Maybe you heard somewhere that negative ions can boost your depressed mood, especially during winter. A few studies happen and suddenly negative ion generators can increase feelings of well-being, and devices that emit positive ions like microwaves and air conditioners are suddenly no-nos.
Now questions burgeon in your mind. Are there steps I can proactively take to feel better, that I'm just not thinking about? Before you purchase that ion generator sitting in your Amazon cart or write off the entire theory as pseudoscience, here's what you need to know about negative ion therapy and what it can do for you.
A primer on negative ion therapy
Flipping through your old chemistry notes, you'll recall that negative ions are atoms or molecules with more electrons than protons. They are generally created when water evaporates. Simply by existing as a human on this Earth, you get a nice dose of negative ion therapy every day. Showering with hot water, for example, strips water molecules of their electrons, which go on to join other atoms.
Even before the age of the hot shower, people realized they felt happier in warm environments with moving water—especially seashores and waterfalls. Both environments are more negatively charged than the average environment. Rumors and research circulated until the 1990s when Columbia University put the rumors to a randomized double-blind test.
The study investigated how negative ions affect the winter blues. During a gloomy Manhattan winter, participants with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) sat in a room for 30 minutes daily with ionizers blasting enough negative ions to match the summer air, which is naturally more negatively charged than winter air. After several weeks of treatment, a whopping 58 percent of the experimental group reported over half of their seasonal depressive symptoms left. The participants who did not receive the treatment felt no change.
Thus I want to leave you with a few do's and don'ts when it comes to negative ion therapy:
1. Don't replace your antidepressant medication with an ionizing air purifier.
Air purifiers (though they do provide nice white noise to fall asleep to) are not anywhere near the levels of an antidepressant. The scientists conducting the study set their 25 grant-funded, Swedish ionizers to a level like nothing on Amazon will give you.
2. Do take a trip to the beach or take a walk outside after a thunderstorm.
The negligible amount of negative ions released from a purifier cannot be compared to the amount an ocean surf or a thunderstorm releases.
3. Don't spend money on a Himalayan salt lamp or negative ion jewelry.
Sure, the jewelry is stylish in yoga class and salt lamps are the hallmark of at-home Zen. But jewelry doesn't provide enough of an ion dose to feel a significant difference in mood.
4. Do take a nice warm shower every day.
I hope you take a shower daily because I care about your hygiene, but you can get a healthy dose of negative ion therapy in the shower, too. Of course, do not go overboard with four showers a day. Your skin and water bill will suffer, and the negative ion benefit isn't high enough to warrant your skin or wallet health.
5. Don't deprive yourself of microwaves, air conditioning, or computer monitors.
Yes, they emit positive ions. However, just walking on the face of the earth right before a thunderstorm gets you an incomparably higher dosage of positive ions. If you can handle your pre-thunderstorm mood, ask yourself if your modern technology asceticism is worth it.
6. Do keep plants around the house.
Plants naturally emit negative ions. As I said before, do not think the Japanese peace lily sitting on your desk can boost your mood the same way the right medication can. However, plants are natural, inexpensive gifts from Mother Earth that can make a low-budget, post-college, I'm-not-sure-I'm-an-adult-yet apartment look presentable—while emitting negative ions.
Basically, negative ions can boost your mood. However, probably not as much as you would like. Make the easy, inexpensive changes that are helpful anyway—like nature walks and houseplants. Avoid random gadgets online that don't do anything else for you except "release negative ions." In the end, all this research takes us back in time. Essentially, if you want to live and feel better, take a prescription from the Victorian doctors and go on holiday by the sea.