Summer 2012: Breathing the Right Air
Summary: The information and research cited in this article is all taken from Rudy and Jeanie Davis’ lecture, "Just Because You're Alive Doesn't Mean You're Breathing . . . Properly!" unless otherwise noted. It has been condensed and edited by Amazing Discoveries.

How many of us wake up each morning and think about our breathing?

Probably not many, as we take this basic life function for granted. According to Drs. Rudy and Jeanie Davis, we should put more thought into the air we breathe. As the title of their lecture states, “Just because you’re alive doesn’t mean you’re breathing . . . properly!” Proper breathing improves many areas of health. It nourishes our organs with oxygen, builds up immunity, and improves circulation and digestion. More generally, it increases feelings of well-being, releases tension and stress, alleviates physical pain, and helps us sleep better.

old woman sitting by water, breathing in fresh air
Simply having good posture increases the flow of oxygen throughout the body. If you are constantly hunched over at a computer for work, the lungs cannot fully expand and take in as much air. The more we get into the habit of superficial breathing, the more the lungs lose their power to expand.

Improper breathing can lead to depression, fatigue, heart attacks, chronic pain, and even cancer. As Dr. W. Spencer Way states in the Journal of the American Association of Physicians, “Insufficient oxygen means insufficient biological energy that can result in anything from mild fatigue to life-threatening disease.”

So what does proper breathing entail?

The type of air you inhale makes a difference to your health. Breathing properly means breathing in oxygen-rich, negatively charged air. A charged atom or molecule is called an ion, and there are both positive and negative ions in the air. Positive ions have more protons (+) than electrons (-) in the nucleus, whereas negative ions have more electrons (-) than protons (+).

A negative charge is usually attached to oxygen molecules and a positive charge to all poor air quality molecules, such as carbon dioxide molecules. Air molecules can gain or lose electrical charges due to sunlight, radiation, and moving air and water. When two materials come in contact, the electrons move from one material to the other, leaving an excess of positive charge on one material, and a negative charge on the other. Negative air ions tend to concentrate near rivers and waterfalls because of the contact and disturbance of water molecules.

Other places typically rich in negative ions are up in the mountains, on the beach, in forests, where lightning has just struck, or in the country. There are usually at least 2000 negative ions per cubic centimeter in these environments, whereas a typical office will only have about a few hundred negative ions per cubic centimeter. Since North Americans spend approximately 90% of their day indoors, we consume a lot of positive ions that have potentially harmful results on our health.

In summary, negative ions are good for your health and positive ions are bad--but why?

sitive ions = poor air quality, whereas negative ions are nourishing for you. Negative ions purify the air whereas positive ions—found on floating contaminants like pollen, mold, spores, and dust—pollute the air. In addition to air quality, positive and negative ions affect our moods—for better or worse. Positive ions (bad quality air ions) are known to cause an overproduction of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps the body deal with mental, emotional, and physiological stress. An overproduction initially causes hyperactivity, which rapidly leads to anxiety and, in some cases, depression. Other symptoms include sleeplessness, irritability, nausea, heart palpitations, hot flashes, dizziness, tension, and migraines.

In contrast, negative ions are nicknamed “happy ions” because they contribute to better moods, more energy, and an overall sense of well-being. Have you ever wondered why a trip to the beach or a hike up a mountain is so refreshing, or why a trip to the country is liberating after the traffic and congestion of a busy city day? The scenery isn’t the only factor contributing to your good mood. Studies have shown that people who spend time in environments with a high concentration of negative ions are less likely to be depressed. Instead, they’ll have more energy and sleep better. Negative ions also prevent the overproduction of serotonin, thereby reducing the likelihood of migraines.

One study done by Columbia University shows how negative (good quality) air ions act like natural anti-depressants. Twenty-five people with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) sat in front of a negative ion air purifier for a half hour every morning for a month. Half the subjects were given a low level of negative ions, and the other half a high level. The higher level of negative ion treatment proved to be as effective against SAD as anti-depressants (such as Prozac and Zolof) and without the side effects of these drugs.1

Indoor Air Pollutants

Among the many pollutants in the air harmful to inhale, formaldehyde is a particularly dangerous one that is the leading cause of asthma. Formaldehyde can enter the environment through natural sources (such as forest fires) and human activities like smoking tobacco, burning automotive and other fuels, and residential wood burning. This known irritant causes symptoms such as allergic reactions, nausea, burning eyes, headaches, and respiratory problems. Thousands of consumer items are manufactured with formaldehyde, such as:

  1. Textiles and clothing for permanent press and stain resistance
  2. Household cleaning products (carpet and rug cleaners, disinfectants, dish washing detergents and floor cleaners and polis
  3. Building supplies like vinyl flooring, doors, decking, plywood, and particle board
  4. Cosmetics and personal care products (shampoos, conditioners, nail polishes and nail polish removers)
  5. Materials like plastics, foam insulation, mirrors, resins, and industrial chemicals

Another indoor air chemical, benzene, is used as a solvent and can be found in plastics, dyes, rubbers, detergents, and gasoline. It can cause respiratory and psychological problems, liver and kidney damage, as well as diseases to the blood and lymphatic systems.

Like benzene, xylene is also used as a solvent as well as a cleaning agent—most often in the plastic and computer industries. Xylene causes itchy, irritated skin on contact, but the most toxic effects result from exposure through inhalation, often leading to dizziness, headaches, coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air

Despite the bad state of indoor air, there are ways we can help improve the quality of the air we breathe indoors. Whenever possible, throw open the windows of your home to allow the health-giving fresh air to penetrate the rooms and sweep away the positively-charged poor quality air. Keeping your window open at night is an excellent idea to aid in sleep and improve the quality of the air you breathe.

In addition, God has provided a number of powerful natural air purifiers that we can bring into our homes to help keep them fresh. These air purifiers? Plants! Several varieties of plants help reduce indoor air pollutants such as formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, xylene, and benzene by absorbing these contaminants in the air. Since negative ions form through the contact of water molecules and because plants emit water vapors, plant leaves produce negative ions in the air that are beneficial to our health.

Dr. Bill Wolverton, a former senior research scientist at NASA, conducted plant studies in an attempt to improve the air quality inside confined spaces such as space pods. His study found that many plants effectively combat indoor pollutants and clean the air inside homes, offices, and indoor public spaces.

The following chart lists some indoor plants that help produce fresh, negatively charged air. Note that the removal rate is based on how the plants responded to contaminants in a sealed chamber. For a home or office environment, several plants may be required for the same effect, and removal rate may vary with plant size and growth medium.

Picture Plant Name Type Pollutants Removed Removal Rate (micrograms/hr) Placement/Care Instructions
Areca Palm
Arcea Palm Upright perennial Formaldeyde & Xylene 938 & 654 Most effective when put in carpeted rooms or those with freshly varnished furniture. Requires year-round warmth, humidity, and filtered sunlight
Boston Fern
Boston fern Hanging perennial Formaldehyde & Xyzlene 1863 & 208 Place in newly furnished or carpeted room for best results. Grows best in medium to bright light. Water when soil is dry
Janet Craig
Janet Craig Upright perennial Formaldehyde & Xylene 1361 & 154 Especially effective in newly carpeted or furnished rooms. Needs bright to medium light. Keep soil evenly moist
English Ivy
English Ivy Climbing perennial Formaldehyde, Xylene, & Benzene 1120, 131, & removed 90% from sealed chamber Most effective in a freshly painted or carpeted room, but also in rooms with synthetic materials (computers, printers, fax machines) or ink. Grow in bright light
Lady Palm
Lady Palm Upright perennial Formaldehyde 876 Easy to grow (even in winter as it’s a tolerant plant) but grows slowly, often to more than 14’ in height
Spider Plant
Spider plant Trailing perennial Formaldehyde, Xylene, & Carbon Monoxide 560, 268, & removed over 96% from sealed chamber Useful in kitchens and near fireplaces where carbon monoxide accumulates. Easy to grow in bright to medium light
Dwarf Date Palm
Dwarf date palm Upright perennial Formaldehyde & Xylene 1385 & 1610 This slow-growing plant requires a bright location free of drafts
Peace Lily
Peace lily Upright perennial Formaldehyde 939 Prefers indirect sunlight and high humidity. Place out of drafts and thoroughly water, allowing it to go moderately dry between waterings

With these helpful plants, you can grow your own fresh air indoors and start positively benefitting from all those negative ions. Ellen White reminds us in Counsels on Health, “Your lungs, deprived of air, will be like a hungry person deprived of food. Indeed, we can live longer without food than we can without air, which is the food that God has provided for the lungs.” (p. 54)

With summer upon us, let’s get outside as much as possible to enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and beautiful creation God has given us so that we will be alive and breathing properly!

i. Finley, M (1996). "The PC Blahs: Do you Have Ion-Poor Blood?" Future Shoes

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