Barefoot and Healthy: The Benefits of Earthing
This blog post was written by Victoria L. Freeman, Ph.D., CHFS, CMH
When was the last time you took a leisurely walk through the grass … barefoot? Walked barefoot on the beach? Dug into the earth with your bare hands? If you’re like most of us, it’s been way too long.
According to the EPA, the average American spends 93% of their life indoors, 87% in enclosed buildings, and 6% in a car.4 That only leaves 7% of our lives spent outdoors or about half of one day per week. What a shift compared to our ancestors! In the holistic health arena, we’ve long known how great it feels to connect with nature, but could this missed opportunity have a deeper, more devastating effect than we realized? What sort of impact does this separation from Mother Earth really have on our health?
We live on this planet, yet we’re separated from its inherently healing energy. Take, for example, the use of synthetic soled insulated shoes, which replaced leather conductive material starting in the 1960s. It’s probably no coincidence that this is also when the prevalence of chronic, inflammatory diseases skyrocketed in this country, says Clinton Ober, Earthing Founder and co-author of Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever!9 Likewise, consider our transition from sleeping on animal hide mats and working with our hands and feet covered in Earth just a few generations ago to our current lifestyle of spending most of our time indoors and sleeping on elevated beds.
Native Americans historically believed in the nourishing benefits of a skin-to-Earth connection, as have proponents of Chinese medicine.1 Today, though, we seem to have lost reverence for the Earth’s healing power. Is it possible that this modern-day disconnect is contributing to the surplus of chronic diseases with which we now live? Let’s find out.
What Is Earthing? How Does It Work?
Earthing or grounding refers to the discovery that a direct physical connection to the Earth’s natural electrical charge stabilizes our physiology, resulting in profound and transformational health benefits. Getting connected can be as simple as standing barefoot on the ground or using affordable indoor grounding devices (more on these later) that reestablish our lost and needed connection with the Earth. In short, research has shown us that the Earth’s surface electrical potential acts as a stabilizer or “ground” for our electrical bodies much as it does for appliances and other electronics systems.8
With the energy we receive from the sun, we make vitamin D. The Earth gives us energy, too – a kind of “natural electricity” or “vitamin G” (for Ground) as some people call it. This Earth energy, which comes from a virtually unlimited supply of sub-atomic particles called electrons, is constantly replenished by the sun, lightning, and our planet’s deep molten core, giving our landmasses and oceans a subtle negative electrical charge.2
Scientists have found that it’s these free negatively charged electrons, from the Earth, that keep our bioelectric bodies balanced by altering the positively charged free radicals, which are the hallmarks of inflammation. “You cannot have inflammation in a negatively charged environment,” explains Ober.9 All modern electrical systems, from large power grids to the appliances in our homes, are “healthier” when they’re connected to the Earth. The same is true for us.
All of our cells are electrically conductive, even diseased tissue or scar tissue. Your heartbeat, nerve impulses, breathing, and digestion all rely on inherent electrical signals. Since tissues and organs are in a constant state of self-renewal – repairing and regenerating – optimal health depends on a fresh, continuous flow of healing potential, explains Laura Koniver, M.D., integrative medicine physician and author of The Earth Prescription: Discover the Healing Power of Nature with Grounding Practices for Every Season.5
When we aren’t grounded, that fresh flow is interrupted. Daily wear and tear, stressors, and resulting inflammation all “pile-up” if they have nowhere to go. We become a closed electrical loop, disconnected from the Earth with no way to unload the free radicals, oxidative damage, and inflammation we accumulate each day, Koniver says.5 Grounding offers the divinely given opportunity to discharge this tension back into the Earth. Cardiologist Stephen Sinantra, M.D. explains it best: Earthing is like taking handfuls of antioxidants, and the best part is that the effects are direct and virtually instantaneous.9
What Research Says About Earthing
“The initial [Earthing] studies conducted to date – some two dozen as of 2020 – strongly suggest a distinct, positive, and rapid shift in the physiology that may one day give rise to whole new definitions of what is normal,” according to Gaétan Chevalier, Ph.D., Earthing researcher and Director of The Earthing Institute.3 Much of the research has explored how Earthing benefits inflammatory and pain conditions, and so far results are remarkably positive. Thermal imaging studies show an almost immediate reduction in inflammatory markers and research and clinical reports cite profound reductions in pain or, in some cases, complete pain cessation.7 More research is needed, but the possible implications are striking when you consider how many chronic diseases have inflammatory components.
Other pivotal findings include reductions in blood viscosity and improvements in blood flow due to stronger red blood cell zeta potentials after Earthing. “Zeta potential refers to the strength of the negative charge on the surface of red blood cells, a factor that maintains spacing of the cells in the bloodstream,” reports lead researcher Wendy Menigoz, Ph.D. and her colleagues in a 2020 review study published in the scientific journal Explore.7 Higher zeta charges result in a greater ability of the red blood cells to repel each other (less clumping), which, in turn, results in better blood flow. This finding, researchers assert, is one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for reducing cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events.
Other benefits of Earthing include a healthier stress response, improved mood, reduced blood pressure, faster wound healing, more restful sleep, improved exercise recovery, and even better joint function for our companion animals 7, 8. See the diagram below for Earthing’s reported benefits to date.
Image Copyrighted by Earthing Institute and reprinted with their permission.
Earthing Is Accessible to Anyone
Earthing is easy and affordable so you can experience these benefits today. Simply go on barefoot picnics, get grounded on nature trails, walk on the beach or swim in the ocean, take your yoga, tai chi, or qigong routine outside, or dig your bare hands into your garden’s dirt. In some regions, the weather permits this natural connection several months of the year, yet many of us simply don’t make time for this activity. If weather, time, or location restraints are a concern, tools are available that enable you to get grounded without upending your life.
In 1998, Ober went to work developing “barefoot substitutes”, like conductive mattress mats for sleeping grounded, mousepads, body bands, and patches. Connect these devices to a grounding rod placed in moist soil outside a window or simply insert them into the grounding hole of a grounded electrical outlet and you’re good to go!
How long will it take to feel better? The answer depends on where and what your problems are, and where the Earth’s electrons enter your body. If electrons enter through the bottom of your feet, research suggests it takes about 20 to 30 minutes for them to reach as high as your belly.8 So if the pain is in your ankles, you could start feeling relief sooner. If the problem is in your neck, it could take a little longer. Your best bet is to apply a grounding patch directly on the area of concern. Some people experience tingling sensations almost immediately. Some feel relief after just one 30-minute session, while others need more time – hours or even weeks. Some may not feel any benefits at all, however, Earthing is likely supporting your body in some way. Everyone’s physiology is different, but, in general, the greater and more complex the problem, the more time you’ll need to spend connected. One thing is universal though – the benefits of Earthing subside when you stop doing it so make it a part of your daily routine.
Earthing is one of the simplest and safest ways to improve your health, but since it does improve blood flow most experts agree Earthing has a slight blood-thinning effect, which may mean caution for anyone on those medications. In fact, given Earthing’s widespread effects, those on prescription medications or using cardiac devices, like pacemakers, should consult their doctor.6
About the Author:
1. A Brief (and Certainly Incomplete) History of Earthing. (2020). Earthing Institute. (Retrieved July 2, 2020, https://earthinginstitute.net/brief-history-of-earthing/.
2. A Brief Guide to Earthing. (2020) Earthing Institute, https://earthinginstitute.net.
3. Chevalier, G. A New Health and Healing Frontier. (2020) Earthing Institute Website. (Retrieved July 2, 2020, https://earthinginstitute.net/board-of-advisors/).
4. Klepeis, N.E., et al. (2001). The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS). Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Berkeley, California. (Retrieved July 1, 2020, https://indoor.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-47713.pdf).
5. Koniver, L. (2020). The Earth Prescription: Discover the Healing Power of Nature with Grounding Practices for Every Season. Reveal Press: Oakland, California.
6. Medical and Medication Considerations Advisory. Earthing Institute Website. Retrieved on July 30, 2020. https://earthinginstitute.net/medical-and-medication-considerations/.
7. Menigoz, W., et al. (2020). Integrative and lifestyle medicine strategies should include Earthing (grounding): Review of research evidence and clinical observations, Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing,16(3), 152-160.
8. Ober, C., Sinatra, S. and Zucker, M. 2014. Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever! 2nd Edition. Basic Health Publications.
9. The Earthing Movie: The Remarkable Science of Grounding. (2019). Green Planet Productions, LLC: Big Picture Ranch, Ojai, California. (Retrieved on July 2, 2020) from https://earthinginstitute.net/the-earthing-movie/.