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Himalayan salt lamps have been an interesting lighting choice for a long time, and recently scientists may have discovered that they have some actual health benefits. Many, many years ago scientists set out to discover why people feel good when they’re on a beach or after a thunderstorm. They believe that good feeling is something more than just the mind. What they discovered is that it might just be the negative ions present in the air that creates that nice feeling.
The thought is that negative ions boost serotonin levels, which improves mood, alertness, anxiety, and even depression. The theory is simple. It implies positive ions make us feel worse, and negative ions make us feel good. Negative ions become present in the air in a multitude of ways. Some are caused by cosmic rays that spread their energy into unsuspecting air molecules. Some are caused by natural radioactivity that comes from the earth, lightning, and, water. The natural radioactivity that causes these ions is why scientists believe we feel better near the beach after a storm.
This theory seems easy to call pseudoscience, that Himalayan salt lamps cant possibly improve mental state, so a few experiments were conducted. In one, a few patients with seasonal affective disorder were given different concentrations of ion therapy to see if it would improve their condition. Just like bright light therapy, some of the patient’s depressive effects were reduced. In another study, the ions were shown to increase reaction speed and the subjects even reported being more energetic.
This is only half of the theory though. The idea that positive ions diminish mental state still needed to hold true. In another study, participants were exposed to a high concentration of positive ions, and they reported an increase in anxiety. Positive ions are left in the air when the day is cloudy or humid, which explains why humid and cloudy days seem worse than sunny or rainy ones.
Do these findings apply to Himalayan salt lamps? Well, the short answer is no. In another experiment, scientists measured the number of negative ions emitting from a himalayan salt lamp, and they found none. The issue is that the process of releasing the ions requires too much energy, more than the lamp can exude. Which is why the phenomena occur during a storm or near large bodies of water. The sun and electricity have enough energy for the process to occur, but Himalayan salt lamps do not.
The Truth Behind the Myth
There are, in theory, ways that this process could be brought inside. For the cloudy of humid days when the positive ions are present. Caltech professor of chemistry Jack Beauchamp explained that there are crystals that could ionize the air around them, but not on their own. He gives the example of lithium tantalate, which changes it’s structure when it’s temperature is changed, therefore creating areas of high and low electrical potential. This would allow for the creation of an electrical field around the crystal, theoretically resulting in the ionization of the air around it.
In conclusion, the theory of positive ions negatively affecting your mood while negative ions positively affect your mood as it’s truths. Although being able to take advantage of this by using a Himalayan salt lamp is false. While it is possible to take advantage of the discovery using a crystal-like lithium tantalate, it is not a viable option for many people. The process Beauchamp described takes precise heating and cooling of the crystal, which is not widely available like Himalayan salt lamps. So, at the end of the day, the best way scientists say to boost your mood, is to go outside.
Written by Joseph Nelson
Science Alert: What Are Negative Ions And Why Are There So Many Studies on Their ‘Health Benefits’?
Healthline: The Effect of Negative Ions
Snopes: Do Salt Lamps Provide Multiple Health Benefits?
Image Courtesy of Andrew and Annemarie’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License