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20 Aug

Dear Mark: What Are the Health Benefits of Negative Ions?

niagaraAnyone who’s been through a health store has heard about ions. If it’s not someone offering samples of ionized water, it’s someone selling ionized bracelets. It sounds wacky, woo-woo, crazy, and as if it belongs firmly in the same realm as crystals, magnet therapy, and cryptozoology (although the kid in me is still holding out hope that both Squatch and Nessie are found), but is there actual science behind this negative ion stuff, or are the people who buy into this stuff totally off their rockers? Today, we venture into what some might consider the realm of the non-scientific to discuss negative ionizers – both the natural kinds (like waterfalls) and the man-made variety (negative ion generators).

Let’s get to it:

Hi Mark,

I’m almost scared/embarrassed to even ask you about this, but here goes: my friend, who’s into crystals, homeopathy, and other types of alternative health modalities with less than concrete supporting evidence, has been talking my ear off about negative and positive ions. She’s got her entire house decked out with negative ion generators and she’s always trying to “avoid positive ions.” I’ve even seen her ducking past air conditioners. Is there anything to this, or is she crazy?

Thanks,

Beth

Maybe. Let’s take a look.

But first, lest we fall into the trap of talking about abstractions (a la “toxins”), let’s define our terms. What are ions?

Ions are atoms or molecules in which the number of electrons is different than the number of protons. In other words, an ion is a negatively (more electrons than protons) or positively (more protons than electrons) charged atom or molecule. Positively charged ions are called cations, while negatively charged ions are called anions. Because they are either positively or negatively charged, ions are “mobile.”

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 (PDF). Plants also produce negative ions, especially when exposed to intense light during photosynthesis.

Okay, that’s great and all. Everyone likes waterfalls and all, but does the fact that they generate lots of negative air ions have any bearing on our health?

They can certainly exert “physiological effects” on living things. In fact, that negative and positive air ions could have physiological effects on people was once a field of serious study, but after snake oil salesmen released a slew of air ion generators with the promise that they’d cure cancer, heart disease, and just about every malady under the sun in the 1950s, the reputation of the field was forever tarnished. Research continued, but its name was sullied, and little serious attention was paid to its findings. The result is that anytime anyone even mentions “ions,” they’ll get laughed out of the room or immediately branded a nut job. And that’s a shame, because there is something to this stuff.

Even if some modern skeptics pride themselves on discarding an idea that sounds a little kooky without doing any actual research, that doesn’t mean evidence doesn’t exist. Let’s see what the research says:

Mood

Not everyone with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can afford to slumber amidst the babbling mist of a nearby brook with the gentle caress of the day’s first sun softly nudging them awake. It’s ideal, but studies indicate that simulating those conditions with negative ion generators, naturalistic dawn simulating lights, and someone blowing raspberries at your face can be just as effective at combating SAD as bright light therapy (okay, maybe not that last one).

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.

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.

Stress

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.

Breathing

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.

Another study in asthmatic children found that exposure to positively ionized air exacerbated their asthmatic response to exercise.

All told, there does appear to be something to it.

Maybe that’s why sitting around a campfire with your buddies surrounded by towering examples of plant life feels so good. Toss in a nearby river gurgling over stones, throwing mist up in the air? You’ve got a potent recipe for negative air ions. Could that be why camping out in the great outdoors is so rejuvenating and so energizing? Sure, you could argue that camping is just a way for us to get away from the madness of work and city life, get some fresh air and exercise, and reconnect with our Primal selves… but there has to be a physiological mechanism for that. What if negative ions play an important role in that mechanism? What if part of what we’re “getting away from” is the glaring lack of negative ions?

How to Get Exposure to Negative Ions

The best way to get exposure to negative ions is of course going to be the old, natural way. Go to the beach (and play in the water, don’t sit bundled up on the shore). Climb a mountain. Go for a hike. Spend an afternoon reading a great book in a garden, surrounded by plant life. Swim underneath a waterfall. Heck, even just stepping outside the stifling stuffy air of your office, turning off the AC and lowering the car windows, or letting some cross breeze into your house will help.

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.

Another way is to design a negative ion-generating garden, using running water (preferably a waterfall or fountains) and plenty of green life. This method is a mite more involved than simply buying a generator or visiting natural sites of negative ion generation, but here’s a study in which researchers mapped out the distribution of positive and negative ions across a sample garden (PDF). It should give you an idea for your own garden. The important factor appears to be the presence of running water, since the negative ions were highest right around the waterfall.

For your home or office, I highly recommend a negative ion generator. Many of them aren’t terribly expensive. For, say, 50 bucks you can enrich your stale office in negative ions and filter out impurities to boot. Give it a shot, especially if you don’t spend time in the natural settings where negative ions predominate. If you’re stuck inside all day, bathed in air conditioning, a negative ion generator is worthy of serious consideration.

Or, if you’re handy enough, you could always just make your own ioniser.

Anyway, I’d like to hear about your experiences with negative ionizers (and negative ions in general). Have you noticed anything? Let us know in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Being a chemist, i am confused why it is not the first of april today. With this article posted, it certainly feels like it.

    mat wrote on August 22nd, 2012
    • It would be appreciated if you explained why. Insulting the theories without an explanation is kind of hollow.

      Animanarchy wrote on August 22nd, 2012
      • I haven’t actually seen any theory so far… nothing really to argue against since no theory is given.

        And there are chemistry websites written by actual chemists that explain the gaps in the reasoning and/or evaluate the evidence (or lack of evidence) much better anyway.

        TO wrote on August 22nd, 2012
  2. The people hating on this post should give Mark a break. There’s a reason you all come to read his blog, isn’t there?
    So when he writes a speculative post about something that isn’t provable, you’ve got to express your disdain?

    Animanarchy wrote on August 22nd, 2012
    • Well, I’m trying to do so politely, but yeah, I do think it’s important to say so when there’s something posted that’s very problematic.

      The problem is that people respect him. He has a reputation as someone who does his research and posts good information that people can trust.

      So it’s a lot worse to see deeply problematic stuff on his page than on a page that is clearly just a junk website.

      In fact I can see it in some of the comments — people saying ‘I always thought this stuff was nonsense but since YOU say it makes sense there must be something to it’.

      But unfortunately someone can be very knowledgeable about one subject and know absolutely nothing about another. E.g., you may really respect your doctor, but if you want to know what air conditioner to buy, in that context your doctor is ‘just some random guy’ and you might as well ask a stranger on the street.

      TO wrote on August 22nd, 2012
  3. I don’t know from ions, but I do keep lots of natural elements in and around my home. Tons of houseplants – takes me a while every week to water and care for them all. Two fountains – one quite large one. I love these – I may put one in every room if I can find nice ones.
    I have a large deck where I have potted citrus trees and other plants, two hummingbird feeders – in Southern California the birds don’t migrate.

    Also have a back yard full of flowers, shrubs, fruit trees, vines, etc. that is accessible through sliding glass doors.

    Anyway, I’m a definite believer in bringing the outdoorsclose and inside as much as possible. If that creates negative ions then I’m good to go.

    Now if only I could do something about my windowless office – maybe the neg ion machine there!

    Pure Hapa wrote on August 22nd, 2012
  4. “… to slumber amidst the babbling mist of a nearby brook with the gentle caress of the day’s first sun softly nudging them awake.”

    Hey – that sounds very much like my bedroom. Windows facing slightly east, and a babbling creek runs besides our garden… :P

    Sungrazer wrote on August 23rd, 2012
  5. Should probably not dismiss magnetic therapy just because of the snake oil salesfolk that have tarnished the science. Pulsed magnetic fields effects on membrane transport is worth a look.

    Electrostatic cleaning of the air is just good sense, just avoid high ozone build up.

    Zeke wrote on August 24th, 2012
  6. I worked as a whitewater river guide in the NC mountains for 15 years. All day long I’d sit on the back of a raft or canoe and paddle down the river through the heavy woods in the gorge and canyons. Currents, cross-currents, waterfalls, side streams, bubbling, gurgling, super fast water moving all around me 8 hours a day. It was pure BLISS!

    Pat wrote on August 24th, 2012
  7. Free radicals are positively charged single atoms of oxygen (O+). Perhaps if one were to absorb negatively charged oxygen atoms (O-), they would attract to the (O+)forming pure oxygen (O2). So if one is able to get (O-) into the cells the free radicals would be rendered neutral.

    Kurt wrote on August 24th, 2012
  8. The Integratron in So. Calif. was intended to heal people so well with negative ions that one walk through the building would keep people from disease for 5 years. The military forbade the designer from ever firing it up. My husband and some friends visited this place one New Years Day. There are no nails in the construction. I cannot describe the sound that one’s voice makes when standing at the center over the vertical shaft. Eerie doesn’t even come close!

    “During the 25-year period that Van Tassel developed the Integratron, (1954-1978), he called it “a time machine, a rejuvenation machine and an anti-gravity device.” His theory for rejuvenation was based on the recharging of the human cell structure using a powerful negative ion field.”

    http://www.integratron.com/3Rejuvenation/Rejuvenation.html

    Granny Good-Food wrote on August 24th, 2012
  9. Thanks for this post. Just been discovreing this topic in the last few weeks and there is some info about it on the ‘surthrival’ website. Its all new to me but I think its really interesting. Cheers.

    Nico wrote on August 25th, 2012
  10. I desperately wanted to believe all this negative ion stuff. Over the years I’ve had a negative ion generator (resulting in the black spot on the wall, just as others here have said); a q-link pendant (totally useless) and a salt lamp (which attracted a lot of water and became an electrical hazard).
    So I’ll stick to long showers, mountain air bushwalks and frolicking on the beach because they work every single time.

    janegi wrote on August 26th, 2012
  11. Ok, I’ve just purchased two different air purifier, with one of them being a negative ioniser.

    The frst went back because it was too noisy and made my room very vold. The ionised is going back because it just makes me feel weird. It has a hissing noise which isn’t too bad, but it just feels very sceintific and not good for my health for some reason.

    I googled natural air purifier and found the salt crystal lamps are good, so I checked back on here to see if anyone else had one.

    I see two replies, where one is saying that they tend to leak water as the salt pulls in the moisture? Is this true? Will this always happen or is it only in certain climates? I have 2 snake plants in my room, would this make any difference? Should I buy one?

    I’d like to add more plants but they take up a lot of space…

    Nathan wrote on August 31st, 2012
    • Salt lamps come with instructions to leave them on for so many hours each day to prevent the hydrophilic action of the salt – heat from the light bulb evaporates it.

      Stephanie wrote on March 13th, 2013
  12. This makes me think of histrionic ducks. They’re white-water ducks.

    Animanarchy wrote on September 19th, 2012
  13. I have just bought a small neg ion & air filter unit. Not sure if it is my imagination or not but…. The air seemed to feel ‘cooler’ – which is why I was interested to read that waterfalls give off neg ions…. It felt like the cool air next to a waterfall. And my nose wasn’t as congested in the morning either…. Maybe there is something to it after all.

    Stephanie wrote on March 13th, 2013
  14. I bought my mother a negative ion generator. She had very bad asthma every night. After the generator was placed on her bedside table, she never had asthma at night again. I read about this in a science magazine.
    Plus, a New Scientist magazine had an article that a intensive care hospital installed one and the infection rate dropped.
    If you have a dirty wall because of it, you obviously didn’t read the instructions that tells you NOT to put it too close to a wall.
    Walls and dust are positively charged. Add a negative ion zap and the dust will either stick to the wall, or drop to the ground. I’ve seen this happen by shaking dust in the sunlight, and hold the small neg. ion generator and it drags in the dust, then spits large pieces of dust out, which just drops.

    Gandalf wrote on June 29th, 2013
  15. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it,
    you will be a great author. I will make certain to bookmark
    your blog and will often come back later
    on. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great job, have a nice afternoon!

    Benjamin wrote on July 18th, 2013
  16. Wow, thanks for the article this really got me thinking about negative ion generators. Coming for a science background though I found myself wanting to dig a little deeper and try and separate what can be proven from what just remains people’s beliefs. I come across this web page http://naturalhealthyair.com/negative-ion-generators-effect-on-stress-breathing-conditions-and-air-quality/ which looks into the research in this field in a bit more detail and provides links to supporting documents.

    Thanks again, all very interesting stuff!

    Sleeping Chimp wrote on July 28th, 2013
  17. Good Day Mark,
    I have an ionize bracelet and it contains 1024 negatively charge ions it is true the it increases my strength and vitality?

    Ralph wrote on August 5th, 2013
  18. Hello Mark

    I start studing the famous all over ionizer foot bath witha all clours that cames in it… I did assemble one with high quality electrodes ( almost zero % iron in it) > What happened, no change in whater colurs , but people that used it claimed some different reactions for better… In myself I could not figure out much… I was wondering if I use only the alkaline water ( during ionizition process and separeted from the acid one) to pot the fit on it , if the detox efect could be stronger etc etc. Do you have any idea to comment about that. Thanks and congrats for the forum.

    Luiz

    Luiz wrote on August 26th, 2013
  19. Wow, ok.. Lots of negative replies about negative ions, obviously these are all similar problems with some issues in the head that are doing too much research about fixing their bad moods lol..
    Negative ion generators may not directly significantly benefit your health, depression, or mood.. But they sure as fuck work for controlling my cannabis odor from growing it in my house.. and hey, in the end when I’m getting high, who’s negative ion generator has successfully indirectly caused my stress, health probs, and depressions to go away? Haha mine. That’s who’s! You just have to know how to put your negative ions to use properly :D

    Bob wrote on October 13th, 2013
  20. Perhaps it is because that exactly, you grew up there. You were accustom to that feeling and didn’t tune in to it making you feel different. I couldn’t explain it but I felt noticably different when I visited.

    Mindy wolfe wrote on October 16th, 2013
  21. A few more things you can ad to home or work place to produce negative ions are; Bees wax candles (although they burn quite fast), Himalayan pink salt lamps, and even a stone called Tourmaline produces negative ions.

    brock wrote on December 26th, 2013
  22. For the sake of this argument let’s accept that negative ion therapy, in whatever form one chooses, is beneficial to one’s health. A few people have mentioned the use of Himalayan pink salt lamps as a way to ionize the air. Can anyone explain the process through which that happens? As I understand it, the chunk of salt must be heated (usually with a low-wattage bulb), but how does it either (a) break down an existing air molecule into an anion (a negatively charged ion), or (b) change a positive ion into a negative one?

    A lot of research and studies in favor of anion benefits is anecdotal, but to all those leaving negative comments, please source your arguments so we all have a chance to examine the same evidence which led you to discredit anionic therapy.

    Heather wrote on December 29th, 2013
  23. Since childhood, living in central Alberta, I suffered from muscle and joint aches, sleep problems, sense of sadness and itchy eyes & noes whenever we had Chinooks. Living in Sarawak in the eighties, not far from the equator and just a few kilometres from the South China Sea, I did not have any problems for the three years I lived there. Upon returning to Alberta for a holiday and then when my work contract ended, I fell into a terrible sense of sadness with the prolonged Chinooks we were having.
    Then I spotted the Bionare ioniser being sold at the Bay and purchased one. Within tens of minutes I felt so much better we headed off for a change of scenery. Within a very short period, the ‘depression’ returned so we headed back home and I sat ensconced next to the Bionare the rest of the day. Since that time I have an ioniser in the bedroom, living room and car. I do not miss the aches, sense of claustrophobic breathing or sadness.
    I also use Himalayan salt lights and a SAD lamp which shortens the hours of sleep I need.
    Whilst living in the north of Alberta, shopping could only be done on the weekends and vegetables did the stay fresh in the fridge till the next trip. I rigged my car ioniser to work in the fridge. Touching the metal trays in the fridge would give one a slight zap but the vegetables stayed fresh for twice as long.
    The last leg of the tripod to my quest for peace is my Structured Water unit from Clayton Nolte, supported by a crazy prayer position I use over water and in the shower.
    Call me crazy but I figure that puts me up with the nuts who think the universe was born in an instant out of nothing, and that dark matter, energy and holes make up the vast majority of our universe. :-)
    Next quest: free energy.

    mhikl wrote on January 16th, 2014
  24. Hi Mark-

    I’m disappointed in your treatment of this subject. While you do bring up a few of the positive studies associated with negative ions, you failed to mention the many many MORE studies that show no impact/placebo level effects. Like most pseduosciences, this one fails to postulate a mechanism of action, has a broad sweep of maladies it supposedly cures, and isn’t backed by a sufficient quantity of positive evidence. All of these factors combine to fail to support your suggestion that we should invest in negative ion generators, based on a handful of cherry picked positive studies.

    Patrick Beebe-Sweet wrote on January 28th, 2014
  25. With Agnihotra fire, negative ions were produced. Agnihotra is a simple healing fire from the ancient science of Ayurveda. Agnihotra is a process of purifying the atmosphere through a specially prepared fire. Anyone in any walk of life can do Agnihotra and heal the atmosphere in his or her own home. The process involves preparing a small fire with dried cow-dung cakes in a copper pyramid of fixed size and putting some grains of rice and ghee (clarified unsalted butter) into the fire exactly at sunrise and sunset to the accompaniment of two simple mantras.

    Sanjay Kishore wrote on February 11th, 2014
  26. This was a great article, thanks for putting it together. I’m disabled so getting out often isn’t an option for me, especially into inaccessible areas such as waterfalls/beach etc.

    I just bought a bracelet from ionCurve, that basically does what you suggested. It has a store of 2000cm3 of negative ions that are evenly distributed when you need them. I find this an amazing idea, as it says it’s waterproof and you can even wear it during the night to improve your sleep, which I desperately need.

    Thank to your article, I was able to research this before I bought it. Here’s hoping it works in the long term.

    Elaine White wrote on February 25th, 2014
  27. I totally agree that nature is the best source for negative ions. In fact if you were a battery and you wanted to charge up on negative ions, i would recommend taking up dingy sailing. The interface of air and water undersail is most positive to health… no joke. Been sailing for 40 years and it adds alot to living! But a walk on the beach or being under a waterfall will be good as well… i live on a farm and find it healthier than living in a hive environment that is stuffed with positive ions.

    B. A. Hough wrote on June 1st, 2014
  28. I have one of those ion bracelets. I initially thought it was hocus-pocus, but the guy that intro’d me to them converted me by doing a simple experiment. Since I didn’t know what he was leading up to, I had no preconceived notions. He told me to stand in a stable position with one foot slightly behind the other. Then he lightly pushed against my shoulders and I lost my balance, having to step back to restabilize. Then he had me put on the bracelet & did it again. I stood like a rock. I thought, “Well, that’s because I was ready for the push.” So I took off the bracelet and told him to push me again while I was fully ready for it. I again lost my balance. Because I have always had difficulty with balance, I bought the bracelet. Since then, I have tried the same experiment with many people, never telling them in advance why I was doing it. Every one of them experienced a remarkable, instant improvement in balance with the bracelet and an instant return to diminished balance without it. So, if for nothing else, I would recommend an ion bracelet for athletes, rock climbers, etc. and people with inner ear issues.

    Moire wrote on July 8th, 2014
  29. An eco-friendly solution to improving indoor air quality and removing offensive airborne pollution. Air-ReNu is a blend of natural rare-earth minerals made from a variety of elements, including aluminum, iron, magnesium, sodium, potassium and lithium. These minerals are finely ground then mixed with paint. When the paint is applied to a wall of a home, Air-ReNu works 7/24/365 cleansing the air of impurities and removing odors.

    Vance Edwards wrote on July 8th, 2014
  30. I started using a neg ion generator in my bedroom. I notices I started getting a thin black film in the floor. Now I notice it on the wall above the generator. It is not in any of my other rooms. Is this black soot type film the resultant attraction of the pos ions to the negative. Is it an indication that the neg ions are doing what they are supposed to in the environment? My sleep is better but the room is dirtier!!!! Thanks for your thoughts in advance.

    Rae wrote on August 4th, 2014
  31. Hi Mark,
    The Chinese are marketing all kinds of products using negative irons. People are raving about the dramatic changes in their health.

    martha wrote on August 6th, 2014

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