Although it is most often used for wound cleansing, hydrogen peroxide is sometimes claimed to be a "wonder drug," capable of curing or treating a number of different conditions. However, there is little real scientific evidence to suggest that it works for wound care or any other purpose. Depending on how concentrated the product is, side effects can range from mild to extremely toxic.
Technically speaking, hydrogen peroxide is a molecule of two hydrogen atoms bound to two oxygen atoms. For this reason, it may also be known as hydrogen dioxide (H2O2). Hydrogen peroxide is produced in cells throughout the body, usually as a by-product.
Most people are familiar with diluted (3%) concentrations of hydrogen peroxide used for wound cleansing. Hydrogen peroxide taken by mouth, IV, enema, douche, or various other routes is quite popular in alternative medicine.
(Click Hydrogen Peroxide Uses for more information about possible uses for this product.)
Hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidizing agent, which means that it reacts with many other molecules in reduction-oxidation reactions. As such, it can cause "free radical" damage to cells and tissues.
Although the body naturally produces hydrogen peroxide (mostly as a by-product of other chemical reactions), naturally occurring enzymes, such as catalase, break down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen, preventing the formation of free radicals.
When used for wound care, the substance probably works mostly due to its bubbling action, which helps to cleanse the wound mechanically, since the antimicrobial effects of hydrogen peroxide are questionable.
In fact, the bubbling action, which many people believe is due to the hydrogen peroxide "killing" the germs, is actually just the result of the chemical reaction between hydrogen peroxide and the catalase enzyme that is found in blood and most tissues throughout the body.
Early research in laboratory animals suggests that naturally produced hydrogen peroxide may serve as a signal to attract white blood cells (which help fight infection) to wounds, although it is unclear if the same is true for humans, or if this means that using or taking it would have similar effects.
Proponents of hydrogen peroxide for alternative uses (such as for cancer treatment) believe that it works in various ways, such as by stimulating enzyme systems throughout the body and providing oxygen to the body.