The Science Behind Negative Ions

Historical documents describe "ill," "evil" or "devil" winds (full of positive ions) that drive people insane.

These ill winds that blew no good were named:

"Italy suffers through the sirocco; in the Pacific Northwest, it's the Chinook. The sharav afflicts Israelis, and Western Europeans persevere through the foehn. The American Southwest endures the Santa Ana; the ghibli rages across Libya; southern France has its mistral, and the zonda roars through the Argentine Andes."

Scientists aren't sure why blustery winds makes people feel bad but acknowledge that's it's a real condition.

A study from Israel cited in a New York Times article published on October 6, 1981, revealed that during the sharav, "thirty percent of the [Israeli] population becomes ill with migraine, nausea, vomiting, irritability, dimness of vision, respiratory symptoms and other [sharav-induced] effects."

On the flip side, odorless, tasteless, and invisible negative ions that we inhale abundantly in certain conditions produce biochemical reactions that raise levels of the mood chemical serotonin after they enter the bloodstream. Negative ions are thought to help lift depression, relieve stress, and boost energy during the day.

Michael Terman, PhD, of New York's Columbia University, explained the positive effect of negative ions on us humans:

"The action of the pounding surf creates negative air ions and we also see it immediately after spring thunderstorms when people report lightened moods."

But is this woo-woo science?

The results of one modern scientific inquiry are all over the board:

"Some experimental research indicates that exposure to negative air ions is linked to reduced depression severity, lower psychological stress, less anxiety, and enhanced well-being.

"Others suggest that exposure to positive air ions may be associated with feelings of unpleasantness, irritability, and heightened anxiety; while some have found no mood alterations associated with air ionization."

Nonetheless, Columbia University studies of people with winter and chronic depression linked negative ion generators to reducing depression as much as antidepressants - with relatively no side effects.

Negative ions are thought to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, resulting in greater alertness, less drowsiness, and more cognitive energy. They may offer protection against germs in the air, decreasing irritation from inhaling airborne particles that cause sneezing, coughing or an irritated throat.

People's reactions to ionized air varies, too. Some are more sensitive to atmospheric changes than others. It's entirely possible that the beneficial effects of my negative air ionizer will merely cancel out the harmful positive ions produced by my computer and other electronic devices.

It's also possible that my room fan isn't medical-grade and will have no noticeable effect. I'm still [ahem] up in the air about it.

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