How going barefoot can lead to a happier and healthier you

Did anyone ever tell you to ‘stay grounded’? Usually it means something psychological, staying in touch with what’s real during good (and really good!) times as well as bad (and really bad!) times. Many Nutrition & Healing readers – not just electricians – know that ‘staying grounded’ also has a physical meaning. During the last 20 years, researchers have been connecting physical grounding (also called Earthing) with health.

Earthing or grounding means putting human bodies back in contact with planet Earth, as nearly all generations of humans have been in the past, but mostly aren’t any more. While the exact electrical charge of the Earth is still being debated (just check online!) and very likely is variable, in the past human beings have been much more directly in touch with this electrical charge.

Think for a moment: Did Adam and Eve wear shoes, or walk on wooden floors or concrete pavements? Did wandering primitive people carry their bed frames on their backs? Where were the chairs that cavemen (and cavewomen) sat on? As ‘civilisation’ has progressed, we’ve lost direct contact with our planet, and – as an increasing amount of Earthing research shows – we’ve lost the health-supporting effects of that contact without even knowing it!

We’ve lost touch with the Earth

You can keep in contact with the Earth in the simple traditional ways – going barefoot, sitting or lying on the ground. Or that contact can be made in a more modern way, by connecting your body to the Earth by sitting or lying on a pad which conducts tiny natural electrical currents from your body to the Earth and back again.

Earthing, or the process of reconnecting to the subtle energies of the Earth, was reidentified in the 1990s by Clint Ober, who had spent most of his life in the cable TV business working around insulated wiring. In the electrical business, insulation of electrical wires is important to prevent shock and loss of current from the wiring.

But Ober apparently had an ‘ah ha’ moment when he realised that all but a few remaining ‘primitive’ peoples have given up going barefoot and walking on the natural surfaces that keep our feet literally in touch with the Earth. First, humanity began covering their feet with natural materials and then – in less than 200 years – we were wearing shoes with plastic or rubber soles, completely insulated from the subtle energies of the Earth.

Even worse, we’re walking on cement, wood, or other materials that are very poor conductors. Ober realised that nearly all of us have – again literally! – lost touch with the Earth!

Ober began to advocate going barefoot to connect to the Earth’s subtle energy and reduce inflammation in the body. In truth, this isn’t a new discovery, but a new understanding of a principle understood from ancient times. The return-to-nature movement that began in Germany in the late 19th century advocated going barefoot outdoors in all types of weather. In the early 1900s, others researched the impact of sleeping outdoors or while being grounded in some way to the Earth. But these studies were not very well known (and still aren’t).

It was from Ober’s initial studies that researchers began to piece together how Earthing might be of benefit to health. In one study, for one month 60 participants between the ages of 23 and 74 slept on matt ress pads designed by Ober that were constructed of a conductive type of carbon fibre. All study participants had experienced at least six months of sleep disturbance and had musculoskeletal or joint pain.  Half of the mattress pads were grounded to an outside source and half were not actually grounded but appeared to be. At the end of the month, most of those who had slept on grounded mattress pads had symptom relief, while most of the control group did not. Besides improvements in sleep and pain levels, participants also had improvements in respiratory conditions and blood pressure.1

Getting grounded can fight chronic disease

Dr. James Oschman, a biophysicist and biologist, was introduced to Ober’s work and became a strong proponent. He and others interested in the benefits of Earthing on human physiology have asked the question: ‘Are we missing something in the assessment of chronic disease?’2

Our planet is a source of electrons producing a very subtle flow of energy into the bodies of any living creature – including humans – that are in direct contact with it. Researchers studying the effects of grounding, point out that this energy flow is often interrupted by our modern lifestyle and this leads to the ‘disconnect’ that so many people feel today.

Studies show the benefits that grounding gives to the human body. Earthing promotes a healthy heart rate, decreases levels of chronic inflammation, reduces pain, improves sleep, and even thins the blood. Simple practices such as walking barefoot outside on the Earth itself, or working and sleeping inside connected to grounding systems will give you the contact that’s needed.

Understanding the relationship between health and energy systems, including those related to the feet, is not a new concept. Acupuncture, used successfully in China and the East for thousands of years to treat illness, involves manipulating subtle energy systems or meridians. If those same areas in our feet that correspond to identified acupuncture points come in contact with the ground it’s believed that we will get some of the same benefits.

One major point in the foot, well known by acupuncturists as Kidney 1 (K1), is a particularly good meridian for the entire body. A number of studies have confirmed the benefits of acupuncture for treating various health conditions, including pelvic and back pain in pregnancy3, pain in cancer patients4, and the symptoms of fibromyalgia.5 It’s reasonable to assume (although not yet scientifically proven) that putting the K1 meridian in direct contact with the Earth will achieve some of the same health benefits.

Earthing helps restore electron balance

When an area of the body is injured or inflamed, white blood cells release substances (‘reactive oxygen species’ for the technically inclined) that kick-start the healing process using a controlled degree of inflammation. But if that oxidation-initiated inflammation gets out of control, healing is slowed or even stopped, and the problem becomes chronic.

Substances known as antioxidants usually stop inflammation from going too far by restoring electrons that are lost to oxidation.6 But the name antioxidants is a poor name for losing electrons because being oxidized often has nothing at all to do with oxygen. And antioxidants often restore electrons that have been removed by any chemical substance, natural or otherwise

Even more confusing, in some situations, certain antioxidants can actually remove electrons themselves! What these substances actually do is regulate the proper flow of electrons, donating or receiving them as needed. Since 100% of all biochemical reactions involve electrons, to be accurate antioxidants should be called ‘electron exchange regulators’ or ‘electron status normalisers’.

Antioxidants are found in many foods. Some of the most active are found in berries, pomegranates, kale, red beets, almonds, soya beans, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon and chocolate. These foods, as well as other forms of vitamins and minerals, can provide electrons to naturally slow down inflammation – the first stage of healing – so the other stages can occur. Electrons received through the feet – or any other part of the body – from contact with the Earth will also act to settle down the uncontrolled or chronic inflammation that’s been shown to be involved in so many illnesses.

The benefits of grounding are about more than just feeling good. Those conducting research into Earthing hypothesise that free electrons, obtained directly from contact with the Earth, reduce oxidative (electron-robbing) reactions by interacting with free radicals (electron robbers).7

Earthing research indicates that grounding right after an injury can provide energy – in the form of electrons – to alleviate the damage.8 (Please see page 7 for more on the use of electrons for healing acute injuries.) Preventing damage to healthy tissue, and promoting a healing response through grounding, occurs through electron transfer, as described by Oschman.9

From metabolic to mental health – grounding has got you covered

In an earlier study of conductive mattress pads and patches, Applewhite also confirmed there is a transfer of electrons and an equalisation of the electrical state between the human body and the Earth when the body is grounded.10 This research also makes the point that grounding may be very important for those doing various forms of bodywork, such as acupuncture and massage, to prevent depletion of too much of their own energy.11

Previous studies have shown that there is an electrical impact produced in the body through grounding or Earthing.12,13,14 In a study of Earthing using a structure that blocks electromagnetic energy (a Faraday cage) differences were measured between the electrical charge in people in a grounded versus an ungrounded state. The Faraday cage in this study was a concrete building in which participants slept for seven to eight hours each night of the study to standardise the process and minimise outside electromagnetic influences. The study assessed five different body parameters – calcium and phosphate balance, levels of iron, electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride), thyroid hormones, glucose and immune response to vaccines.

When compared with the ungrounded volunteers, the grounded volunteers had statistically significant changes in serum sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron, free T3, free T4, TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) total protein, and albumin concentrations as well as in levels of transferrin, ferritin, and globulins α1, α2, β, and γ. In diabetic individuals, grounding decreased blood sugar. There was also a reduction of calcium and phosphorus loss in the urine. These results suggest grounding might be a valuable adjunctive therapy in the treatment of osteoporosis, non-insulin dependent diabetes, thyroid disease and other metabolic disorders.15

You’ve likely heard that astronauts have problems with bone loss. These same researchers wrote: “The effect of the earthing on calcium-phosphate homeostasis is the opposite of that which occurs in states of weightlessness.” Makes sense, no? It appears that anyone suffering from osteopenia or osteoporosis should (among other things) get grounded. No interplanetary travel, until the bones are better!

The researchers who conducted these studies also wrote that Earthing can modulate the nervous system (for the technically inclined, ‘can have a neuromodulatory role’) in a process measurable with an EEG (an electroencephalogram, which is used to detect brainwaves) and other methods of assessment. They theorise that neurologic function may be regulated through Earthing’s effect on electrolytes and electrical balance.16

In a randomised, double-blinded study, neurological effects were seen in participants after grounding, including a reduction in stress and tension, autonomic nervous system changes, and changes in EEG readings.17 A second study had similar findings.18

Another double-blind study showed the ability of grounding to shift the body from a sympathetic (more excited, or aroused) state to a parasympathetic (calmer, more relaxed) condition. This shift was demonstrated through skin electrical conductance measurements, which found tiny changes in an already tiny electrical flow in the skin in grounded and ungrounded states. Respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood oxygenation also shifted during the study, depending on the grounded versus ungrounded state, leading the researchers to believe a healing response was occurring during grounding in the otherwise healthy study participants.19

Earthing may improve blood flow

If blood is too thick (too viscous) your risk for heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular illness is significantly increased. Red blood cells have tiny but measurable electrical charges on their surfaces. And, surprisingly, the amount of that electrical charge can increase or decrease blood viscosity. If there’s more electrical charge on the red blood cells the blood becomes thinner and if there’s less electrical charge, there’s more viscosity.

How does that work if the number of red blood cells hasn’t changed?

If you’ll recall, in your secondary school physics class you were shown that positive charges attract negative charges and repel positive ones, while negative charges repel negative ones. The charge on the membrane of every red blood cell is exactly the same, so all red blood cells tend to repel each other. But when that charge is weaker, the repelling effect is also weaker, so the RBCs can clump more easily. When the charge is stronger, the repelling effect is greater, the cells don’t clump as easily, the viscosity is less, and blood flow is improved

This negative electrical charge on red blood cells was recognised and even named well before anyone started to study Earthing. It’s called the zeta potential.20 The higher the zeta potential, the less the blood cells tend to clump, and the blood is less viscous, even with no change in the number of cells.

Cardiovascular health researchers have studied the impact of grounding on blood viscosity. They found that Earthing has beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors. In one study, 10 healthy volunteers were recruited for a two-hour grounding session to determine its effects on blood viscosity.21 Each volunteer had four grounded ‘TENS’ (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) patches attached to their bodies – one on the bottom of each foot and one on the palm of each hand.

Sleep better and wake up rested and pain free

In another double-blind study, 27 study participants had TENS patches attached to the soles of their feet and the palms of their hands. They were asked to sit in a chair for two hours, and be grounded for 40 minutes of those two hours. There was also a separate two-hour control session, with no grounding time.

Improvements in heart rates in the grounded sessions were significantly better than those seen from just relaxing in a chair with no grounding.22 The study authors suggested that the heart rate benefits from grounding techniques could be helpful for those with symptoms of anxiety, panic, and depression by reducing sympathetic overdrive and improving the autonomic nervous system. 

Earthing may also be useful for the management of our daily circadian rhythm, through its influence on cortisol secretion. A pilot study was conducted looking at the influence of grounding on the daily fluctuations of cortisol and its effects on sleep patterns and other symptoms.

Twelve participants slept for eight weeks on mattress pads that were designed to be conductive and grounded to the Earth. Baseline cortisol levels were determined by salivary testing at four specific times during the course of one 24-hour period and again six weeks into the study. Eleven of the 12 participants slept better, including those who had had high nighttime cortisol levels. Participants fell asleep faster, did not get up as frequently during the night, and had reduced levels of fatigue and pain in the morning.23

Grounding may head off muscle pain and soreness

Grounding may have an impact on the ability of the body to recover following exercise and it may alter the immune response to stress and pain. To assess this hypothesis, eight men were asked to do an intense exercise that would result in delayed-onset muscle soreness. This condition develops within 14-48 hours and may linger for up to 96 hours. Most treatment focuses on reducing the pain with massage, hydrotherapy and acupuncture.

Study participants did intense exercise one day and then were monitored for the rest of the week, with half of them grounded with conductive foot patches and grounding sheets at night. The ungrounded men were found to have a higher white blood cell count at the point that the delayed-onset muscle pain was most intense. The men who had slept with grounding materials had only a slight increase in white blood cell count and a small amount of inflammation. Most significantly, the grounded volunteers had a much more rapid recovery time and their perception of pain was also greatly reduced.24

To reduce pain and stress, and very likely improve other chronic health issues as research increasingly shows, go barefoot on Earth, not pavement, as often as possible. Ober maintained the benefits of grounding could be achieved from walking barefoot for as little as 30-40 minutes daily.25,26

Wear shoes and sandals with soles made of conductive materials. Sit on the ground. Sit in a chair with your feet on the ground. Lie on the ground or on a natural fibre blanket. Lie on the sand or a blanket and skip the beach chair. And technology has come to the rescue with Earthing shoes, Earthing blankets, grounding sheets, and Earthing mattress pads. (Please see the box on page 4 for a precaution about this.)

However you do it, get back in touch – literally – with planet Earth. It’s yet another way to ‘copy nature’ and help you stay – or become – more healthy and live longer.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dr. Jonathan V. Wright
Nutrition & Healing

Volume 7, Issue 11 – November 2013

Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.

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