What if I told you there was a zero cost way to lower chronic pain, improve sleep, decrease healing time, relieve stress, and increase immune function?
You would either be interested in hearing more or think I am lying about it.
But there are many scientific studies that suggest that such a thing might exist, and is free and easy to do. All you have to do is connect back to the earth…
Grounding (or earthing) is the practice of connecting to the earth (in an electrical sense) to improve health. It can be done in a low-tech fashion, such as walking, or sitting on the ground with some skin making contact. Or it can be done in more high-tech ways such as using a grounding mat indoors that is connected to the earth, often through the grounding connection that is already wired into the house for safety purposes.
The modern earthing movement was launched by Clint Ober, whose background is not medicine or health but cable TV. After a major health crisis he left the industry to find himself.
What he eventually found was that his health (and others’) was greatly enhanced by being electrically connected to the earth. Since in our modern life we are usually insulated (not making contact through a conductor) from the earth by wood floors, rubber soled shoes, rubber tires and the like, we are missing the health benefits from the electrical connection. His book, Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever, chronicles his journey and contains countless success stories of how he has changed people's lives by simply reconnecting them to the earth.
If this sounds like a load of hogwash to you then you think a lot like me. When I first heard the concept from a friend I laughed and quickly went to Pubmed (where you can find more than 29 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books) to find some scientific studies disproving this ridiculous concept.
I was shocked to find a large number of early peer reviewed studies showing that it might just work…
What Science Says
Most of the scientific studies done on grounding involve grounding equipment instead of barefoot contact with the earth. This is good science, because one of the things that we want to do is rule out the placebo effect. Unfortunately it is impossible to have one group of people stand barefoot on the ground and another group not and compare their results because of the placebo effect. But when they use equipment such as an earthing mat (a mat designed, and sold, by Ober) one group can get real mats, and the second group can get “sham” mats that are not actually connected to a ground, but appear to be.
One of the first studies published on grounding dealt with sleep pain and stress. It was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2004 by Ghaly M and Teplitz D.(1) They found that grounding improved sleep and reduced pain and stress in the group trying it compared to the placebo group on self-reported on surveys. Additionally, the grounded group objectively had reduced levels of cortisol and their hormone secretion seemed to better align with a normal 24 hour circadian rhythm.
In the same journal in 2010, Brown et al (2) published a pilot study on the effects of grounding on muscle soreness and immune system activity. They discovered that grounding sped muscle recovery as well as had a measurable effect on immune system activity as measured by white blood cell counts, bilirubin, creatine kinase, phosphocreatine/inorganic phosphate ratios, glycerylphosphorylcholine, and phosphorylcholine.
The athletic world took the alleged effect seriously even before this study. One example is Jeff Spencer, M.A., D.C., who had the athletes on a Tour de France team he was working with use grounded sleeping bags to boost recovery in 2003. That team, the U.S. Postal Service, went on to win and athletes have been using grounding ever since.
In a series of five experiments looking at the physiological effects of grounding published in 2011 by Sokal and Sokal (3), they found that nighttime grounding positively affected the bodies’ balances of certain minerals (specifically iron and calcium), the concentration of electrolytes in the bloodstream, thyroid hormone levels, and blood glucose regulation in diabetics.The researchers concluded:
“Earthing the human body influences human physiologic processes…
...It may be the primary factor regulating endocrine and nervous systems”
More and more studies are coming out demonstrating the positive effects of grounding. Other alleged benefits include faster wound healing, reduced jet lag, assistance with autism, increased energy, a positive effect on heart rate variability, improved blood pressure, lower blood viscosity, improvements in arthritis (both osteo and rheumatoid) and improvements in multiple sclerosis.(4)
Wow. It seems like grounding might be a “cure all.”
How Does It Work?
In simple terms the theory is that the earth is a source of infinite “free” electrons, and by making electrical contact with the earth the electrons move to our body. The electrons allegedly have a healing effect.
To get a little more technical the theory is that electrons act as powerful antioxidants. The most well known antioxidant is Vitamin C. Antioxidants prevent oxidation, the chemical process that leads to the production of free radicals which damage the body.(5)
A radical is an atom, molecule, or ion that has an unpaired valence electron. Since it is unpaired, the electron is generally highly chemically reactive.(6)
So the theory is that the electrons from the earth move into your body, pair with the unpaired electrons of free radicals, and neutralize them from causing damage or inflammation in the body.
There is also an argument that since we are constantly exposed to electric fields (such as the one being produced by the device you are currently reading this on) they disrupt our natural electric field. By being connected to a “ground” it is impossible for these fields to affect our own field because the connection to the ground will always equal out our electric potential. This was demonstrated by Applewhite in 2005.(7)
All this sounds great, but most of the health and scientific community is still skeptical.
What the Critics Say
The first and largest criticism of grounding is that almost all of the research has been done by people with a connection to companies that sell “grounding” equipment and therefore have a vested interest in showing it works so that they can make more money.
Independent studies, however, have demonstrated positive effects that are starting to emerge with time, and I have yet to find a study that doesn’t show a positive effect with grounding.
Critics also point to the fact that advocates of grounding often cite testimonials about grounding that sound absurd. Stories, for example, of people who could not walk and then regaining health and mobility after one night of sleeping with a grounded mat on their beds.
And after listening to Ober’s book I can attest that it sounds like an 8 hour 41 minute cheesy infomercial that gives the impression all the health problems in the world can be solved by grounding. He does, though, occasionally mention that the effects don’t help everyone and that it is simply another piece of the health puzzle that should complement a healthy diet and regular exercise.
There is also a dispute about whether the theory behind it is valid. Some argue that since the atmosphere has a positive charge it will cancel out any negative charge from the earth, others that our shoes aren’t “insulated enough” to stop this process from occurring even with rubber-soled shoes, and of course the fact that free radicals are part of natural healthy body processes and not all bad or the cause of every major illness.
The Bottom Line
There certainly needs to be more and better research done before we can definitively proclaim that grounding is an important and necessary component of health that everyone needs to be doing.
However, everyone can agree that being grounded is not harmful. The biggest danger that the critics cite is wasting money (less than $100) on “grounding equipment” that has no proven effect.
But even people involved in the movement will tell you that the equipment is not necessary, and that the easiest way to start getting grounded is to walk, sit or lay on the ground with your skin in contact with the earth. But since this is not always accessible (there could be dangers from walking barefoot in some areas, and also some people will be stopped by the weather), they are now selling equipment that makes it easier to try it out.
I should note that Ober mentions that instead of going outside, a concrete floor in a basement will ground you as well. He recommends wetting the surface to make it more conductive before you make skin contact with it (you probably want to use the bottom of your feet for contact).
The recommendation from Ober about the minimum effective dose for grounding is 30-40 minutes, done at least 3-4 times a week. But he also states that many people will feel something immediately and that more is better. Ideally he recommends that you be grounded almost all day (close to 24 hours) everyday. To get even halfway to that level you probably need a grounded sheet or sleeping mat, unless you want to start sleeping on the ground.
The equipment that is currently on the market includes grounded sheets for sleeping, grounded mats for sitting or standing while inside, and grounded shoes for walking on the ground (they have a conductive system built in so you are electrically connected to the earth, except when a man-made surface such as asphalt blocks the connection).
None of these are very expensive (again most are under $100) and there is certainly research that backs their having an effect.
After reading the research on grounding I came to the conclusion that it falls in the category of “little to lose and a lot to gain” by incorporating it in my life.
My wife and I decided to invest in pairs of Earthrunners, running/hiking sandals, so we can walk on the ground, grounded. The sandals were cheaper than the hiking sandals that we currently use (Chaco) and we feel they are much more stylish.
Now we just have to see how they hold up and if we feel any better. If we do, investing in a grounded sleeping mat will probably be the next step.
The biggest caution that grounding deserves is thinking of it as a magical cure all. It does not replace a healthy diet and regular exercise - if it works it is a complement to them.
No one debates the need of our bodies to get proper nutrition, exercise, and rest. Before you worry about how to get the “new” discoveries to improve your health make sure that you are covering the basics first.
If you have any questions about grounding or your own story about it I would love to hear it. Just send me an email at David@magenfitness.com.
4. Ober C, Sinatra ST, Zucker M. Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? Laguna Beach, Calif, USA: Basic Health Publications; 2010.
7. Applewhite R. The effectiveness of a conductive patch and a conductive bed pad in reducing induced human body voltage via the application of earth ground. European Biology and Bioelectromagnetics