Negative Ion Therapy

What is an “Ion”?

Ions are molecules that have gained or lost an electron. Positive air ions are molecules that have lost an electron; a negative air ion is generally a molecule of oxygen with an extra electron. Ions are created in nature by sunlight, radiation, and moving air and water that causes electrons to leave hydrogen, nitrogen, and other molecules and attach to oxygen molecules.

Molecules with extra electrons from negative ions have a positive effect on the environment. They neutralize odors and contribute to the clean air and fresh smell we find in non-industrial, sparsely populated areas. Research studies have shown the biological activity of small negative ions, although we have yet to learn how highly ionized environments stimulate the nervous system.

Connection Between Ions and Mood

There appears to be a connection between air ions and mood. Long touted in the pop literature as a mood enhancer, it was not until the 1990’s that this environmental factor was evaluated for antidepressant properties. The initial clinical trial by Drs. Michael and Jiuan Su Terman at Columbia, reported in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, focused on patients with seasonal affective disorder as they experienced major depressive episodes in winter. They found high-density negative ions to be as effective as light therapy in treatment of this disorder. Low density was ineffective. The trial was performed in a true “randomized double blind,” since humans are unable to perceive or detect ion level in the air circulation. Since the first clinical trial, the effect has been replicated in patients with chronic, nonseasonal depression, most of whom had experienced inadequate response to antidepressant drugs.

Development of Compact Ion Generators

Recent advances in technology have led to the development of small, compact ion generators, such as SphereOne’s “FreshAIR”, that can produce levels of ion density sufficient for biological effect. Although the original clinical trial relied on ion exposure during the day in timed treatment sessions, more recently the method has been shown also to work during sleep, providing an innocuous, automatic and imperceptible antidepressant effect within a few weeks. Thus far, however, there have been no studies of the potential additional benefit of combining negative air ion therapy with drug or light treatment.

Further Information

Terman M., Terman J.S., Ross D.C. (1998) A controlled trial of timed bright light and negative air ionization for treatment of winter depression. Archives of General Psychiatry 55:875-882.