Home-grown water treatment specialist Hyflux has ventured into the biomedical field with its own brand of "living water".
Its special oxygenated water called Elo Water is said to contain twice the amount of oxygen, compared with tap water.
It is conducting studies with Changi General Hospital(CGH) and SingHealth Polyclinics to find out if the water can help benefit those with diabetes and prediabetes (blood glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes).
"A lot of consumers look at water as just water, but we think that water can do more than just quench thirst," said Hyflux group chief financial officer, Ms Lim Suat Wah.
Elo Water is touted as unique because oxygen molecules can remain in the water for up to a year. Studies had also found that it could be easily absorbed into the body.
The lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, has been linked to diabetes.
A study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, found that diabetic patients have 10 to 15 per cent lower tissue oxygen levels, compared with non-diabetic patients. The study was published in 2008.
Dr Choy Mei Yee, who is directing the clinical and biomedical research for Elo Water, said that in diabetic patients, long chains of fatty acids are incompletely broken down by cells and this has been shown to interfere with insulin signalling and function.
Although some diabetic customers who have tried Elo Water have observed a reduction in their blood glucose levels, Hyflux wanted to back this up with science.
In February, the company started a pilot study with SingHealth Polyclinics on women with prediabetes.
The pilot study comprises 24 patients. Half of them drink Elo Water while the other half (a control group) drink bottled water.
After three months, the study will look at whether prediabetic women can achieve improvements in their blood glucose levels.
"The aim of the study is to find another lifestyle measure for people with prediabetes to minimise the risks of developing diabetes," said Dr Choy, who added that poorly controlled blood glucose in people with prediabetes is associated with an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Around 5 to 10 per cent of people with prediabetes develop Type 2 diabetes annually.
Hyflux is also working with CGH to find out if the water will help diabetic patients achieve better glycaemic control, and whether diabetic foot or ankle ulcers can be treated with Elo Water bath and Elo Gel, an oxygen-rich gel.
Principal investigator of both trials at CGH, Dr Joan Khoo, who is also senior consultant and chief of the endocrinology department at CGH, said that the prevalence of diabetes in Singapore has been increasing. It affected 12.8 per cent of the population in 2015, representing a major health concern.
"Hyflux has come to us with an interesting hypothesis that Elo Water can lower abnormal blood glucose levels, based on studies which found that Elo Water improved tissue oxygen levels in animal and human tissues," said Dr Khoo.
"Studies have also shown that higher tissue oxygen levels are associated with more effective action of insulin (increased insulin sensitivity) in people with Type 2 diabetes, in whom high blood glucose is due to decreased insulin sensitivity."
Correction note: In our earlier story, we said that a study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Erasmus University Medical Centre found that diabetic patients have 10 to 50 per cent lower tissue oxygen levels, compared with non-diabetic patients. This is incorrect. Diabetic patients have 10 to 15 per cent lower tissue oxygen levels, compared with non-diabetic patients. We are sorry for the error.