Controlled use of negative ion emitters has proved to benefit individuals suffering from air-borne allergies of the upper respiratory tract. If properly harnessed, controlled, and utilized, ionized air may become a valuable adjunct to other established methods of treatment in a number of disease states.
The study of ionization of the air has engaged the thinking of many investigators for half a century, but the many contradictory statements and publications have repeatedly discouraged and disrupted work in this field. Introduction of improved ion generators and of modern scientific methods of investigation and statistical evaluation have brought some order into this chaos. Still, the lack of standards and unified procedures seriously jeopardizes the entire field of aero-ionization.
The omnipresent but constantly fluctuating natural radiation and ionization are related factors of the physical universe. Generally, the individual is aware how subtle the changes in some atmospheric variables such as temperature, humidity, or air movement affect the human body. Less obvious is the relation of the ionization of the atmosphere to the changes in the soma. Objectives of the studies to be summarized here include the determination of how ionized air triggers these several changes, the mechanisms involved, and their relationship and interaction.
Ionization of the air is a natural phenomenon. The ion density varies according to terrestrial and atmospheric conditions: radioactivity, barometric pressure, humidity, season, time of day, air movement, precipitation, altitude, intensity of ultra-violet and cosmic radiations, or air pollution. An ion is a molecule or a small group of molecules that become electrically charged when gaining or losing an electron. The addition of an electron produces a negative ion (-) while loss of an electron converts it to a positive (+) one. Nature provides a delicate balance of ions. The relatively low natural ion levels do not permit systematic evaluation of their biologic properties. A different medium must be artificially created in laboratory and clinical experiments to permit such investigations. Only with the help of ion generators capable of producing unipolar ions in controlled concentrations can this goal be achieved. In medicine, the main interest centers on the effects of artificially created, and not on natural ion levels.
Excitation or violent attraction or ejection of free electrons from the atoms is responsible for many changes of the target material. It has been found that molecules are held together stably by means of the chemical bonds formed through the sharing of electrons between neighboring atoms. The explosive loss of an electron disrupts such bonds and converts a stable molecule into energy-rich radicals which, in their attempt to regain stable electronic configurations, may decompose several other molecules.1 Still, it is difficult to explain how an infinitesimally small number of charged molecules among trillions of uncharged ones can be biologically effective. An electric charge holds a varied number of molecules together, imparting to them certain specific characteristics which are lost when the charge is removed. Whether similar action takes place on the cellular level in living tissue awaits further proof and, for the time being, must remain a hypothesis.
Of the many practicable methods of artificial ion generation, the foremost frequently utilised are radioactive isotopes, high voltage currents, ultraviolet radiation, and charged liquid aerosols. All offer some advantages and may not always be used interchangeably. The knowledge of the most effective ion spectrum is still in an embryonic stage. Good units generate large amounts of small and intermediate ions in differing proportions and without a perceptible increase of undesirable byproducts as ozone and nitrous compounds in toxic or even irritating amounts.
For experimental work, two separate units for production of (-) or (+), or one permitting a reversion of polarities with a controlled output in excess of 100,000 ions per cc. of air, measured at a distance of six feet, are indispensable. Specially constructed collectors for measuring of ion velocity, density, and polarity are essential in investigative and clinical work.
During the last year, many ion generators appeared on the market. All supposedly produce only negative ions. The makers of some poorly conceived and executed units made exaggerated therapeutic claims. Certain models, equipped with fancy pilot lights and fans, are being sold without assurance that ions are being produced at all. This deplorable condition will be detrimental to the progress of ionization studies. Moreover, exposure to high levels of ionization over excessive periods of time may be a health hazard. At present, only individuals suffering from airborne allergies of the upper respiratory tract are known to derive some benefits from a controlled use of (-) ion emitters. It is obvious that, besides indications, there are also contraindications which must be carefully noted. Minor irritations caused occasionally by inhalation of ionized air, eg headaches, dizziness, dryness of nose and throat, and clogging of nasal passages, disappear readily after a few minutes in the outside air and without further after effects.
Much work remains to be done before effective minimum and maximum dosages, ie number of ions per cc. of air are in a given period of time, are finally determined. Until then, any attempt to make ion generators directly accessible to the lay public without previous tests must be discouraged. In the future, each unit should clearly state the density and quality of ions produced, and the public must be warned not to exceed the daily optimum of the inhalation prescribed. The increased tempo in research and widening of the circle of investigators, plus constructive criticism, should soon produce answers not yet available. Artificially ionized air is a potentially effective biologic factor, which, if properly harnessed, controlled, and utilised, may become a valuable adjunct to other forms of therapy.
In the past three decades, literature on the physical and biologic properties of air ionization has reached imposing proportions. Substantial linguistic difficulties facing a reviewer are precipitated by the nationality of the author, and the place of publication, which encompass practically the entire civilized world.
Work on aero-ionization achieved an enviable level in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of papers and books and three conventions devoted entirely to this subject witness the rapid advances made by Soviet investigators.
A limited interest in ionization was manifested in the United States for a short time during the early 1930s. The depression and war halted work on ionization for nearly 20 years. The scientific curiosity andoptimism of a single man, W. Wesley Hicks, has brought a renaissance of interest in aero-ionization. Better, safer, and more reliable instruments helped a new generation of scientists to enter this sector of atmospheric sciences with superior chances of success.
Certain physiologic facts were discovered early Soviet investigators, dominant among these being experimental proof of the biologic significance of ionization, a relatively minor element of atmospheric electricity. In this country, new methods of ion generation and quantitation were developed, making the experimental approach possible This review will be limited only to the most important findings of American authors.
An increase of CO2 capacity of the blood plasma obtained from male hamsters which were exposed to negatively ionized air was found. A significantly depressed growth of cell cultures in a positively ionized atmosphere was noted, while negative ionization had no effect different from controls. Marked effects of artificially generated atmospheric on the reaction time of human subjects were reported. Ionization levels in submarines were investigated to determine possible effects on their crews. These studies are being extended to learn more about the conditions created by prolonged submergence of submarines. It has been hypothesized that inhalation of ions present in cigarette smoke may produce pathologic effects in the respiratory tract. The experiments of Krueger and Smith have brought better understanding of the physiologic mechanisms of ionized air.
Krueger demonstrated that atmospheric ions of both polarities exert a profound influence on the ciliary activity, mucus flow, and vulnerability to trauma of the living cells of the trachea. The effects of positive air ions are:
Negative ions reverse the changes brought about by treatment with positive ions and increase ciliary activity and mucus flow above normal values. Krueger further postulated that positive air ions exert their physiologic effects by causing a local release of 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) in the trachea, while negative air ions exert an opposite effect by increasing the rate at which 5-HT is oxidized, probably through a cytochrome-linked reaction.
A reduction of succinoxidase activity in the adrenal glands of rates exposed to positively ionized air has been observed. Negative ionization produced no noticeable changes in the alpha brain wave in a number of persons exposed to either positively or negatively ionized air have been seen. The "normalizing" effect of (-) has been stressed.2.3 Positively ionized air has produced occasional headaches, nasal obstruction, dryness of throat, dizziness, and itching nose. In the same subjects, the maximum breathing capacity was reduced with (+) but no appreciable difference was noted with (-). Psychologic studies showed that a majority of persons exposed to artificially ionized air reported pleasant feelings in a negatively ionized atmosphere. Under the positive condition, there was an increase in the proportion of reported unpleasant feelings, compared to the control conditions. Good therapeutic results in nasal and paranasal affections were obtained by using the Dessauer method of ion generation with negatively charged MgO submicroscopic particles.4
In a carefully conducted study in which tritium generators were used, it was found that negative ions increased work capacity, while positive air ions had no effect. In other experiments, it was observed that (-) increased the flicker fusion threshold, while (+) had the opposite effect
Relief from symptoms of hay fever resulted in nearly 63 per cent of persons treated with (-). The improvement subsided shortly after the persons returned to a normal environment. Hay fever was aggravated by (+) in a significant number of patients. The distressing subjective symptoms accompanying attacks of bronchial asthma due to air-borne allergens were greatly improved by inhalation of negatively ionized air, but the usual auscultatory findings of rales and wheezing present before the exposure remained essentially undiminished. In these series, comprising a few hundred patients over a period of five years, no lasting after-effects were noted in persons exposed to (-), except occasional complaints of dryness of throat and nose, which subsided in a few minutes in the outdoor air.
Forty per cent of patients with hay fever developed an increase in upper respiratory symptoms when subjected to inhalation of artificially produced positive air ions. Patients exposed to negative ions with reported no effect, or felt that they had some improvement. It is significant, however, that not one of these patients complained of feeling worse.
The variation in findings here may be attributed to different sources of air ions, and thus different ion spectra used by both groups of investigators; and marked climatic variations between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Richland, Washington the two study sources. Applying a different technique based on long exposures, good results were seen in both bronchial asthma and in vasomotor rhinitis.
The deodorizing, desiccating, sedating, and pain relieving quality of (-) proved of substantial value in treatment of thermal burns. In one series of burns, relatively low ion concentrations were used, and the patients were exposed for 30 minutes only, once to three times per day. Inhalation of negatively ionized air has given encouraging results in the early postoperative period by substantially curtailing the need for narcotics and sedatives in the majority of patients. Experiments with much higher ion densities and more frequent exposures over a 24-hour period are in progress and seem to confirm previous findings.
A word of caution should be added here. The Russian literature regards coronary artery disease as a contraindication for negative aero-ionization. In the experience of this reporter, based on a limited number of cases, some beneficial effects can be obtained with carefully controlled application of the opposite polarity.
In addition to the above, slowly accumulating evidence points to the presence, chemical in nature, of infinitesimally small amounts of atmospheric by-products of the released electrical energies. What part the charged aerosols and traces of nitrous compounds may play in the artificial ionization of the air remains a matter of conjecture. Many other facets of aero-ionization must be notes before a successful duplication of all experiments can be expected. These include standardization of ion generators, development of identical ion spectra, further study of the microclimatic agents and their relation to ionization, and uniform dosages and techniques of application including grounding of the patients.
In addition, individual tolerance, resistance, or sensitivity to atmospheric electricity points to the existence of a constitutional factor. Age and state of health play an important role; children, oldsters, and persons suffering from certain diseases seem to be more sensitive to artificially produced, unipolar space charges.
A blood pressure reducing quality of (-), as claimed by many foreign sources, could not be confirmed by investigators in this country. Negative results of other investigators discouraged them from further studies of asthma, unfortunately, they neglected to state the type of chronic asthma which they attempted to influence in an asymptomatic stage. Another paper reporting the findings of an unsuccessful approach will be forthcoming soon.
There is hardly any other element of the physical environment which has caused so much confusion as ionized air. Amelioration of the indoor climate created by air conditioning and heating depends to a great extent on normalization of ion levels. Natural ionization levels in enclosed heated, crowded, or poorly ventilated spaces are being currently investigated. As a result of these findings, there will be unlimited potentials for industrial concerns specializing in the manufacture of heating and ventilating units. In medicine, artificially air is gradually gaining recognition as a valuable adjunct to other established methods of treatment.
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