I was initially skeptical about the possibility that ions could affect anxiety levels until I did some research and found that a number of solid, reliable sources support the theory. For example, a WebMD feature (Mann, 2002, Reviewed by Nazario, MD), asserts that ions (invisible, odourless, tasteless molecules inhaled in various environments) may produce biochemical reactions that affect our moods and energy levels. In particular, it is believed that negative ions reduce tension and anxiety, whereas positive ions may increase it.
Ions are molecules that have a positive or negative electrical charge. They are created when molecules break apart in the air in response to radiation, sunlight, or moving water and air. Although more research is needed to prove the benefits of negative ion generators and natural sources of negative ions, Mann (2002) notes that that there is “some sound science behind the concept.”
The Benefits of Negative Ions
According to the International Labour Organization (1998), studies indicate that negative ions can induce relaxation, reduce tension, cut reaction time, improve overall alertness, and reduce the likelihood of headaches.
People report lightened moods after thunderstorms, when there are more negative ions floating around, according to ion researcher Michael Terman, PhD, of Columbia University in New York. Terman also notes studies indicating that using negative ion generators to relieve chronic and seasonal depression is as effective as taking antidepressants, but without any side effects (cited by Mann, 2002).
According to Pierce Howard, PhD, director of research for the Charlotte, N.C., Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences (cited in Mann, 2002), negative ions increase oxygen flow to the brain, which enhances alertness and mental energy and reduces drowsiness. They may also provide some protection against harmful germs and the inhalation of particles that can irritate the throat and trigger coughing and sneezing.
Positive ions, by contrast, may increase anxiety and negatively impact mood. Positive ions are usually abundant in indoor environments, especially those with air conditioners, computers, TV sets, and other electrical equipment.
Sources of Negative Ions
You are likely to find high concentrations of negative ions at the beach because of the moving ocean water (this may be one of the reasons for the ocean’s calming effect). A waterfall will also produce negative ions, as will air circulating around the mountains. Plant leaves produce negative ions when they emit water vapour, so having plants in rooms with electronic devices is a good idea.
There are negative ion generators commercially available. However, if you’re thinking of purchasing one, be sure to do a little research beforehand – not all of them produce ions at levels considered effective.
For more natural anxiety and panic disorder remedies, see the main Anxiety Treatments page.
This article series is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Medical concerns should be referred to a qualified doctor.
- International Labour Organization. (1998). Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety, Fourth Edition. Stellman, J.M. (Ed.). International Labour Office, Geneva.
- Mann, D. (Reviewed 2 June 2003 by Brunilda Nazario, MD). “Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes.” WebMD.com.
- Wolverton Environmental Services. (2008). “Frequently Asked Questions About Indoor Air Pollution.” WolvertonEnvironmental.com.