Negative Ion Therapy

Sigh ... I see Mark Sisson has addressed the concept of ion therapy in a recent post.  I had ions on the mind while constructing my last post and just had to weigh in here.  In it he makes the following statement:

Because they are either positively or negatively charged, ions are “mobile.”

Umm ... say what?  I think he's referring to dissolved ions that move within the solvent liquid (usually water).  They do this by means of diffusion in still water, or by going along for the ride in a moving liquid such as a babbling brook or your shower.  But I'm sitting here staring at a bunch of ions in my salt shaker and they're looking rather sedentary to me.   If by "mobile" he means they jump out into the air, then this an even more misleading statement.

He then says (bolded emphasis his)

Negative ions generally appear in natural settings in greater numbers than positive ions.

Ions in natural settings exist in ratios such that the matter is electrically neutral.  Basic Law.  Since most "minerals" in water are monoatomic cations of metals (by far the most prevalent type of atom on the planet), and stable dissolved anions tend to be multiply-charged polyatomic ions, in terms of absolute numbers positive ions likely exceeds that of the number of negative ions in natural settings.  It is hard to envision a scenario whereby anions outnumber cations in natural settings.  But it's not the numbers that count anyway -- it's the net charge.  It's in UNnatural settings, such as environments created by ion generators, where ionic imbalance is sustainably created in relatively small isolated areas.  But where in natural settings do we supposedly find negative ions?:
For instance, negative ions are generated by moving water – rivers, waterfalls, crashing waves, even showers and fountains.
Folks, we cannot create negative ions from water and substances dissolved in it without concurrently creating positive ions -- the electrons have to come from somewhere!   This is the sort of thing that just drives me crazy.    Water is a molecule where two H's are attached to a central O atom, crudely H-O-H.  A very very small amount of water molecules (one in every 10-million) naturally ionize or break apart into one H+ and one OH-  ion (we'll go into the reasons why when we get to the discussions on polar molecules and acids).  But you cannot create a OHanion without creating a complementary Hcation. Mark cites this paper as proof that moving water generates negative ions -- presumably in the air.    They measured the ions near the bases of some of the largest Alpine waterfalls -- we're talking enormous mechanical energy capable of ionizing more water molecules and dispersing more water droplets and create temperature gradients between these and the surrounding air that would occur in 99.99999999999999999999999+% of the water on the planet, moving or otherwise.  They noticed an increase in both anions and cations in the air at the base of these waterfalls, but yes, more anions than cations.  This is explained on the basis of ion size, charge distribution/orientation, and surface tension effects -- the Hion is just a lone proton and likes to glom onto water molecules to form the hydronium ion H3O+.  This cation is larger than the OHanion and apparently partitions preferentially slightly more in the liquid water phase while the smaller anion partitions preferentially to the gaseous phase.  So overall, at the "natural" base of these humongous waterfalls, there are equal numbers of anions and cations, but there are more anions in the air than in the water.

If you are swayed by any of the studies demonstrating that breathing anion enriched air is beneficial, perhaps get a job on the Maiden of the Mist.  (Aside:  One of the best value touristy things you can ever do and an absolute must to do at Niagara Falls, this is 30 or so seconds approaching the base of the horseshoe on the Maiden).  Although I can attest that it was virtually impossible during the entire time in the horseshoe to breath just air w/o getting the cation enriched water molecules to go with.  Guess what happens in your airways?

You'd do better to purchase an ionizing device because an external source of electrons that does not release cations into the air is required.  These do work to create anion enriched air (so long the technology they are based on is sound), but you still need to evaluate further claims as to physiological effects on their own.  (And there's no way these devices are paleo, though.  They're not even neo!).

But for Grok's sake, realize taking showers or sleeping outside by babbling brooks and whatnot will not expose you to negative ions in any meaningful way, any more than following Jack Kruse's advice to sit on blocks of ice will freeze your ass fat off (literally, the claim was that cold causes adipocyte apoptosis, aka death).   When Mark tells you that "moving water is moving water, and showers do a good job of producing negative ions in their own right",  look for the citation.  I found it!  PIOOMA*:8675309.   According to the rationale for ion partitioning put forth in that paper, you probably have a better chance of getting a few extra ions in a steam room due to the high concentration of very small droplets of water.  But I wouldn't bet a pair of dimes on that being true.

Science schmience.  :-(  Why can't these paleo peeps just stick to their success stories and helping others with their "theory to practice" based methods.  Next time someone asks about something you know nothing about, it doesn't hurt to either not answer or admit you just don't know.  Beats making shit up complete with recommendations of things to do.  

*I think I stole that acronym correctly from someone who commented here.  My apologies for not recalling who that was!  Please identify, and take a bow!!  UPDATE:  garymar coined that acronym that I'm stealing!


an3drew said…
I was disheartened to see that silly article without an APRIL FOOL'S at the end.

I was not surprised at all to see commenters jumping in and not questioning it in any way.
Paul Jaminet said…
Well, there is a voltage gradient through the air of about 120 volts/meter, so people do collect charges on their heads and feet (
Tolovana said…
PIOOMA came from this post:

garymar :

Unknown said…
I only want Fat Burning Ions in my vicinity, I bought a device at Sharper Image called the Ion Burning Beast that I plug into an outlet at home, when I point it in my direction it sends a stream of Fat Burning Ions towards me that aid in the process of becoming Fat Adapted.

The instruction manual says that it is helpful to drape yourself in bacon while bathing in the Fat Burning Ions.

I'm not sure if it has turned me into a Beast yet but this morning I did gnaw on a leg of my dining room table which to me is proof that I must be doing something right.
CarbSane said…
OK, you lost me there Paul. What does this have to do with negative ion therapy?
CarbSane said…
Thanks Tolovana!

Gary take a bow :-)
CarbSane said…
Nitrates are negative ions. I hear draping oneself in bacon and sitting under a sunlamp is a great way to get all your negative ions ;)

Oh ... and breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Susanne said…
Why is inhaling negative ions supposed to be a good thing? Is this somehow connected to that alkaline/acid woo?
Anonymous said…
I guess you'd better educate the idiots who published this article in 'Pediatrics' journal then. These morons trying to help kids with ashthma are such schills and frauds. Maybe you should send them a link to your tutorials on science.
Forty-one experiments with positive and negative atmospheric ions were performed on 19 children, of whom 13 were suffering from asthmatic (spastic) bronchitis. The results of these experiments indicate that the atmospheric ions have the following effects.

Negative ions

1. Shorter duration of the spastic attack as compared with duration of the attack in children receiving the conventional therapeutic treatment.

2. Reduction of tachypnea in cases of spastic bronchitis and bronchopneumonia.

3. Termination of spastic attacks induced by positive ionization.

4. The effect of negative ions on respiratory spasticity usually becomes obvious about 8 hours after the beginning of the ionization.

5. When the negative ionization is stopped, a moderate rebound of spasticity and tachypnea was noticed in several cases.

Positive ions

1. Induce spastic attacks in normal infants.

2. Cancel the therapeutic effects of negative ions on patients with spastic bronchitis.

3. Cause tachypnea in infants.

4. On the average, the effects of these ions on respiratory spasticity becomes evident about 10 hours after the beginning of ionization.
Anonymous said…
Negative ions are produced in the air by water sprays. Finer sprays and distilled water increase the effect.
Josh said…
An interesting quote from 'Biological impact of small air ions' -

"The essential fact is that mice and rats display a charge-related metabolic response to air ions and this phenomenon also occurs in humans."

Oh no! Ions broken my metabolism ;)
Alex said…
Newer designs of negative ion generators have a positive plate to attract the negatively charged dust particles. The unit we had 25 years ago did not, and it turned a big spot on the white wall behind it gray. I never noticed any difference using a negative ion generator in the house, but in the car is a different story. With a negative ion generator in the car, I can drive for hours at a time without road fatigue. I won't go on a long road trip without one.
garymar said…
Ha! I'd forgotten about that. I still think the Akashic Records are a more reliable source.
CarbSane said…
Fisica, I did not question the effectiveness of therapy one way or another now, did I? Breathing ionized air from a mouthpiece attached to an electrical ion generator produced various results. It would have been more appropriate to expand on these studies. For example, what ion concentrations is an air ionizer I can buy for my home capable of generating? A lot of times the details are in the dose. Study A shows that 100mg 3X/day of Q improves X by 10% , next thing you know supplements containing 100 mcg of Q are marketed to improve X. Or foods containing trace amounts of Q but much higher concentrations of it than 99% of other foods are heralded as superfoods and used as ingredients in certain drinks and such.
CarbSane said…
From looking around, there does seem to be a connection with the alkaline/acid woo. But this study -- which was on the related studies sidebar of one Mark linked to in his article -- seems to indicate that it may have some therapeutic effect.

I note the subjects breathed ionized air of a certain concentration through a mouthpiece. They also stated that their generator produced minimal ozone. I remember a while back when the ionizing air purifiers were all the rage there was also a spate of reports that these produced quite a bit of ozone which is a respiratory irritant. So folks buying these units to breathe easier were possibly doing more harm than good.


There is no shortage of information out there warning against scams. This is my personal red flag to investigate a technology thoroughly before wasting my money. I'm also a "well if it doesn't work, it's only $X so I haven't lost much" type person, but in the area of cheap air ionizers, you can lose more apparently.
CarbSane said…
Interesting -- may be that your auto unit is capable of generating a sufficient concentration in the relatively small space to make a difference. I'd be curious if the effects would last with chronic exposure, but unless you plan on living in your car for a week ;-) ....
CarbSane said…
My level of AAAS subscription does not allow me access to that paper. I'd be curious about the serotonin thing and what exact "metabolic response" they are talking about!
garymar said…
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garymar said…
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garymar said…
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garymar said…
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Josh said…
Have emailed through a copy of the full paper. Another interesting quote from it -

"This demonstrates the ability of negative ions to promote one phase of the aerobic metabolism of carbohydrates in the Krebs cycle which produces the lion's share of energy for all organisms that use oxygen in respiration."

Ah so that's the problem, you can only metabolise carbs properly in the presence of negative ions! The Kitavans live on an island with waterfalls and moist sea breezes so they can eat all the carbs they want!

Gabriella Kadar said…
Hah! Hah! "following Jack Kruse's advice to sit on blocks of ice will freeze your ass fat off (literally, the claim was that cold causes adipocyte apoptosis, aka death)."

Tell that to the figure skating ladies! They all appear to develop some nice, thick, subcutaneous fat on their thighs and backsides as thermal insulation. For sure they are muscular but definitely not 'cut'.
Anonymous said…
Google 'Lenard effect'.

Lenard, P., 1892: Über die Elektrizität der Wasserfälle. Ann. Phys., Lpz, 46, 584–636.

These are also interesting:

Iwama, H.: Negative air ions created by water shearing improve erythrocyte deformity and
aerobic metabolism, Indoor Air, 14, 293–297, 2004.

Takahashi, K., Otsuki, T., 5 Mase, A., Kawado, T., Kotani, M., Ami, K., Matsushima, H., Nishimura,
Y., Miura, Y., Murakami, S., Maeda, M., Hayashi, H., Kumagai, N., Shirahama, T., Yoshimatsu,
M., and Morimoto, K.: Negatively-charged air conditions and responses of the human
psycho-neuro-endocrino-immune network, Environ. Int., 34(6), 765–772, 2008.

Yamada, R., Yanoma, S., Akaike, M., Tsuburaya, A., Sugimasa, Y., Takemiya, S., Motohashi,
H., Rino, Y., Takanashi, Y., and Imada, T.: Water-generated negative air ions activate NK cell
and inhibit carcinogenesis in mice, Cancer Lett., 239, 190–197, 2005.
Puddleg said…
My missan has an ion cleanse device in the AC.
As far as I can tell it emits hydroxyl ions to kill odours and airborne SARS (it's a Japanese thing, no-one's getting SARS in my ride) then switches to the opposite polarity to clean up the hydroxyls.

The Forest AC's new-generation plasmacluster ion*3 system generates and supplies plasmacluster ions (through ventilation system) at higher densities than previous systems. These ions maintain cabin air quality, not only improve reduction of airborne microbes, also minimize adhere odors on the interior trim surfaces (odor substances are destroyed by OH radicals produced from the ions).
This new NISSAN system achieves ion densities 10 times higher than previous one, and this system has introduced since Skyline Crossover with the same adhere odor reduction and improved microbes deactivation effect.

What say you proff, is this real?
Puddleg said…
So these ions are free radicals of the same sort generated by ionising radiation from Fukushima.
Puddleg said…
I have to say these hydroxyl radicals, which free radical theory had taught me were the worst sort, do not seem to cause me any problems after driving.
(unlike, say, being in a room full of smokers and drinkers).
I suppose if they were being created from the water inside my body by ionising radiation at a level my antioxidant defenses couldn't cope with, that might be different.
Location, location, location.
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