Something in the Air

Negative ions give a positive outlook

by Michael Braunstein

There’s an old song written by Johnny Mercer and significantly performed by Bing Crosby in the 1944 film Here Comes the Waves. It’s a sort of inspirational tune called “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.” Mercer maintained that he mined the title idea from a sermon by black spiritualist preacher Father Divine who was emphasizing the power of positive thinking. While positive thinking is truly a powerful energy, there is a negative approach that is valuable, too.

Accentuate the — negative? With apologies to der Bingle, there is a time when a negative begets a positive: When the negative is an ion. Someone once pointed out to me that people who live by the seaside seem to be happier and enjoy life more. Their theory was that it was because of the negative ions generated by the crashing waves. That was the first I heard about negative ions. And I was reminded of it just the other day when I crossed the sultry Oregon desert and dropped down into the beautiful California redwoods. Only a couple of miles into that ancient timber towering verdantly above me, I noticed an exhilarating lift of mood. I remembered that forests generate a high amount of negative ions.

Ionic columns. The universe is made of atoms, those basic building blocks of nuclei and electrons. When atoms hook up, they become molecules. Electrons are held to their host nuclei by a field of energy that varies in strength based on the type of atom. With some atoms it’s very hard to dislodge an electron from the influence of the nucleus. With others, it’s fairly easy. When an atom’s electron is knocked out of orbit or when an extra electron is picked up, it becomes an ion.

In the air we breathe, there are molecules of oxygen, nitrogen and trace gases. There’s also a certain percentage of ions. An ion can be either positive or negative. If an atom has lost an electron, it becomes a positive ion. If the atom has picked up an electron, it becomes a negative ion. In general, the consensus indicates that negative ions are good for us and positive ions are not.

Nature manufactures negative ions all the time. In a forest or a country meadow, there is a higher percentage of negative ions than in industrialized cities. Near the ocean, a mountain stream, a waterfall or large areas of green plants, the accepted average of negative ions in the air is about 2000 per cubic centimeter. Positive ions average just slightly more. Most numbers quote that the ratio is about five positive ions to four negative ones. The balance is important.

Concrete, glass and steel, electric lighting and gasoline engines dominate our cities. It is no wonder that air samples of large metropolitan areas at rush hour find little evidence of negative ions and an overwhelming percentage of positive ions. The effects of positive ions are well documented and include skin and lung irritation and the effect of “oxygen scavenging”. It affects the body like rust affects a car.

On the other hand, negative ions show some beneficial effects. Increasing negative ions in any given space has been shown to remove particulate pollution from the air. Dust, allergens, mites and motes are removed. Some sources quote findings by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that ionizing a room can lower dust particles by over 50% and bacteria by over 95%. One science journal reported in 1987 that airborne viruses were reduced by 40% when a room was ionized.

Of course, removing dust and pollution from a room or house is a good thing for asthma sufferers or persons with other allergies. Various respiratory ills such as bronchial irritation, pulmonary emphysema, laryngitis, bronchitis, cough and upper respiratory tract infections show a good response to increased negative ion concentration.

Mood waves. Early research on negative ions showed that negative ions have a regulating effect on the presence of serotonin. When persons suffering from depression or seasonal affective disorder were exposed to an elevated level of negative ions produced by an electronic negative ion generator, they expressed improved outlook. Studies in Israel found that mental acuity increased and symptoms generally associated with chronic fatigue also disappeared. Other European studies found a link between the reduction of migraine headaches and using negative ion generators.

It seems that the elevated mood that can accompany being at the beach, in a sylvan glen near a waterfall or the cozy sense of wellbeing evoked by a gentle rainstorm may be due to chemical changes in the brain brought out by natural negative ion generation.

Nature makes negative ions in a number of ways. When molecules bump into each other they have the potential to split off or gain an electron. Waves crashing at the beach, water tumbling over a mountain stream, oxygen molecules split by the electric action of lightning in the atmosphere or geothermal actions all create an abundance of negative ions. Plants, especially pine forests, generate them too. Air friction, solar and cosmic radiation and even the earth’s magnetic field can generate them. Temperature fluctuations influence them as well.

A commercial negative ion generator is an electronic device that circulates room air over an electrically charged plate, using the charge to break up molecules and create ions. In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, negative ion generators became a trendy appliance. Modern designs since then have made the negative ion generators more efficient and less bothersome. One alternative to the charge-generating device is a more natural solution known as a salt lamp. When it is heated gently, salt releases negative ions. Using a large chunk of rock salt and heating it with a low watt bulb, a salt lamp emits a steady stream of negative ions. They don’t circulate as readily as with an electric fan, but there is no need to clean or service the fixture either. Plus, they double as an attractive mood light.

Sometimes we need a dose of negativity to get a more positive outlook.

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit

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