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The Effects of Grounding

Story at-a-glance -

  • Grounding is the electrically conductive contact of your body with the surface of the Earth, such as when walking barefoot on grass
  • Grounding shows benefit for inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and the prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases

By Dr. Mercola

Have you ever walked barefoot on a warm sandy beach? Or kicked off your shoes and raked your toes through the grass on a dewy morning? There’s something inherently rewarding about the feeling of your skin in direct contact with the Earth, your bare hands in the soil working your garden, for instance.

This rewarding feeling isn’t happenstance; it’s the result of electrically conductive contact of your body with the surface of the Earth,  a phenomenon known as grounding or earthing.

The Earth carries an enormous negative charge. It's always electron-rich and can serve as a powerful and abundant supply of antioxidant and free-radical-busting electrons. Your body is finely tuned to "work" with the Earth in the sense that there's a constant flow of energy between your body and the Earth.

When you put your feet on the ground, you absorb large amounts of negative electrons through the soles of your feet. The effect is sufficient to maintain your body at the same negatively charged electrical potential as the Earth.

This simple process of grounding is one of the most potent antioxidants we know of. Grounding has been shown to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, improve sleep, enhance well being, and much, much more. Unfortunately, many living in developed countries are rarely grounded anymore.

James Oschman, who is an expert in the field of energy medicine, with a bachelor's degree in Biophysics and a PhD in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh, noted:1

Subjective reports that walking barefoot on the Earth enhances health and provides feelings of well-being can be found in the literature and practices of diverse cultures from around the world. For a variety of reasons, many individuals are reluctant to walk outside barefoot, unless they are on holiday at the beach.”

More Than a Dozen Studies Confirm the Physiological Effects of Grounding

Oschman, along with a dozen other researchers, has conducted research on the physiological effects of grounding. More than a dozen studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals showing its benefit for fighting inflammation, improving the immune response, wound healing, and the prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.2

According to a review published in the Journal of Inflammation Research:3

“Grounding reduces or even prevents the cardinal signs of inflammation following injury: redness, heat, swelling, pain and loss of function… Rapid resolution of painful chronic inflammation was confirmed in 20 case studies using medical infrared imaging …

Our main hypothesis is that connecting the body to the Earth enables free electrons from the Earth’s surface to spread over and into the body, where they can have antioxidant effects.

Specifically, we suggest that mobile electrons create an antioxidant microenvironment around the injury repair field, slowing or preventing reactive oxygen species (ROS) delivered by the oxidative burst from causing ‘collateral damage’ to healthy tissue, and preventing or reducing the formation of the so-called “inflammatory barricade.”

We also hypothesize that electrons from the Earth can prevent or resolve so-called “silent” or “smoldering” inflammation.”

Interestingly, grounding research has now discovered that if you place your feet on the ground after an injury (or on a grounded sheet, or place grounding patches on the balls of your feet), electrons will migrate into your body and spread through your tissues.

Any free radicals that leak into the healthy tissue will immediately be electrically neutralized. This occurs because the electrons are negative, while the free radicals are positive, so they cancel each other out.

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Grounding May Improve Sleep, Reduce Pain, Support Heart Health, and More

In a summary of findings to date, Oschman and colleagues noted that grounding appear to have a number of beneficial effects on health, including:4

Improve sleepNormalize the day-night cortisol rhythm
Reduce painReduce stress
Shift the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic toward parasympathetic activationIncrease heart rate variability
Speed wound healingReduce blood viscosity

The concept of grounding was initially developed by Clint Ober, who began studying earthing in an effort to heal himself. In one study conducted by Ober in 2000, people who suffered from sleep disturbances and chronic muscle and joint pain were randomly divided to sleep either grounded or “sham” grounded.

Most who slept grounded reported symptomatic improvement in sleep and pain, and some also reported significant relief from asthmatic and respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, sleep apnea, and hypertension. According to the Journal of Environmental and Public Health:5 “These results indicated that the effects of earthing go beyond reduction of pain and improvements in sleep.”

Yet another study found that grounding during a single night of sleep led to significant changes in concentrations of minerals and electrolytes in the subjects’ blood, and grounding for 72 hours led to a decrease in fasting glucose among people with diabetes.6

In addition, grounding while sleeping was also determined to be the first intervention known to speed recovery from delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is the pain and stiffness that occurs hours or days after strenuous exercise.7 Reduction in inflammation and stress as a result of grounding has also been documented.

According to Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a prominent cardiologist, inflammation thrives when your blood is thick and you have a lot of free radical stress, and a lot of positive charges in your body. Grounding effectively alleviates inflammation because it thins your blood and infuses you with negatively charged ions through the soles of your feet.

Grounding for Anti-Aging Benefits

One of the dominant theories on aging is the free radical theory, which is that aging occurs because of accumulative damage to your body caused by free radicals. You get free radicals when you have an injury or chronic inflammation, from breathing, and from the food you eat, among other things.

While you don't want to completely eliminate ALL free radicals, you do want to maintain a healthy balance of antioxidant electrons in your body to ensure the damage from free radicals doesn't get out of hand.

Earthing can help accomplish this delicate balance, as evidenced by its effects on inflammation. Medical infrared imaging shows that inflammation begins to subside within 30 minutes of being grounded. At the same time, metabolic activity increases as does oxygen consumption, pulse rate and respiratory rate, and a decrease in blood oxygenation, within 40 minutes of grounding.

Researchers refer to this as “filling” the charge reservoirs, which, once saturated, can quickly deliver antioxidant electrons to sites of injury. According to the Journal of Inflammation Research:8

“These considerations also imply anti-aging effects of earthing or grounding, since the dominant theory of aging emphasizes cumulative damage caused by ROS produced during normal metabolism or produced in response to pollutants, poisons, or injury.

We hypothesize an anti-aging effect of grounding that is based on a living matrix reaching every part of the body and that is capable of delivering antioxidant electrons to sites where tissue integrity might be compromised by reactive oxidants from any source.”

‘An Essential Element in the Health Equation’

Simply by getting outside, barefoot, touching the Earth, and allowing the excess charge in your body to discharge into the Earth, you can alleviate some of the stress continually put on your system.

Walking barefoot can help ameliorate the constant assault of electromagnetic fields and other types of radiation from cell phones, computers, and Wi-Fi. It's also thought that grounding may actually facilitate the formation of structured water in your body.

Furthermore, grounding also calms your sympathetic nervous system, which supports your heart rate variability. When you support heart rate variability, this promotes homeostasis, or balance, in your autonomic nervous system. This is important because anytime you improve your heart rate variability, you're improving your entire body and all its functions. If you want to learn more, check out the Grounded documentary (in which I actually appear).

You'll hear first-hand accounts from residents of Haines, Alaska who have overcome chronic pain, sleep apnea, and much more simply by getting grounded. According to the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, grounding is very much an essential element of human health:9

“Earthing research, observations, and related theories raise an intriguing possibility about the Earth’s surface electrons as an untapped health resource—the Earth as a ‘global treatment table.’ Emerging evidence shows that contact with the Earth—whether being outside barefoot or indoors connected to grounded conductive systems—may be a simple, natural, and yet profoundly effective environmental strategy against chronic stress, ANS dysfunction, inflammation, pain, poor sleep, disturbed HRV, hypercoagulable blood, and many common health disorders, including cardiovascular disease.

The research done to date supports the concept that grounding or earthing the human body may be an essential element in the health equation along with sunshine, clean air and water, nutritious food, and physical activity.”

Simple Ways to Get Grounded

Many Americans spend most of their waking hours wearing shoes with rubber or plastic soles. These materials are very effective insulators, which is precisely why they're used to insulate electrical wires. Yet, they also effectively disconnect you from the Earth's natural electron flow. Wearing leather-soled shoes will allow you to stay grounded with the Earth, as will walking barefoot, but you'll need to do so on the proper surface. Good grounding surfaces include:

  • Sand (beach)
  • Grass (preferably moist)
  • Bare soil
  • Concrete and brick (as long as it's not painted or sealed)
  • Ceramic tile

The following surfaces will NOT ground you:

  • Asphalt
  • Wood
  • Rubber and plastic
  • Vinyl
  • Tar or tarmac

As mentioned, simply taking off your shoes as much as you can when you're outdoors will help you take advantage of natural grounding opportunities. When indoors, using a grounding pad or sheet is an excellent way to stay grounded while you're working or sleeping. For frequent travelers, I typically bring a grounding pad with me when I fly, too, although Dr. Sinatra believes that simply taking your shoes off and putting your feet (bare or with socks) on the steel struts will do the trick as well. As noted in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health:10

“From a practical standpoint, clinicians could recommend outdoor ‘barefoot sessions’ to patients, weather, and conditions permitting. Ober et al. have observed that going barefoot as little as 30 or 40 minutes daily can significantly reduce pain and stress… Obviously, there is no cost for barefoot grounding. However, the use of conductive systems while sleeping, working, or relaxing indoors offer a more convenient and routine-friendly approach.”