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Negative Ions or Coffee: What is Better for Staying Alert at the Wheel?

Mar 13, 2008
Is there an alternative to coffee for staying alert while driving-something without the familiar addictive side effects one can experience from caffeine. Researchers believe air charged with negative ions may be the remedy to prevent drivers from nodding off on the highway.

Negative ion air purifiers for cars make clean airflow available to a driver. It accomplishes this by releasing negative ions into the car's atmosphere. These negative ions attach themselves to positive ions in the air. Micro particles, of a positive charge, are fungi, exhaust, bacteria, dust, mold, and other pollutants.

When the negative ions attach to these positive particles, they form a cluster. The resultant cluster is now too heavy to remain in the air. It falls to surfaces inside the car. The result is cleaner air to breathe in the vehicle, while a simple wiping of the surface cleans away the residue. Fresher air means an energized driver who is more alert.

Why is ionization of vehicle interior air a better alternative to coffee? Coffee is a stimulant because of the caffeine present within. Regular over-indulgence of coffee can lead to caffeine addiction.

This addiction can interfere with one's normal life activities including driving. Some of the addictive side effects of caffeine are irregular heartbeat, diarrhea, rambling thought flow and speech, and nervousness (Psychology Today, Online Edition, Caffeine-Section II-Symptoms, Review date April 2005).
Those who rely on caffeine to function and then strive to wean themselves off may experience certain other adverse effects. Withdrawal symptoms can include depression due to decreased serotonin levels. Researchers point to the fact that depression and low serotonin levels go hand in hand.

A John Hopkins study found that withdrawal symptoms such as depression start as early as twelve to twenty-four hours after the last drink of caffeine. Symptoms can last for one to nine days with peak intensity at one to two days (John Hopkins Medicine, Online Edition, September 29, 2004, Caffeine Withdrawal Recognized as a Disorder, Paragraph 7).

Some automobile manufacturers already have 'ion air conditioning' in place in some models of cars in Japan. To promote alert driving these systems clean and cool the air utilizing negative ions. It is a way to keep the air fresh inside a car so drivers remain awake and focused.

Ionization of air with negative ions is a process that produces no side effects. This makes it a perfect coffee substitute for motorists. Research at Columbia University measured the antidepressant benefits of negative ions. Related to seasonal affective disorder it nonetheless showed air induced with negative ions acts as an antidepressant (Terman M, Terman JS, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, Abstract, 1995); the exact opposite of caffeine withdrawal causing depression symptoms.

The studies also showed no side effects from this ionization treatment. This bodes well for negative ion purification use in many other areas. The potential benefits for drivers prone to nodding off are undeniable. Fresh, clean air invigorates and promotes a positive attitude.

A refreshed energized driver is a safer driver. While coffee may give a short-term boost of energy, it is not long lasting. It eventually has a downer effect. More coffee will not reverse this effect. It will instead cause adverse symptoms to develop.

It is common sense to continue further study in this area. The automobile industry's initial forays show promise. Having negative ion air purifiers in your car is an available option right now. You can purchase portable models to install in a vehicle.

The Department of Transportation has not issued any edicts on requiring them them, though. However, further study on making them standard features in vehicles for the promotion of driving safety is something to consider.
About the Author
Thomas Fox is in his final stage of his Ph.D. project at Walden University where he studies leadership organizational change and decision sciences. It is his opinion that making good decisions while driving is without doubt improves safety on highways. Mr. Fox's objective is to further research negative ions and productivity enhancing methods and tools for cars and workplace environments.
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