May 6, 2002 -- There's something in the air and while it may
not be love, some say it's the next best thing -- negative ions.
Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules
that we inhale in abundance in certain environments. Think mountains,
waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are
believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood
chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost
our daytime energy.
And these are a few of the reasons we see negative-ion
generators being sold in stores and all over the Internet, but do they really
work as well as antidepressants? Can they also relieve allergies by filtering
out dust mites and dander?
It's too early to tell for sure, experts tell WebMD, but that's
not to say there is not some sound science behind the concept.
Ions are molecules that have gained or lost an electrical
charge. . They are created in nature as air molecules break apart due to
sunlight, radiation, and moving air and water. 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.
"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.
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.
Vitamins of the Air?
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.
"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."
And for a whopping one in three of us who are 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.
"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."