When was the last time you walked barefoot in the sand, grass or in a forest? For most people, this doesn’t happen very often. But we’re now learning there might be more of a reason for you to start making these types of activities a priority.
A movement known as “grounding” or “earthing” is sweeping the holistic health scene. What is earthing? Walking barefoot outside, with the soles of your feet free to directly connect with the surface of the earth, is the main activity that’s a part of the earthing or grounding practice.
While it might sound strange at first — ditching your shoes and digging your toes into the dirt or sand, or strolling across some pesticide-free grass — there’s evidence this can be greatly beneficial for health by lowering free radical damage (also called “oxidative stress”), stress, inflammation and pain.
What Is Earthing?
Earthing is the act of putting the body in direct contact with the earth. The contact is direct, which means that the skin (most often, of the foot) touches the earth’s soil or water. Indigenous cultures have practiced earthing for millennia, so it’s not a new practice, but it’s gaining popularity in recent years as more and more people start to realize how much we’ve lost daily contact with our natural surroundings.
The idea of earthing or grounding is that the planet we live on (Earth) is a source of beneficial negative energy that we can “plug” into to counter the positive charge we build up from our typical modern lifestyle that often lacks regular contact with nature, especially direct contact.
Earthing Types and Products
There are two main ways to practice earthing: outdoors or indoors. Traditional outdoor earthing doesn’t require any equipment and can be done anywhere you can make contact with the earth. This is typically considering the best and easiest way.
Indoor earthing products include:
- Earthing mats: These mats claim to reduce EMF (electric and magnetic field) exposure and enable you to have a connection between your body and the earth indoors. They look like yoga mats, but they have a controller and are connected to electrical fields being given off from the earth’s surface. They can be an easy way to practice earthing while working at a desk, standing around the bathroom or kitchen, watching TV or talking on the phone.
- Earthing shoes: Most shoes today have rubber soles, but grounding shoes have natural leather soles. The idea is that the permeability of the leather allows a connection to the earth, which is blocked by standard soled shoes.
- Earthing bands: These are elastic, adjustable bands that can be placed on the wrists and arms. Some people like to wear these while cooking, working or doing anything else around the house when they can’t be outdoors.
- Earthing bed: A type of electrically-charged bed has been created that features silver wires that are connected to the electrical charge of the earth once plugged into an “earthing” port. These beds basically have conductive systems that transfer the earth’s electrons from the ground into the body. So even when we’re inside, sleeping in an “earthing bed” might be able to help us absorb the effects of the earth’s electricity and normalize our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. Laying or sleeping in the bed is almost like sleeping outside on the grass, according to Clint Ober.
- Earthing sheets: Earthing sheets have a grounding wire designed to plug into the ground port of your wall outlet or grounded rod, which is meant to connect you to the earth while you sleep.
As you can see, there are many options for practicing earthing indoors, but most experts agree there is nothing like practicing earthing outdoors in its traditional fashion. Grounding yourself outdoors rather than indoors also adds the major health benefits of nature you just can’t get while being inside.
Earthing Science: How Does Earthing Work?
The best part about earthing (or grounding) is that it’s super simple and completely free. It requires nothing but your bare body and willingness to try something that might seem “a bit out there.”
You might be a bit skeptical about this phenomenon, so let me explain more about the basics of how earthing works and provide some solid earthing science:
1. Your body runs through a type of electrical current. As the Journal of Environmental and Public Health states:
It is an established, though not widely appreciated fact, that the Earth’s surface possesses a limitless and continuously renewed supply of free or mobile electrons. The Earth’s negative charges can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems which may be important for setting the biological clock, regulating circadian rhythms and balancing cortisol levels.
2. Your body is naturally able to absorb electrical charges from the earth since your skin acts like a “conductor.” Your feet, specifically certain points in the balls of your feet, are believed to be especially good at receiving the earth’s electricity.
But because of our modern way of living — for example, always wearing shoes and living most of our lives above ground in our homes or offices that are located several floors up in tall buildings — we’re losing touch with the earth’s natural “electrical” force.
3. “The human body is electrical first and chemical second,” according to earthing expert Clint Ober. The brain, heartbeat and neurotransmitter activity, for example, all rely on electrical signals, so when our electricity if off, so can be certain aspects of our health.
The idea is that by being in touch with the planet, the electrical force coming off the earth is able to help lower inflammation and fight free radicals. In fact, the term “earthing” has even earned a patent as a natural method for reducing disease-causing inflammation.
5 Health Benefits of Earthing
Up until this point, unfortunately, our current healthcare model has provided us with very little, if any, research of the importance of the bio-electrical component of our health. But the idea of the earth having an electrical pulse that impacts our body is nothing new. This has been proven and well-understood for many years and is an important aspect of preventing accidents or injuries in fields like radiation, gas, dynamite or surgery.
So much of the information we have about bio-electrical impacts on our health has been done outside of the field of medical science and health-related research. However, even though we only have a few solid studies on the health benefits of bioelectrical impulses, many of us have “experienced” the benefits firsthand.
For instance, have you ever experienced a walk on the beach or a stroll in the park while letting your bare feet touch the grass or sand and sensed a feeling of peace?
The known benefits of earthing have to do with a reduction of free radicals that takes place in the body when it comes into contact with “free electrons,” whether from the earth or foods that have grown from the earth.
According to a 2012 report in the Journal of Environmental Public Health:
Throughout history, humans mostly walked barefoot or with footwear made of animal skins. They slept on the ground or on skins. Through direct contact or through perspiration-moistened animal skins used as footwear or sleeping mats, the ground’s abundant free electrons were able to enter the body, which is electrically conductive. Through this mechanism, every part of the body could equilibrate with the electrical potential of the Earth, thereby stabilizing the electrical environment of all organs, tissues and cells.
Here is how this process can specifically benefit your health:
1. Reduces Inflammation
To put it simply, it’s thought that the influx of free electrons from Earth’s surface help to neutralize free radicals and reduce both acute and chronic inflammation and accelerated aging. Experts on earthing and grounding believe that this practice can help improve circulation, which means you’re better able to distribute nutrients throughout your body and also carry waste and toxins out. In fact, enhanced circulation can have a tremendous effect on the body in many ways — from boosting energy levels to reducing swelling.
According to a report published in Alternate Therapies in Health and Medicine, “Inflammation is now recognized as an overwhelming burden to the healthcare status of our population and the underlying basis of a significant number of diseases. The elderly generally bear the burden of morbidity and mortality, which may be reflective of elevated markers of inflammation resulting from decades of lifestyle choices.”
How does earthing help stop inflammation? Inflammation, which triggers disease for so many people, is largely believed to be caused by a lack of electrons in your tissues.
When your body senses that you’re “under attack” or sick, it delivers reactive oxygen species (ROS) to the site of injury, which is another way of saying that it triggers an inflammatory response in an attempt to heal and defend you. When this takes place, some free radicals can leak into surrounding tissue and damage otherwise healthy parts of your body by increasing swelling, pain, heat and redness.
The reason we want to eat plenty of high-antioxidant foods is the same reason we want to practice earthing. Antioxidant electrons in your body help ensure damage from free radicals doesn’t get out of control and lead to high levels of inflammation and faster aging, just like anti-inflammatory foods do. Basically, the free or mobile electrons from the earth can resolve chronic inflammation by serving as natural antioxidants!
The belief about earthing’s benefits is that electrons can be absorbed from the bottom of your feet when they’re touching the ground, and then these can move anywhere in your body where free radicals are forming. The antioxidant electrons help cancel out free radicals and, therefore, halt damage to DNA and other forms of “oxidative stress.”
2. Helps Reduce Stress Hormones
Chronic stress can kill your quality of life, as you’ve probably experienced firsthand. But luckily, time spent in nature can really help reverse certain feelings of stress and anxiety.
One double-blind study that investigated the effects of earthing on 58 healthy adults used conductive adhesive patches placed on the sole of each participant’s foot to read their electrical signals. The subjects were exposed to 28 minutes in the unearthed condition followed by 28 minutes with the earthing wire connected. Controls were unearthed for 56 minutes.
After earthing, about half the subjects showed “an abrupt, almost instantaneous change in root mean square (rms) values of electroencephalograms (EEGs) from the left hemisphere of the brain.” These changes are believed to signify positive changes and lower stress reactions.
Nineteen of 22 earthing participants also experienced decreased blood volume pulses (BVP). After considering the effects on electrophysiological properties of the brain and musculature as recorded using EEG, EMG and BVP readings, the findings suggest significantly higher reductions in overall stress levels and tensions results in the earthing participants compared to the control group.
3. Can Help You Sleep Better
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine demonstrated that connecting the human body to the earth during sleep (earthing) normalizes the daily cortisol rhythm and improves sleep patterns. This is because of the effects that stress hormones have on your natural circadian rhythm, energy and ability to sleep soundly.
It’s proposed that the earth’s “diurnal electrical rhythms” set the biological clocks for hormones that regulate sleep and activity. We’ve all had the experience of tossing and turning in bed, unable to fall asleep due to racing thoughts.
When our bodies are not in line with the natural rhythms of the earth, including the patterns of light and darkness or “electrical” charges, our sleep and immunity suffer. The indoor lifestyle that many of us lead might be one reason for rising cases of chronic fatigue syndrome.
One 2006 study published in the Journal of European Biology and Bioelectromagnetics observed the patterns of patients’ cortisol levels before and after grounding. They found that their cortisol rises and dips were scattered and somewhat unpredictable in the adults before they practiced earthing.
After earthing, their levels of cortisol were more in line with the natural rhythms of the earth and sun; they had higher cortisol early in the morning when we naturally need more to feel alert and awake, then they had lower cortisol at night time when we need to unwind in order to fall asleep for the night.
Electrically and chemically speaking, poor sleep is often a symptom of high stress hormones like cortisol. By lowering our reaction to stressful events in our lives, we can fall and stay asleep more easily. And sleep is crucial for healing the body on the most basic level — raising our immunity, giving us enough energy for proper digestion, fighting food cravings or weight gain and supporting a healthy mindset.
4. Can Help Increase Energy
Many people have found that earthing or grounding can improve their energy or fight low-grade ongoing fatigue. This can be one side effect of getting better sleep but also be due to improvements in hormones and lower levels of inflammation.
For example, many studies point to the fact that higher cortisol levels rob the body of energy. Physiological stress and cortisol have a close relationship; stress impacts cortisol, and cortisol can further increase stress responses. This cycle can lead to fatigue and sleep problems, even cravings for low-nutrient foods, sugar and excess calories that further lead to low energy levels.
5. Can Help Lower Pain
Inflammation is a major source of pain, since it increases swelling, stiffness, reduced mobility and malformation. Inflammation in the joints and tissues are the main cause of pain associated with chronic conditions like arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), for example, is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that usually involves pain in multiple joints as well as symptoms like fatigue, fever, weight loss, eye inflammation, anemia and lung inflammation. In someone with RA, the body releases enzymes that attack its own healthy tissue, therefore destroying the linings of joints.
By lowering inflammation, it’s very possible to help combat pain caused by chronic autoimmune disorders, injuries, headaches, menstrual problems and so on.
One 2010 pilot study compared the pain levels of adults who were grounding compared to a control group following intense exercise that caused muscle soreness. The results showed that grounding the body to the earth altered measures of immune system activity and pain.
Among the ungrounded men, there was an expected, sharp increase in white blood cells (a sign of an inflammatory response) and greater perception of pain after exercise. In comparison, the grounded men had only a slight decrease in white blood cells, indicating less inflammation, and experienced shorter recovery times.
How to “Do” Earthing
There is no such thing as earthing “too much,” and it’s likely that the more we do, the greater benefits we’ll see. At the same time, even short periods of being in contact with the earth directly over the course of the day can help. You can do this by getting in direct contact with dirt, rock or water so you can walk barefoot on a natural surface, or you can swim in a natural body of water.
Some ways to start having more direct contact with the earth can include: walking barefoot to the mailbox, gardening without shoes on, barbecuing outdoors barefoot, laying directly on the sand at the beach instead of sitting in a chair and many more easy, realistic ways. How to do earthing sounds pretty enjoyable, doesn’t it?
Risks and Side Effects
Are there any potential negative side effects of earthing? Of course, you have to be careful of where you’re walking barefoot and watch out for any hazardous materials (such as glass or sharp rocks) that may be present where you’re grounding.
Are there any earthing mat dangers? Some sources recommend avoiding use of indoor grounding products like mats in high voltage environments to reduce the likelihood of becoming a conductor for the grounding path. To decrease this occurrence, unplug or ground any electrical devices that contribute to high voltages and turn off unnecessary circuit breakers.
Always follow product instructions carefully and consult with your healthcare provider before using indoor grounding products if you are pregnant, nursing, have a medication condition or are currently taking medication.
- Earthing, also known as grounding, is an ancient practice of making direct contact with the earth (mainly by walking barefoot).
- The idea behind grounding as a health practice is that by having the skin meet the earth, you can help neutralize the electric charge that runs through our bodies.
- To incorporate an earthing practice into your life, try to get outside while totally barefoot for at least 30 minutes a day. If you can’t dedicate that much time, then do it for as long as you can on a regular basis.
- Is there any earthing science? Yes, research shows that the earth’s negative charges can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems.
- Possible benefits of grounding include faster healing, less stress, reduced inflammation, less pain, better sleep and improved energy levels.
- By getting outdoors to practice earthing, it can also help you avoid the all-too-common vitamin D deficiency, too, and maybe also lead to increased exercise.
- It’s also an option to practice earthing indoors using various products such as earthing mats, although just being outdoors barefoot is still the optimal (and simplest) way.
- Grounding is an activity that everyone has available to them — and it’s a completely free resource! You can’t beat that value.