Chances are you've heard of 'ions' somewhere. Chemistry class, most likely.
But what do ions have to do with natural health? I'll tell you - but first, we need to delve into a bit of basic chemistry. An ion is simply a 'charged' particle. Atoms and molecules carry electrical charges. The electrical charge is determined by the number of protons and electrons said molecule has.
If the charged particle has more electrons than protons, it’s said to be 'negatively' charged. More protons than electrons and it’s 'positively' charged.
Ok, now that we got that out of the way, why should you care?
In the case of ions, ‘negative’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’, nor does ‘positive’ mean ‘good’. In fact, it’s just the opposite, in that negative ions can make you feel good while positive ions may make you feel blah. For real!
Negative ions are found abundantly in nature, especially in wet environments where water moves around a lot – think streams, waterfalls, crashing waves, and especially during and after thunderstorms.
Plants are also a source of negative ions, especially when they’re hard at work in the sun undergoing photosynthesis. Any time water is being crashed against a surface, there’ll be plenty of negative ions about.
Here's where it gets interesting. Negative ions can actually influence our mood.
Remember how you felt the last time you were outside right after a particularly intense thunderstorm – or in the mountains near a stream, or at the beach. Did you feel relaxed? Like something was in the air, causing you to feel a bit more relaxed? It was the negative ions. And yes, while being outdoors in nature is relaxing, there is actual scientific evidence that negative ions also contribute to feelings of relaxation.
In the recent past, the effects of negative and positive ions was a busy field of legitimate research. Sadly however, a few shady people exploited the science and started selling ion-generator machines that were marketed to cure every ill known out there.
I say ‘exploit’ because manufacturers of these products have taken a real, scientific phenomenon and tried unsuccessfully to capitalize upon it. This of course only ended up soiling the growing scientific reputation of ions.
Despite all of this, there is real scientific evidence that negative ions can affect our mood in a positive way.
Negative ions make us feel better because they’re said to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, increasing mental alertness. Negative ions have been show to be significantly associated with lower depression.(1)
They also have a role in removing particulate matter in the air, including germs hence their application as ‘air purifiers’.
If you’ve ever felt especially good after that thunderstorm, or you’re a person who’s instantly refreshed after stepping out of the air conditioning (which by the way, deplete the air of negative ions) and into fresh, humid air, you’re probably one of the lucky 1/3rd of us who are exquisitely sensitive to negative ions.
You can get your dose of negative ions from mountain air, standing on a beach or next to a river where there are tens of thousands of negative ions compared to the indoors where the air may only contain a few dozen or even no negative ions.
But be careful buying a product that purportedly generates negative ions – and there are a lot of them! There are some legitimate machines that will generate negative ions; however they are few and far between the scams out there.
P.S. the best ion generator in your home is your shower – all that water crashing against the floor will kick up plenty of negative ions for a bit. Maybe that's why so many people find inspiration or are struck with great ideas during their showers?
If you can, next time there’s a good thunderstorm in your area, go for a run as soon as it’s clear, or go for a run on the beach and see if all those negative ions make you feel a bit lighter or more energetic!
Bailey WH, et al. BMC Psychiatry. 2013 Jan 15;13:29.