on our health and can lead to chronic fatigue, disease development, premature aging, and metabolic problems. Some hypothesize that deuterium accumulation could very well be a major contributor to the rise of cancer and metabolic diseases in the developed world. 

Let’s look at some specific examples to discuss in more detail how high deuterium levels can have negative health consequences: 

1. Hinders mitochondrial health

Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things, and to function properly cells need energy (in the form of ATP molecules). The diagram below illustrates a simple diagram of the inside of a cell. Let’s focus on the mitochondria, which makes energy for the cell (in the form of ATP), carbon dioxide, and metabolic water. 

Mitochondria are the “powerhouses” of the cell. Inside the mitochondria are thousands of nanomotors, which are membrane bound structures called ATP synthase. These nanomotors are incredible — and they have many parts we recognize from man made electric engines, including a rotor, stator, and driveshaft.

Do you remember the first law of thermodynamics? (aka Law of Conservation of Energy) — “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.” So, in order to make ATP, the nanomotors must convert some other form of energy into ATP. This energy is potential energy in the form of a hydrogen ion concentration gradient- there are more hydrogens on one side of the membrane than the other. 

The stator located in the inner mitochondrial membrane has a positively charged residue, so when a positively charged hydrogen molecule is loaded into the rotating protein binding site, the stator will push the rotor and cause continuous turning as similar charges repel each other.

Image from [9]

ATP synthesis occurs with the continuous turning of the membrane rotor with about 9000 revolutions per minute [10] →  faster than a car engine! (sports cars rotate at about 6000-7000 rpm). As they rotate, these nanomotors produce ATP, and the hydrogens are moved from one side of the membrane to the other as shown in the image above. 

From the food we eat each day, our bodies make tons of this ATP inside the mitochondria. ATP is used constantly for the trillions of chemical reactions occurring inside of our bodies. Yeah, these are very big numbers and ATP is super important!

Insert deuterium…

Deuterium can break our nanomotors, preventing optimal ATP production.

When deuterium enters the mitochondria in place of hydrogen, two main things happen. 

1) The deuterium atoms are part of that hydrogen concentration gradient (the potential energy needed to make ATP), and are loaded into the ATP synthase complex moved across the membrane, but since deuterium is 2X the weight of hydrogen it causes the motors to malfunction [11].

Deuterium can literally break your nanomotors, and once these precious instruments break, they can’s be repaired- they must be removed from the membrane and replaced with new ones.

2) Further, excess deuterium means your mitochondria are operating in “heavy water” instead of normal, lighter water with just hydrogen. Operating in this thicker liquid reduces your body’s efficiency in ATP production. 

If your car engine has thick, heavy oil, there is a lot of friction and the motor does not spin efficiently. Similarly, the nanomotors inside the mitochondria won’t spin as fast when operating in “heavy water,” which reduces their efficiency in ATP production. 

Inefficient and broken nanomotors can cause metabolic dysfunction which is no fun! Early signs include fatigue, weight gain, and difficulty with concentration. Down the road a broken metabolism can lead to chronic conditions such as cancer, autoimmune, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Boo!

2. Unhealthy growth 

As we age, our bodies do not need high levels of growth, there’s a delicate balance here. When we have high deuterium levels, it can foster an environment of excessive proliferation, leading to unhealthy growth like obesity and cancer [12]. 

3. Changes 3D structures in your body, resulting in misshapen proteins & lipids that don’t function properly

As mentioned above, with deuterium accumulation, your cells can use deuterium in place of hydrogen since it can go anywhere normal hydrogen goes. 

When 3D biomolecules are deuterated (when the ordinary isotope of hydrogen is replaced with deuterium), they do not function properly. A few examples include hormones, cholesterol, cellular receptors, and neurotransmitters (hello brain fog!). 

This can also lead to epigenetic problems. What is epigenetics? Essentially how genes are expressed as we grow & develop. The sequence of the bases in our DNA is what determines our life instructions. Genes are composed of specific sequences of bases that provide instructions on how to make important proteins. Epigenetics refers how genes are turned on and off, and subsequently how they produce proteins. Life events can cause genes to be turned off or turned on. What you eat, who you hang out with, when you sleep and how you exercise can all eventually lead to chemical changes that can turn those genes on or off over time. Choose your food, friends, and environment wisely!

4. Kinetic isotope effect

The kinetic isotope effect refers to the change in rate of a chemical reaction when one of the reacting atoms is replaced by one of its isotopes. Essentially, this means a greater energetic input is needed to perform the chemical reaction. The result? A slower reaction rate. 

Hydrogen is used in many different chemical reactions in the body. When deuterium replaces hydrogen in reactions, the reactions are slowed down. 

Examples of chemical reactions that are slowed down with elevated deuterium levels include: neurotransmitter release & reuptake, cellular division and repair, and liver metabolism reactions. This strong isotope effect can also affect the epigenetic events in your body. 

How can I lower my deuterium levels? 

So are we SOL? (Straight/suet out of luck)

Thankfully, we can implement some dietary and lifestyle changes that can help us deplete some of our deuterium and regain energy and proper metabolic function. Deuterium depletion allows your body to heal itself from the inside out. 

The goal with deuterium depletion: get your body to a healthy range (<130 ppm or so). Once your body is back in the healthy range, it will likely be able to naturally deplete deuterium we are constantly exposed to and produce healthy amounts of ATP for energy. 

Strategies to lower your deuterium levels:     

1. Eat an animal based diet

It turns out that following a carnivore diet is the best strategy to keep your deuterium levels low. Why? 

The Krebs cycle & metabolic water. Have you heard of the Krebs cycle? It is a process that occurs inside of the mitochondria in your cells. In addition to helping produce ATP, the Krebs cycle also helps the cell make metabolic water- water that does not come from water intake, but rather water that is formed by the nanomotors as they spin and hydrogen moves through them. In fact, those hydrogen atoms that pass through the nanomotors down their concentration gradient combine with oxygen to form this metabolic water.

Yeh that’s right! Our cells make water! One of the main functions of the mitochondria is to actually make metabolic water! The body produces the most metabolic water when we consume fats: 100 grams of fat produces about 110 grams of metabolic water, whereas 100 grams of carbs yields only 55 grams of water (ref). In fact, 60% of the water inside our body is made from fat. How cool is that?

So, eating a high fat diet, and relying on fat for energy in a ketogenic metabolism allows your body to make its own deuterium depleted metabolic water. Making more metabolic water and consuming less water high in deuterium leads to lower deuterium levels in your body! 

Fat from grass fed animals is the most deuterium depleted food source. Carbohydrates in plants have been shown to have much higher levels of deuterium!

If you want to incorporate plants in your diet, stick with healthy fat sources such as olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil since these fats are also low in deuterium. Plants appear to deplete their deuterium levels by dumping it into their sugar storage: fruits, potatoes, grains, etc. Thus, green plants are naturally deuterium depleted while fruits & starches are high in deuterium. Keep in mind that a lot of the modern produce options are irrigated with water high in deuterium, whether they are organic or not, and that this will increase deuterium levels in these plants.

In summary… 

Prioritize: 

  • Grass fed animal meat
  • Grass fed animal fat
  • Plant fats such as avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil

Limit consumption of: 

  • Fruit 
  • Potatoes
  • Grains
  • Processed Foods 
  • Grain-fed meat (grain-fed meat is high in deuterium since animals consumed grains)

Hmmm, sound like any diet we can think of? A nose to tail carnivore diet seems like a pretty great option for those looking to consume less deuterium.

2. Drink deuterium depleted water (DDW)

You might also consider drinking DDW when you are first trying to get your body’s deuterium levels below 130 ppm. DDW has been shown to successfully lower deuterium levels in the body [ref]. It has also been used to treat and reverse chronic diseases at the Center for Deuterium Depletion [ref].

DDW is a little expensive, but you won’t need to consume this water forever. Once you are in a healthy range, your body will be in a better place to naturally deplete deuterium, so you can instead drink water sources that are naturally low in deuterium (like natural spring water).

Try finding a natural spring in your area- the website findaspring.com is a great resource for local spring water.

Water that is lower in deuterium:

  • Natural spring water
  • Evian
  • San Pellegrino 

As you can see, most of these spring waters are similar, but a ~10ppm difference in deuterium levels is significant from the highest to the lowest.

Some people are claiming they can make DDW at home, but home distillers can only decrease deuterium by 1-3 ppm, which is essentially no change. Substantial changes in deuterium levels can only be achieved by an industrial scale fractional distillation. The Center for Deuterium Depletion suggests buying water from Preventa. Preventa offers a range of DDW, which contain 15-84% less deuterium than natural waters. Preventa water is prepared in a distillation tower in Hungary under strict guidelines of the European Medicines Agency, and is the most studied DDW in the world. It’s also the only DDW manufactured under the same strict pharmaceutical guidelines that are required for medicine. There are definitely some shady DDWs out there so be careful what you are consuming if you choose to explore this route.

3. Increase sleep

Your body naturally depletes deuterium during sleep. Sleep well, sleep lots, and if your sleep isn’t ideal think hard about how to improve it.

4. Red light therapy

Red light is the frequency that resonates with hydrogen, so this light resonance can “communicate” with hydrogen bonds. The result? Light exposure appears to be able to decrease the viscosity of water inside of our body, which in turn allows our mitochondria to function more efficiently and produce more energy. Deuterium depleted water inside of our mitochondria INCREASES water viscosity. So it is critical to decrease this viscosity level to improve mitochondria function. Physics is wild stuff!

If you’re interested in red light therapy, you might consider checking out JOOVV. Dr. Saladino uses red light therapy, and appreciates the work of this company. You can check out their products here and use the code “Paul” at checkout for a free gift. You can also make efforts to get out into the sun more, as red wavelengths are naturally present throughout the day in ambient light. Real sunlight is always best, but if you can’t get outside enough red light therapy is a great adjunct.

5. Dry Fasting

Periodic dry fasts are another great way to deplete deuterium. Why? You won’t be consuming any food or drinking any liquids that contain deuterium while the body’s natural mechanisms to deplete deuterium are at work. Plus, during a fast your body switches to fat metabolism and you burn your own fat for fuel. Burning fat produces metabolic water, which is naturally deuterium depleted. 

A really awesome real life example of this is CAMELS! Yeh, that’s right, camels! 

Camels have got their stuff figured out! Did you know you can’t tell the difference between a 7 year old and 40 year old camel? Plus, camels don’t get sick, and they have very little cancer prevalence. Camels die when they are supposed to die — simply when they wear out. 

What’s their secret? They dry fast quite a bit! Camels humps are filled with FAT, not water. They are very resourceful with this fat — it is used to produce metabolic water, so camels don’t have to consumer water on a regular basis. This metabolic water is deuterium depleted!

Thus, camels naturally have very low levels of deuterium. 

So, similar to camels, your body will be producing a ton of deuterium depleted water during the fast.

How do I determine my body’s deuterium levels?

You can order an at home test kit from the Center for Deuterium Depletion, here. The test uses both breath and saliva samples to evaluate the level of deuterium in the body. The breath sample is representative of the amount of deuterium in your tissues and organs. This deuterium level determines your body’s deuterium load. The saliva sample is representative of the amount of deuterium in biological fluids. This number is important to determine how effective your body is at depleting deuterium. 

The difference between these two test values indicates how well your body depletes deuterium. A larger difference between the two test values indicates your body is successfully depleting deuterium. 

I actually got my levels tested in Jan of 2019, and my levels were NOT GOOD! As a reminder, our bodies should have a deuterium level of 130 ppm or below. My breath level was 146 ppm and my saliva level was 149 ppm. 

I was prescribed a specific deuterium lowering protocol, which involved deuterium depleted water (DDW) at 85 ppm (significantly lower than standard tap water at 150 ppm), and to continue following a ketogenic diet limiting any processed foods. The DDW is pretty expensive, and is only supposed to be consumed for a few months during the initial healing phase. 

At this point in time, I still had significant autoimmune conditions such as Raynaud’s, severe indigestion & constipation, and chronic fatigue. I was also 3 months into a keto diet and still incorporated a lot of vegetables.

I can’t wait to get my follow up deuterium test later this year after almost a full year into a carnivore diet. Since going carnivore, I have fully reversed my autoimmune condition (supported by ANA bloodwork and no lingering symptoms!) Stay tuned for my follow up deuterium test.   

CONCLUSION

The molecules and processes affected by deuterium depletion mentioned above play critical roles in the body. 

If we do not effectively deplete deuterium, our nanomotors can be damaged, and less nanomotors means less energy, more sickness, and disease development. Chronic fatigue is the result of not generating enough energy for our cells!

So, when we lose energy many of us turn to stimulants like coffee to get more energy, or do something exogenously until our energy level rises. 

This is a “top down” approach where you treat symptoms and do not fix the underlying cause. 

To truly reverse metabolic dysfunction, we need to instead fix things at the sub-cellular level. We need to get our bodies into its own state of homeostasis where it is producing its own natural form of energy efficiently (so that we don’t have to rely on stimulants!). 

Steps you can take to lower your deuterium levels:

  • Eat a carnivore or animal based diet
  • Purchase low deuterium water from the Center of Deuterium Depletion, or drink natural spring water
  • Do more of the following: sleep, exercise, and proper breathing 

I hope you all enjoyed this article, and that it was helpful. Let us know what questions you have below, and as always- STAY RADICAL!

Ashley’s Bio:

Ashley is a 5th year PhD student in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Illinois. Her current work is in control systems and biomechanics for 3D bioprinting. In the future, she hopes to leverage her knowledge in control systems to the field of systems biology to study the healing properties of ketosis.

References:

[1]  https://www.ddcenters.com 

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25092571 

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3613976/ 

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23441611 

[5] http://www.bmmj.org/article_21156.html 

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29773469 

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20739263 

[8] https://febs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1016/0014-5793%2893%2981479-J 

[9] http://www.jbc.org/content/276/3/1665.full 

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14990464 

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1808445/ 

[12]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271701036_DEUTERIUM_HAS_A_KEY_ROLE_IN_TUMOUR_DEVELOPMENT_-_A_NEW_SUBMOLECULAR_REGULATORY_SYSTEM