Healing Qualities Of Ocean Air | The Science Behind Ions

As if you needed another reason to care about the quality of the air we breathe and what we can do to improve it, consider this: Scientists believe there to be a link between breathing ocean air and feelings of happiness. If you’ve ever wondered why being near the ocean gives you that wonderful sense of well-being, this article written by Rhiannon Buck in 2007 explains how the composition of ocean air might be the source of those great vibes.

Ions in Sea Air

Ocean air contains a high percentage of ions which a surfer will inevitably encounter in their quest to find the perfect wave. These mainly come from ions of sodium, magnesium, chloride and sulphate present in sea water.  Sodium, the main positive ion found in sea water, is also found in extra-cellular fluids in our bodies. These fluids, such as blood plasma, bathe cells and carry out important transport functions for nutrients and waste. Positive magnesium ions are also used by the body and are an ingredient of some medicines like Epsom salts, which are commonly used to treat aches and pains. Negative chloride ions also play an important physiological role in the central nervous system and in transporting protein around the body.

But do these ions actually change the way we feel? The theories advocating the medicinal properties of ions tend to focus on the effects of breathing them in. It is thought that the extra charge helps our bodies take in oxygen and thus increases oxygen flow to the brain.


Alternative Thinking or Hard Fact?

Opinions on the physiological effects of ions seem to be incredibly polarised between the ardent skeptic and the avid believer. Research seems to be centered around the effect of ionizers, which create a negatively charged atmosphere similar to the relaxing natural environments near waterfalls, on mountains, in forests or by the sea.

It is widely accepted that negative ion generators remove dust particles from the air, which can help alleviate the symptoms of patients with respiratory difficulties. Similarly, scientists at St James's University Hospital in Leeds managed to entirely eliminate common bacterial infections by installing ionizers in their intensive care unit. The team explained that the ions collided with the suspended particles and gave them a charge. The charged particles then clustered together and fell out of the air, disinfecting the atmosphere.

At the New York State Psychiatric Institute, researchers found that negative ion therapy helped to alleviate the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of winter depression. During a trial, people were exposed to high and low rate flows of negative ions while they slept. Many of the patients that were exposed to a higher density of negative ions showed an improvement in their symptoms.

Negative ions are thought to alleviate depression because of their effect on serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain believed to play an important role in regulating mood. Studies in the 1970s reported that levels of serotonin could be affected by the type and concentration of ions breathed from air. The recent study at the New York State Psychiatric Institute found that devices emitting negatively charged oxygen particles had a similar effect to sunlight, which helps the body produce serotonin and ease seasonal depression.

The general consensus in the homeopathic community seems to be that negative ions have beneficial effects whereas positive ions are harmful. It is thought that positive ions cause a massive overproduction of serotonin in the blood which triggers the release of adrenaline into the brain. Although this should not cause any short term problems, if the body produces too much serotonin for long durations then it will not be able to keep up with the production of adrenaline. The sudden rush of adrenaline can cause anxiety and nervousness followed by a tired low as the body struggles to keep up.


Other Factors To Consider

Ionizer manufacturers often state that their products are emulating the negatively charged atmosphere found in forests and by the sea. However, there is no hard evidence that the therapeutic effect of nature is caused by negative ions and skeptics claim that there could be other factors at work. Scientists at the University of East Anglia have put the distinctive seashore smell down to dimethyl sulphide (DMS), a strong-smelling gas that is emitted by marine microbes. Their research also stresses that inhaling DMS, which is an irritant, is not necessarily healthy, although it is usually present in such low concentrations that it isnt particularly harmful either. In Japan, many people seem to believe that ionizers provide health benefits. Many personal products like toothbrushes, washing machines and refrigerators have been adapted to emit ions. Forest bathing, or shinrinyoku, is a popular Japanese therapy and involves being guided through a forest and taking deep breaths of the air, which is rich with particles emitted by the trees. However, forest bathers mostly agree that the improvement in their wellbeing is caused by breathing in phytoncides released by the trees. Phytoncides are organic compounds that are emitted from some plants to prevent them from rotting or being eaten by certain animals or insects.

Although the effect of ions on human health is still being debated, most people would agree that breathing fresh, clean air is good for one's health. Polluted city air and dusty indoor locations are unpleasant for most people, especially those with asthma and other respiratory conditions. Whether this has to do with ions in the air or not, there is no doubt that spending time out in nature contributes to a healthy lifestyle.

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