Negative ions and their benefits on our health
Many of us may feel the need to recharge our batteries out in nature after a long work week. Ideal spots that bring us a sense of well-being may be near the sea, a waterfall, or in green spaces. This is in part due to the fact that these environments contain high levels of negative ions. Conversely, urban environments contain high levels of positive ions, commonly present in places with high levels of pollution. Although you might have not heard of this before, it is not pseudo-science: many studies have shown that humans have an innate need to balance positive and negative ion exposure. Too many positive ions leads to a feeling of depression, while exposure to negative ions leads to a sense of well-being. What, exactly, are negative ions? What do they do? How can they benefit our health? Read on to learn more.
What are negative ions?
Negative ions defined
To give a quick review of your secondary school chemistry class, an ion is an atom or molecule that carries an electrical charge. An atom or molecule that does not have the same amount of protons and electrons is referred to as an ‘ion’. An ion that carries more electrons than protons is referred to as a ‘negative ion’; an ion that carries more protons than electrons is referred to as a ‘positive ion’.
Negative ions are molecules floating in the air or atmosphere that carry a negative electric charge. Also called ‘anions’, they are naturally generated in nature in various settings, some of which include:
- When the air is charged after a lightning strike or thunderclap
- In waterfalls or the ocean, wherever water collides with itself
- This creates the Lenard effect, a concept coined in 1892 by a Nobel laureate in physics, Dr Philipp Lenard
- The Lenard effect is defined as ‘when water drops from a high altitude, causing the droplets to collide with one another and break up, resulting in charge separation and ionization’1
- Released during the growth process for many plants
- In the atmosphere in response to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun
Positive ions, on the other hand, are molecules that are positively-charged. Also called ‘cations’, they are present in highly industrialised and urban environments.
How do negative ions work?
Negative ions are colourless, odourless, tasteless, and invisible to the naked eye. When we encounter them in places where they are found in abundance, we inhale them. They then enter our bloodstreams and create biochemical reactions which produce an increased level of serotonin. This exposure provides us with a boost of energy and a feeling of well-being, amongst other benefits from mental health to athletic performance as seen below2.
How do negative ions impact our health?
Seemingly contradictorily, negative ions have been shown to have a positive impact on our health. If a given environment is lacking negative ions, such an environment poses a greater risk of its occupants contracting respiratory diseases. Epidemiological studies have even gone so far as to show that exposure to negative ions may be an effective method of controlling asthma.
Despite their name, negative ion exposure has been shown to have a positive impact on our health. If a given environment is lacking negative ions, such an environment poses a greater risk of its occupants contracting respiratory diseases. Epidemiological studies have even shown that negative ion treatment may be an effective method of alleviating asthma symptoms, improving lung function, and regulating metabolism3.
The benefits of exposure to negative ions can be harnessed in a variety of settings from hospitals and nurseries to catering or public reception rooms. Further studies on negative ion treatment have been performed and have shown a multitude of benefits on human health:
- A 2013 review analysing the effect of negative ion exposure on emotional state found that high-density negative ion treatment was associated with significant improvements in mental health, notably depression (both seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, and chronic)4
- A 2018 meta-analysis of 100 years of reports and studies found that negative ion therapy leads to allergy relief (dust, mould, and other allergens), helps regulate sleep patterns and mood, reduces stress, boosts immune system function, increases metabolism of carbohydrates and fat, and kills or inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria (including the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis), viruses, and mould species5
- Two separate studies performed on negative ion treatment for athletes found that negative ions can improve physical performance by significantly reducing TNF-α, an injury-associated inflammatory cytokine; reducing muscular overload-caused fatigue and accelerate recovery time; decreasing total sweat rate and minute ventilation (VE); and increasing O2 pulse6,7
As a result of the latter studies, ionisers have been installed in some Russian locker rooms and restrooms of several of its athletic stadiums. Since the installation of these devices, they have recorded much better sports performance in all disciplines due to negative ion exposure.
Additionally, Dr Arudoman, a doctor and researcher in Germany, performed a study that demonstrated how negative ion exposure can help our skin's health by strengthening collagen. His study showed that negative ion therapy can enlarge pores of the skin and sweat glands. Due to his findings, more beauty and skincare products are beginning to include negative ions in their composition as they are proving to be a formidable beauty and anti-aging aid. Nowadays, negative ions can be found in massage oils, moisturisers, or even in devices such as hairdryers. This treatment is showing promising results in improving circulatory system function, renewing and strengthening collagen, erasing the presence of wrinkles, and encouraging skin softness8.
Other effects requiring further studies
Some potential health benefits of negative ion exposure have shown promise in preliminary trials but require further studies for confirmation. These include:
- Managing anxiety, stress, and similar mental health disorders
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving your breathing
Negative ions have another well-known and established property that is of particular interest to us: they are extremely effective in combatting fine particle air pollution.
Using negative ions to purify the air
The main reason that Eoleaf air purifiers diffuse negative ions is not for their many beneficial health effects (though this is certainly an added bonus) but to fight fine particles, also known as particulate matter or PM. Negative ions, being negatively-charged, are remarkably effective against fine particles because they are positively charged. When generated, negative ions cling to fine particle pollution and either destroy it completely or weigh it down and drop it to the ground. This protects our lungs from inhaling the fine particles. One study found that negative ions can remove up to 97% of 0.1 μm particles and about 95% of 1 μm particles from the air9.
Negative ions are effective against all types of fine particles. Some of the sources of these harmful particles are, for example, tobacco smoke, automobile pollution, gas used for heating or cooking, and odours (molecules) emitted whilst cooking. Only a few minutes of use of a high-performance ioniser will rid your air of the vast majority of fine particles and even nanoparticles.
Eoleaf air purifiers have a wide spectrum of action and can fight against allergens in your space (dust and dust mites, pet hair and dander, and pollen), germs (viruses like COVID-19 and bacteria), chemical pollution (including volatile organic compounds or VOCs), and fine particle pollution. They combine eight filtration technologies and serve as a dual purifier-ioniser.
1 Wu, C.-F.; Chu, T.-Y.; Chen, S.-H.; Wu, S.-Y. Generating Negative Air Ions in Construction Waterscapes at a Garden Scale. Environments 2019, 6, 100. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3298/6/9/100
2 WebMD. (2003, June 2). Negative ions create positive vibes. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/negative-ions-create-positive-vibes
3 Xiao S, Wei T, Petersen JD, Zhou J, Lu X. Biological effects of negative air ions on human health and integrated multiomics to identify biomarkers: a literature review. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2023 Jun;30(27):69824-69836. doi: 10.1007/s11356-023-27133-8. Epub 2023 May 12. PMID: 37170052; PMCID: PMC10175061.
4 Perez V, Alexander DD, Bailey WH. Air ions and mood outcomes: a review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 2013 Jan 15;13:29. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-13-29. PMID: 23320516; PMCID: PMC3598548.
5 Jiang SY, Ma A, Ramachandran S. Negative Air Ions and Their Effects on Human Health and Air Quality Improvement. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Sep 28;19(10):2966. doi: 10.3390/ijms19102966. PMID: 30274196; PMCID: PMC6213340.
6 Inbar, O., Rotstein, A., Dlin, R. et al. The effects of negative air ions on various physiological functions during work in a hot environment. Int J Biometeorol 26, 153–163 (1982). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02184628
7 Ho CS, Lee MC, Chang CY, Chen WC, Huang WC. Beneficial effects of a negative ion patch on eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage, inflammation, and exercise performance in badminton athletes. Chin J Physiol. 2020 Jan-Feb;63(1):35-42. doi: 10.4103/CJP.CJP_33_19. PMID: 32056985.
8 Croud, A. (n.d.). How does the negative ion generator affect human health?. Medical News Bulletin. https://medicalnewsbulletin.com/how-does-the-negative-ion-generator-affect-human-health/
9 Uk Lee, B., Yermakov, M., & Grinshpun, S. A. (2004). Removal of fine and ultrafine particles from indoor air environments by the unipolar Ion Emission. Atmospheric Environment, 38(29), 4815–4823. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231004005953?via%3Dihub