What Are Ions
An “ion” is an atom or molecule with an imbalance between the numbers of negatively-charged electrons and positively–charged protons (atoms like to have an equal number of electrons and protons, this keeps them stable and neutral).
A negative ion (or anion) is a negatively charged atom or molecule (meaning it has more electrons than protons). Negative ions are particles with one or more extra electrons, conferring a net negative charge to the particle.
A positive ion (or cation) is a positively charged atom or molecule (meaning it has more protons than electrons). Positive ions are particles missing one or more electrons, resulting in a net positive charge.
Negative ions generally appear in natural settings in greater numbers than positive ions. For instance, negative ions are generated by moving water – rivers, waterfalls, crashing waves, even showers and fountains – and the presence of negative ions is actually used to identify potential sources of water on other planetary bodies, like Enceladus and Titan. Waterfalls are probably the greatest producers of negative ions, thanks to the violence with which falling water breaks apart on both hard and aqueous surfaces. Plants also produce negative ions, especially when exposed to intense light during photosynthesis. (1)
Physical Health Benefits Of Negative Ions
There are many scientifically documented physical health benefits correlated with negative ions:
“At the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Hospital and at Northeastern and Frankford hospitals in Philadelphia, Dr. Kornblueh and his associates have administered negative-ion treatments to hundreds of patients suffering from hay fever or bronchial asthma. Of the total, 63 percent have experienced partial to total relief. “They come in sneezing, eyes watering, noses itching, worn out from lack of sleep, so miserable they can hardly walk,” one doctor told me. “Fifteen minutes in front of the negative-ion machine and they feel so much better they don’t want to leave.” (8)
In Philadelphia Dr. Kornblueh studied brain-wave patterns and found evidence that negative ions tranquilized persons in severe pain. In one dramatic test he held a negative ionizer to the nose and mouth of a factory worker who had been rushed to Northeastern Hospital with second-degree steam burns on his back and legs. In minutes the pain was gone. Morphine, customarily administered in such cases, was never necessary. (8)
Today all burn cases at Northeastern are immediately put in a windowless, negative ion conditioned room. In ten minutes, usually, the pain has gone. Patients are left in the room for 30 minutes. The treatment is repeated three times every 24 hours. In 85 percent of the cases no pain-deadening narcotics are needed. Says Northeastern’s Dr. Robert McGowan, “Negative ions make burns dry out faster, heal faster and with less scarring. They also reduce the need for skin-grafting. They make the patient more optimistic. He sleeps better.” (8)
Encouraged by this success in burn therapy, Dr. Kornblueh, Dr. J. R. Minehart, Northeastern’s chief surgeon, and his associate Dr. T. A. David boldly tried negative ions in relief of deep, postoperative pain. During an eight month test period they exposed 138 patients to negative ions on the first and second days after surgery. Dr. Kornblueh has just announced the results at a London congress of bioclimatologists. In 79 cases (57 percent of the total) negative ions eliminated or drastically reduced pain.” At first,” says Dr. Minehart, “I thought it was voodoo. Now I’m convinced that it’s real and revolutionary.” (8)
Physical Health benefits Of Negative Ions For Breathing And Asthma:
The trachea is the windpipe, the passage through which air travels into our lungs. Along the trachea are cilia, tiny organelles which keep airborne particles from passing into the lungs. If cilial activity is inhibited, as in cystic fibrosis, more foreign particles are introduced into the lungs. If cilial activity is uninhibited, the junk is kept out of the lungs and discharged later via saliva and mucus. Research shows that negative ion exposure increases cilial activity in the trachea of humans and monkeys, while positive ion exposure inhibits it. (1)
Note: There are cilia in the lungs as well, they also help capture junk and expel it out of the lungs via coughing. One cigarette paralyzes the cilia in the lungs for 24 hours.
Back to negative ions:
The frequency of nosocomial infections in British hospitals prompted the National Health Service (NHS) to research the effectiveness of negative ions for air purification, finding that repeated airborne acinetobacter infections in a ward were eliminated by the installation of a negative air ioniser—the infection rate fell to zero, an unexpected result. (5)
Mental Health Benefits Of Negative Ions
The positive effect of negative ions on mental/emotional health has also been well documented- literally hundreds of scholarly papers and findings have been produced.
How do ions affect our moods? Most authorities agree that ions act on our capacity to absorb and utilize oxygen. Negative ions in the blood stream accelerate the delivery of oxygen to our cells and tissues, frequently giving us the same euphoric jolt that we get from a few whiffs of straight oxygen. Positive ions slow down the delivery of oxygen, producing symptoms markedly like those in anoxia, or oxygen starvation. Researchers also believe that negative ions may stimulate the reticuloendothelial system; a group of defense cells in our bodies which marshal our resistance to disease. (8)
It was RCA’s Dr. Hansell who, in 1932, stumbled upon the behavioral effects of artificially generated ions. He noticed a startling swing in the moods of a fellow RCA scientist who worked beside an electrostatic generator. Some days the scientist finished work alert and in bubbling good spirits. On other days he was rude, ill-tempered, depressed. Dr. Hansell investigated and found that the scientist was happy when the generator was adjusted to produce negative ions, and morose when it was producing positive ions. A few months later, reports of ionization research in Europe confirmed the strange experience. (8)
Chronic non-seasonal depression has also been shown to be improved with negative ion therapy. High density ion therapy was far more effective than low density ion therapy. (1)
Negative ions (along with bright light and auditory stimuli) reduced subjective measurements of depression, improved mood, and reduced anger in both depressed and non-depressed college students. (1)
In a study on the salivary responses of people completing a 40-minute word processing task on the computer, exposure to negative air ions reduced the rise in salivary chromogranin A-like immunoreactivity (a marker of stress and anxiety) and improved performance. (1)
You may have experienced the power of negative ions when you last set foot on the beach or walked beneath a waterfall. While part of the euphoria is simply being around these wondrous settings and away from the normal pressures of home and work, the air circulating in the mountains and the beach is said to contain tens of thousands of negative ions — Much more than the average home or office building, which contain dozens or hundreds, and many register a flat zero. (2)
“The action of the pounding surf creates negative air ions and we also see it immediately after spring thunderstorms when people report lightened moods,” says ion researcher Michael Terman, PhD, of Columbia University in New York. (2)
In fact, Columbia University studies of people with winter and chronic depression show that negative ion generators relieve depression as much as antidepressants. “The best part is that there are relatively no side effects, but we still need to figure out appropriate doses and which people it works best on,” he says. (2)
Generally speaking, negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy,” says Pierce J. Howard, PhD, author of The Owners Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind Brain Research and director of research at the Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences in Charlotte, N.C. (2)
“They also may protect against germs in the air, resulting in decreased irritation due to inhaling various particles that make you sneeze, cough, or have a throat irritation.” (2)
And for a whopping one in three of us who are especially sensitive to their effects, negative ions can make us feel like we are walking on air. You are one of them if you feel instantly refreshed the moment you open a window and breathe in fresh, humid air. (2)
“You may be one of them if you feel sleepy when you are around an air-conditioner, but feel immediately refreshed and invigorated when you step outside or roll down the car window,” Howard tells WebMD. “Air conditioning depletes the atmosphere of negative ions, but an ion generator re-releases the ions that air conditioners remove.” (2)
What Is The Difference Between Positive And Negative Ions?
Positive ions are associated with causing or exacerbating illness. Remember, ions are electrically charged air and dust particles. We are literally breathing in electricity.
Irritating elements in the environment — dust, microbes, and pet dander, for example — tend to have a positive charge. Like a magnet, opposites attract, and your body literally pulls these irritating elements in toward itself.
Positive ions are usually carbon dioxide molecules that have been stripped of an electron. Also known as positively charged ions, they have been demonstrated to have a negative effect on your body. (3)
A study in asthmatic children found that exposure to positively ionized air exacerbated their asthmatic response to exercise. (1)
This is particularly the case with the lungs and respiratory tract but the immune system can also be affected. This is because positive ions can be so small they are absorbed directly into the bloodstream from the air that’s breathed. (3)
Positive ions are actually why ionizing radiation like x-rays and gamma rays are so harmful. When x-rays, or any ionizing radiation, pass through the body they cause electrons to be ejected from atoms, leaving behind positive ions. These positive ions can cause damage to the body’s molecules, including DNA. Radiation can strike the DNA molecule directly, ionizing and damaging it. Alternately, radiation can ionize water molecules, producing free radicals that react with and damage DNA molecules.
An excess of positively charged ions in your environment is believed to contribute to tiredness and a lack of energy, tension, anxiety and irritability. Positive ions have even been investigated as a contributing factor for asthma and depression. (3)
In nature, positive ions are commonly formed by high winds, dust, humidity and pollution and are at their highest just before an electrical storm. This has been hypothesized as why so many people feel so uneasy before a storm and why respiratory problems are commonly reported at this time as well. (3)
If you’ve ever spent a lot of time walking beside a busy road or inside a laundromat you will have experienced the tiring effects of a highly positively charged environment. Computers screens, cell phones, and TVs, fluorescent lighting, clothes dryers, hair dryers, and other electrical devices are sources of surplus positive ions in the air (3)
Many homes are often well sealed from the air outside, there’s little chance for negative ions to counteract this damage. (3) It’s always a good idea to keep a window at least partially open, so that some fresh air can circulate. Tests on large towns and city environments have revealed that they have at times, less than a third of the beneficial negative ions in the air when compared to country environments, along with a variety of other damaging pollutants. (3) However, there are still many more negative ions circulating outdoors than indoors, even in cities. Again, always leave a window open or at least cracked so fresh air can circulate in the home. Negative ions can neutralize positive ions (they bond together) and help cleanse the air.
How Do Negative Ions Affect Harmful Bacteria?
Negative ions can kill bacteria. Actually, positive ions can kill bacteria too. This phenomenon is solely based on the relative concentration of ions (either positive or negative) on the outside when compared to the inside of the bacterial cells. Higher ionic concentration on the outside leads to the bacterial cells to lose water to the surrounding environment and hence die of dehydration. This is why salt or sugar curing protects foods from microbial contamination. Similar, water with absolutely no ions can also cause a rapid influx of water into the bacterial cell, leading them to burst and die. (6)
Negative ions are the ones that are shown to improve health however. Positive ions have been linked to disease states.
What about Household Negative Ionizers and Ozone Generators?
Negative ionizers and ozone generators are not the same thing. Negative ionizers are advertised as devices that emit negative ions into the air. Ionizers are distinct from ozone generators, although both devices operate in a similar way. Ionizers use electrostatically charged plates to produce positively or negatively charged gas ions.(5) Ozone generators are optimised to attract an extra oxygen ion to an O2 molecule, using either a corona discharge tube or UV light. (5) Ozone generators are not safe to use. But because even the best ionisers will also produce a small amount of ozone (triatomic oxygen, O3) it is best to avoid them too.
Here’s why ozone generators are dangerous: At concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone has been found to have little potential to remove indoor air contaminants, so they are pretty useless. At high concentrations ozone can be toxic to air-borne bacteria, and may destroy or kill these sometimes infectious organisms. However, these required concentrations are also sufficiently toxic to humans and animals too! The US FDA has declared that ozone has no place in medical treatment and has taken action against businesses that violate this regulation by offering therapeutic ozone generators or ozone therapy. Ozone is a highly toxic and extremely reactive gas. A higher daily average than 0.1 ppm (100 ppb, 0.2 mg/m³) is not recommended and can damage the lungs and olfactory bulb cells directly.(5)
How To Find A Safe Negative Ionizer Device
Many Negative ionizer companies say they do not generate ozone in amounts that are damaging to the health of living beings. Some of these companies may be telling the truth but there are lots of scam devices being sold in stores and online. Many generators labeled as negative ionizers are actually ozone generators! Or they produce way more ozone than is actually safe.
If a company is legitimate, they will readily provide documentation about how many negative ions that their devices generate, and proof that their devices only emit extremely low to undetectable levels of ozone. I was only able to find one company who could provide me with actual information about their devices.
After much research, I found a company called ComTech Research. They are a small company/workshop in Missouri- and they manufacture all their negative ion generators by hand there. I spoke with one of the engineers over the telephone and he was very kind and answered all of my questions. He explained that any negative ionizer you buy should have these specs: how many negative ions are emitted and to what distance do they travel out to before being neutralized. ComTech Research’s devices emit 1 million negative ions per centimeter at a distance of one meter from the unit. This means you need to be within a meter or three feet to get the effects. Any further away the ions will have been neutralized. They stated that their devices do not emit measurable amounts of ozone which is good (because too much ozone gas is a very toxic.)
Their entry level device is around $150 US. The fanciest one is $200 US. These are expensive devices. But apparently they do last a long time and come with a five year warranty. This is a Made in America company. Asthma and other health problems may be greatly reduced with one of these negative ion generators. But you must remain within three feet (approx 1 meter) near the device to get the benefits. I think unless you have a very serious health condition and are able to regularly monitor the device to make sure it is not leaking ozone, that it’s better to just not buy a negative ionizing device.
Note: I do not financially gain in anyway by recommending this company and their devices.
How to get more negative ions in your life without a device?
-Take a shower. The closest thing many of us get to moving water is our regular showers. And that’s not so bad. Moving water is moving water, and showers do a good job of producing negative ions in their own right.
-Keeping a window semi-open at home even if heat or air conditioning is on helps a lot. Keep a window cracked at all times when driving in a car, again, even if the heater or AC is on. This allows negative ions to enter the vehicle and also provides some much needed fresh air (cars are notorious for having toxic chemicals floating around inside them from the plastics, fire retardant upholstery, and engine fumes etc).
-Get into nature as much as possible. If possible, go to the beach, take a swim or get your feet in the water. Take a walk in a park, hike in the mountains, find a waterfall, sit amongst plants at a park.
-You could try a Himalayan salt lamp, some people report they receive a benefical effect from the amount of negative ions produced by the lamp. The unique combination of salt and a light source in salt lamps are what cause the negative ion generation. Salt is hygroscopic, meaning that it attracts water to its surface and this water evaporates quickly due to the small amount of heat from the light source. The negative ions are generated during this evaporation process. This is also why salt lamps tend to sweat and appear wet in humid climates. A wet lamp is potentially a hazard though, as water and electrical appliances do not mix, and I have read about customers complaining about their salt lamp excessively sweating.
Note: Earthing does not produce negative ions, but it does keep the body grounded, which has been proven to have incredible health effects. An article on “earthing” is coming soon.
Image: Pearson Education Inc. 2011