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The Two Identities of Hypochlorous Acid

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The disinfection qualities of hypochlorous acid, or HOCl, have been long recognised as outstandingly effective in the control of a vast array of microbiological pathogens, including bacteria and viruses. HOCl toxicity to microbes is due to its ability to react with and degrade critical biological molecules such as lipids, proteins and nucleic acids, thereby destroying them. Hypochlorous acid is used for this purpose by our immune system to break up and eliminate disease organisms. We are dependent on its special properties for our continuing health. However it’s now becoming evident that this highly targeted defensive weapon has other remarkable biological attributes.

HOCl is a member of a class of chemicals called Reactive Oxygen Species, or ROS. Within this class there are the “radicals”, charged and highly reactive entities such as hydroxyl (OH-), and the non-radicals such as HOCl and hydrogen peroxide.  Most life processes give rise to these potentially harmful molecules but their prevalence is controlled in a fine balance between production and their scavenging by a variety of enzymes, and other molecules, such as vitamin C and taurine, giving rise to a precisely held ROS homeostasis, ultimately controlled by a multiplicity of genes. Changes or disturbances in their levels are used as indicators of such things as stress that require an immediate response by the organism to continue life in a healthy state.

New techniques for the detection and measurement of ROS has contributed to a much better understanding of their activity particularly in respect of their role as signalling molecules that can trigger a wide range of responses such as growth, cellular activity and gene expression.

Today, as one research paper after another are published on a further role of these extraordinary molecules, it is becoming realised that ROS molecules are key players in the control and regulation of the biochemistry and physiology of a very wide range of organisms, across plant and animal kingdoms.

The relevance of such new knowledge to human health has been seen recently in the publication of a research paper by a group of medical researchers in Mexico.

Their investigation into the use of ROS molecules including HOCl, to ameliorate the otherwise potentially devastating effects of SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) produced remarkably positive and encouraging results. Their work was a clinical trial using volunteer patients, all diagnosed as positive for this potentially lethal virus. Divided into two groups, control and experimental, all were all given appropriate conventional medical therapies and support. The experimental group were, in addition, prescribed HOCl treatment firstly in nebulised form (inhalation of fine droplets) and in rising levels, by intravenous delivery.

The paper reported that 31% of the patients without HOCl care deteriorated and were hospitalised, but only 11% of the experimental group required hospital care, and at a later date.

Sadly 13% of the control group died, but no deaths were seen in the experimental group treated with escalating doses of HOCl.

The experimental group patients also reported a faster rate of recovery.

There’s a lot more data in their paper on the effects of the treatment but also a very informative discussion on why these remarkable results were found. The researchers point to the process of inflammation; in this case a condition induced by the virus to highly elevated and dangerous levels, as a result of an over-reaction and massively amplified innate immune response to the virus and its consequent potentially fatal damage to tissues and organs. This has been the cause of death in many Covid-19 patients. Treatment of patients with HOCl, acting as a signalling molecule, is claimed to have modulated and modified the immune response in various ways to safer and more effective levels of activity. The authors also suggest that HOCl might have also reduced the virus burden by direct contact.

This work was an early stage in clinical trials but it points to the way in which such therapies could be used in this pandemic, and others to come.

The role of ROS homeostasis modulation in virus therapy may remain controversial, but this work certainly makes the case for further investigation and scaling up of research, as soon as possible.

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