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Hydrogen Sulfide Gas Beneficial Effects on Human Physiology

Updated on August 11, 2014
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Melvin is an avid reader and a retired chemist after working for a major pharmaceutical company for 32 years.

Introduction

Everyone is familiar with the smell of a rotten egg, that pungent odor that makes everyone put on a disgusting looking face. The chemical name for this malodorous gas is hydrogen sulfide (H2S). This gas is poisonous and lethal as a concentrated gas, but as a much diluted gas can be a lifesaver. For the last ten years scientists have been discovering the beneficial lifesaving properties of this gas. They have found that it controls blood pressure, regulates metabolism and plays a crucial role in many physiological processes in our body.

Facts About Hydrogen Sulfide

The toxic effects of hydrogen sulfide have been known for centuries. Today this gas is often found at oil and gas field wellheads. It is also found around oil refineries when oil is broken down into it components to produce other products. This gas is also flammable. This is why it is important to jump-start your car the recommended way because car batteries produce hydrogen sulfide as a by-product from storage of electricity. Because of this hydrogen sulfide is considered a serious health hazard in the oil industry. Our noses are capable of detecting hydrogen sulfide at a concentration of about 0.005 part per million (ppm) or 5 part per billion (ppb). Our noses are pretty sensitivity to this gas. If you increase that number to 500 part per million it impairs our breathing, since at this level hydrogen sulfide poisoning is beginning yo set in and if we are exposure to 800 part per million of this gas for 5 minutes it leads to death. Ironically, we need this gas to survive. Despite the fact that this gas is deadly to us in high concentration, hydrogen sulfide can be good for you in much lower concentrations. Our body produces small amounts of it to keep us alive.

Hydrogen Sulfide Health Effects

Researchers have discovered that our body produces small amounts of hydrogen sulfide in the cardiovascular system and the effects of it are beneficial to us. One of most important effect it has on the cardiovascular system is a reduction in blood pressure. Below are additional beneficial effects hydrogen sulfide has on our physiological processes.

  • Possible use as a treatment to prevent heart attacks and strokes
  • Possible use as a treatment for ED (Erectile Dysfunction) since it causes blood vessels to dilate
  • Potential use to enhance learning and memory since it has some effects on neurotransmitters in the nervous system
  • Protects cells against stress
  • Regulates metabolism
  • Improves respiratory functions

Studies were conducted on mice in the area of metabolism by administering low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide to them. The low concentration of hydrogen sulfide caused the animals’ heart rate to drop dramatically putting them in a state of suspended animation with no damage from oxygen deprivation. The animals maintained a baseline metabolic rate until the hydrogen sulfide inhalation was stopped and 30 minutes later their metabolic rates return to normal levels. If this effect is proven to be safe and effective in humans this will become a potential lifesaver during emergency situations. For example, inhalation of hydrogen sulfide by the patient at an accident site can buy more time for the patient until he arrives at the emergency room. In another situation, a patient could be put in suspended animation until a needed organ is received for organ transplant. This gas can also prolong the life of organ until it reaches the recipient.

The Drawbacks of Hydrogen Sulfide

However, hydrogen sulfide does have some negative effects on our physiological processes. Hydrogen sulfide plays a key role in Type I diabetes. It is produced in higher concentration in the beta cells in the pancreas. These cells are responsible for the production of insulin, which allows the cells to take in glucose circulating in the blood. It turned out that hydrogen sulfide is responsible for killing the beta cells and it hinders the release of insulin from these cells resulting in low level of insulin in the blood. In addition, the beneficial results of suspended animation observed in mice produced a negative effect in larger mammals such as sheep and piglets.

Nevertheless, the potential uses of hydrogen sulfide have generated a lot of interest in the pharmaceutical industry. A few companies are currently developing drugs designed to deliver low doses of hydrogen sulfide to the body. One company in Italy has already developed various hybrids of anti-inflammatory with hydrogen sulfide for treatment of gastrointestinal inflammation, erectile dysfunction, and heart attacks as indicated by experiments on animals. A New Jersey based company (Ikaria) has developed an injectable form of hydrogen sulfide for people who have had heart attacks or are undergoing heart or lung surgery.

As I said at the beginning of this article, hydrogen sulfide is a lethal, malodorous, flammable gas, but on the flip side this gas is a potential lifesaver. Researchers are just beginning to discover the beneficial side of this gas. There are a lot more to be discovered about this gas.



© 2010 Melvin Porter

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    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 7 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      AEvans, Thanks for your comment.

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 7 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      What a well written hub about hydrogen sulfide. You are absolutely correct there are so many ways to use it and there are also drawbacks. Thank you so much for providing such a clear understanding of what the pros and cons are. :)

    • melpor profile image
      Author

      Melvin Porter 7 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Dahoglund, I agree with you. Snake venom is a good example of something that is really bad for you but it is also useful as a vaccine against snake bites.Once again thanks for your comment.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I think it is true of most things that they can be harmful in certain circumstances and useful in others. The old adage of all things in moderation holds true.Iodine is an example. The lack of it causes problems, but too much can kill you.

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