Are Negative Ions Good For You?

Part of this video was sponsored by
LastPass. Stick around to the end for a word from our sponsor. Are negative ions
good for you? Normally I’d dismiss such a question out of hand. In fact that’s
exactly what I did when a friend brought it up about a month ago. But he was
insistent he said no this is for real there’s science behind it. And so I
looked into it and I found this. There are literally hundreds of published
peer-reviewed scientific studies on the biological effects of ions. It’s a body
of research that begins about a century ago and continues to the present day. And
this is just a fraction of it. Now these studies aren’t just about any old ions
they’re about atmospheric ions or air ions. And although the results are not
uniform, they all begin with the premise that positive ions make us feel bad and
negative ions make us feel good. So in this video I want to get to the bottom
of this. These are Himalayan salt lamps. With the heat from the light bulb, it
releases negative ions into the air and of course negative ions are what you
breathe in and produce the serotonin in the body and in serotonin is like the
primary neurotransmitter in your whole body and all living things and that’s
what makes you feel good… awesome. Can I jump in here for a second.
When I first heard all this business about atmospheric ions, my first thought
was ‘why should we expect there to be many ions in the atmosphere at all?’ I
mean to recap, an ion is just an atom or a molecule that has gained or lost an
electron. If it loses an electron it’s a positive ion. If it gains an electron it
becomes a negative ion. But here’s the thing: unlike charges attract.
So moving about in the atmosphere I’d expect the positive and negative ions to
find each other and then BOOM they’re back to being neutral. However, as it
turns out there are some processes that are constantly generating atmospheric
ions. For example cosmic rays. These are highly energetic particles from across
the universe that slam into our atmosphere and transfer their energy to
the air, creating ions in the process. Cosmic rays are thought to
create around 500 ions per cubic centimeter at ground level. In fact
they’re the most significant source of ions generated over the oceans. But here
on land there are other sources of ionization, things like natural
radioactivity. There are these long-lived isotopes of uranium and thorium and
their decay products that can spit out highly energetic particles in the form
of alpha, beta and gamma rays. These ionize the air and they vary widely from
place to place but they can contribute hundreds up to many thousands of ions
per cubic centimeter. If you were to recommend one of these to me that like
has the most negative ions, er, which one do you think? I would just go for which
one’s hottest. -yeah? Because it’s the heat from the lightbulb that creates the heat, which makes the reaction in the salt. Got it. Wow! This one’s great.
Yeah? This would just be perfect And then you have thunderstorms. Each
lightning strike generates copious amounts of ions. Perhaps one of the more
surprising sources of negative ions is waterfalls. As water droplets collide
with each other or with wetted surfaces with high velocity, the water molecules
create this electrified spray with negative ions that can be transferred to
the air around it. Depending on your distance from the waterfall, ion levels
can reach tens of thousands of ions per cubic centimeter. And the same effect
occurs with ocean waves crashing on shore. Hello!
Hi Derek, how are you? Good, Can I give you that?
Sure. So what I want to know is how many negative ions are there coming off
that lamp when it’s on? We have a technique involving mass spectrometry
that measures negative ions coming off of solids and so we can give it a try. Are you an ion expert?
I’ve been studying ions for 55 years.
Whoa And have
written hundreds of papers on all aspects of ions. So this is my salt lamp.
it’s meant to give us lots of negative ions. Can you tell me whether it’s giving
us some negative ions? We’re gonna have a look and the thing we’re utilizing here
is that the inlet to this mass spectrometer is at atmospheric pressure
and if there’s ions there we’ll be able to detect them. So this is like.. is it is
it kind of like an electronic nose or something for ions? sniffs
the ions. – You could think of it as a nose for ions. Yeah, yeah, sniffs the ions. -OK The lamp is next to the ion sampling
cone. I mean it’s not on yet but we’ll see if there’s any ions coming from it. -No
so this display here this would be this is our mass to charge axis here so how
how heavy they are in molecular weight essentially and if there’s ions
being formed we’re gonna see some signal on this screen. -There’d be like some peaks? Some peaks, yeah Now does it need to warm up? er -I think that’s the idea, yeah. Now
there are some places that do naturally have lower concentrations of ions, namely
the interiors of houses and businesses. Because these structures provide some
shielding from the cosmic rays and from the natural radioactivity. Plus if you
have metal ducting and air conditioning, well some of those charged
ions will get stuck in the ducts so typically levels inside homes and
businesses can be as low as around 100 or 200 ions per cubic centimeter. Ion
concentrations are also typically lower in polluted areas, in big cities or
around factories. And that’s because the ions actually cling to those
pollutants or the aerosols and so they don’t live as long in the atmosphere. So
the assertion that we live in environments with fewer ions than our
ancestors is true. If you’re thinking that you feel better
around waterfalls and oceans and after thunderstorms than you do in polluted
cities or around big factories, well maybe that’s the reason why scientists
have been studying the effects of negative ions on human health for nearly
a century. So let’s consider the evidence… In one study people suffering from
seasonal affective disorder were randomly assigned to one of three
treatment groups: bright light therapy high concentrations of negative ions or
low concentrations of negative ions. They found that both bright light therapy and high-density negative ions independently produced antidepressant effects, but not
low density negative ions. In another study, participants in a high-density negative
ion environment had significantly faster reaction times and reported being more
energetic than those in an ambient air control. Now if all this sounds too
subjective, EEG experiments showed people exposed to high-density negative ions
had a slower alpha wave frequency with higher amplitude. Participants also
reported increased relaxation, alertness, and improved working capacity. And
opposite results have been found with positive ions. In one study volunteers
were exposed to high concentrations of positive ions for two hours. Symptoms of
anxiety and excitement significantly increased. During the time of exposure
serum serotonin levels also increased significantly. This has even been taken
into real-world work environments. An air ionizer was fitted to the
air-conditioning unit in an office building and periodically turned on and
off over 12 weeks. When the ionizer was pumping out negative ions, workers
reported 50% fewer headaches. They also reported increased alertness, perceived
atmospheric freshness, and environmental and personal warmth. It’s feeling it’s
feeling pretty hot it’s been on for an hour? yeah. So the question is can a salt
lamp generate negative ions? let’s check for negative ions?
-let’s look again Doesn’t look like it. But, I mean there’s not even like a
background. No, there’s not… it’s just like it’s not even sitting there. So your conclusion after testing this device is that it’s producing no negative ions.
-We’re certainly not able to detect any negative ions. The idea for how these
salt lamps are meant to create negative ions is that water molecules are meant
to land on the surface and liberate chloride ions from the lattice. But ask any chemist worth their salt and they’ll tell you the energy required to do this
is way too high so it just doesn’t happen. What I find ironic is that there
are crystals which when heated will produce ions.
It’s just that salt doesn’t have the right crystal structure to make this
work. The gemstone tourmaline does. Those samples are worth many thousands of
dollars. Tourmaline has a structure such that if you heat it and cause it to expand, it will actually develop an electric charge on the faces
of the of the crystal you have discharges between those faces, breakdown in air and forming ions and that charge then can get transferred to any
organic molecule that’s present in the air. A five degree change was enough to generate ions.
-I just find this extraordinary that there is a crystal,
there is a material that you could heat up and create negative ions. So the
reason people wouldn’t have tourmaline lamps is because tourmaline is just
really expensive? okay so we didn’t get any ions off of the salt lamp but I
brought something along that I think might give us some ions. This is an ionic
air purifier. When this product was first launched it sold a two million units. It
works by using high voltage to ionize the air and accelerate those ions to
produce the light breeze you can feel without any moving parts.
-Okay I feel a breeze coming out of it and that should be going into the nozzle?
we’ve got it pointed right at our ion Inlet so that’s good. We seem to be
seeing some ions at the moment and we have the ionic breeze right up next to
the source so. These are negative ions these are negative ions. So if you want
negative ions what you need in your house is not a salt lamp, it’s an ionic
air purifier. Before you rush out to buy one I should warn you that generating
these ions produces an unfortunate by-product: ozone. So right now we’re
measuring about 17 parts per billion actually of ozone. So let’s put this
up to the front and see whether or not we see an increase in the amount of
ozone. It’s up over 80. So now I think we’re actually at the level of a smog
alert. So you’re saying that this device is creating air that would be considered
smog in a city? I believe so yeah. That is kind of ridiculous for something that’s
meant to purify the air. Can you smell the ozone? -yeah -whoa Does it trouble you?
Oh, it doesn’t bother me. I know it and I want to either leave the lab or turn it
off. What am i smelling for here? should… -oh yeah
the sweet smell -oh yeah -that smell a little sweet?
yeah -I uh… A lot of people like
that smell but if you smell that it’s not good. so perhaps we should shut this
off before we asphyxiate ourselves. So, generating clean negative
ions is challenging but is it even worth the effort? the research is inconsistent.
No significant difference. Evidence for beneficial effects of negative ions on
mood and performance could not be demonstrated. Of the studies that report
significant results, many have methodological problems in
some participants weren’t blinded to the treatment they were receiving. When they
were blinded they may still have known when negative ions were present by the
faint smell of ozone. Most of the studies have very small sample sizes. Plus they
surveyed participants on a number of measures increasing the likelihood
that at least one would show a significant difference, just due to
random chance. Ion levels were typically measured at the source and the distance
to subjects was not tightly controlled nor were the other components of the air
so there’s no guarantee that participants were even receiving the
expected levels of ions. A meta-analysis from 2013 reviewing all the prior human ion studies concluded there was quote “no consistent influence of positive or
negative air ionization on anxiety mood relaxation sleep and personal comfort
measures” the only link they found was between negative air ionization and
lower depression scores, though the authors caution future research is needed to
evaluate the biological plausibility of this association. Because fundamentally
the idea that ions have any biological effect is implausible. Consider that in a
cubic centimeter of air there are 10 to the 19 air molecules. So even with tens
of thousands of ions the amount is insignificant, not even one part per
billion we’re talking parts per million billion. And there’s no reason to suspect
the extra electrons would do anything anyway. I mean in your daily life
you are constantly building up charge on your skin and discharging it through
little zaps say when you touch a doorknob. What would a few more stray electrons extracellular do? – yeah Uh, probably not much.
So if ions do anything it would likely be indirectly say by removing pollutants
and odors from the air. The ions would cling to the chemicals and then they
would say get attracted to surfaces surfaces and stick to the surface the
chemicals stay on the surface. So I think ultimately if you are looking for a way
to improve your mental and physical health that is backed by strong
scientific evidence, then you should take a walk outside. I mean you can walk near
a waterfall or near the ocean if you like but the thing that is proven to
boost your mood is the exercise. And as an added bonus you’re guaranteed
to get some fresh air. Hey this episode was sponsored by
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