What on earth is “earthing” or “grounding”? The subject keeps popping up in podcasts, books, and even in the medical literature. Does having physical contact with the earth’s electron field actually provide health benefits–benefits that hold up under close scientific scrutiny? Is “earthing” a scam or is there actually something to it?
I first heard about earthing in the podcast series “The Model Health Show” hosted by Shawn Stephenson. During my struggle with insomnia, I came across the concept again in Stephenson’s book ” Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success.” Online, I found this article on Healthline.com, in which preliminary research appeared valid and favorable. Finally, an episode in the “Ben Greenfield Podcast” series convinced me at last to try it out myself.
What is “earthing?”: Contact with the earth’s electrically charged surface
Earthing (or grounding the body) describes what happens when our electrically conductive bodies come into direct contact with the earth’s ever present electron field (Menigoz, Latz, Ely, Kamei, Melvin, & Sinatra, 2019). Earthing is actually our natural state. Our skin and bodies are conductive, as is true of all organisms (Ober, Sinatra, & Zucker, 2014). When we swim, walk barefoot or in worn leather-soled shoes on the earth’s surface, handle live plants growing out of the dirt, sit on porous (moisture containing) rocks, sit or lay on the ground (or on animal skins–a practice of our ancestors), we are naturally in touch with the earth’s electrical field (Chevalier, Sinatra, Oschman, Sokal, & Sokal, 2012; Education Services Australia, 2016; Menigoz et al., 2019; Ober et al., 2014).
It is only in modern times that humans have managed to separate ourselves (with little thought or intention) from the earth’s surface electrons. Wearing rubber and plastic soled shoes, foam mattresses, and use of synthetics in building materials have led to separation of the human body from the earth’s conductive surface (Chevalier et al., 2012) .
It’s well known in the scientific field along with various industrial fields that the earth maintains a subtle, negatively-charged field of surface electrons (Chevalier et al., 2012). The earth acts as a massive stabilizer for various electronic charges and signals–this is why all your electrical sockets have that third prong (Crow, 2018). It is also why all major electrical entities from telephone poles to houses are grounded to the earth–to help provide electrical stability by allowing rogue electrical energy to be conducted into the earth as opposed to into a person (Brian, Harris, & Lamb, n.d.). The earth’s electron field is continuously replenished through means of solar energy and atmospheric conditions, and its charge in any given location varies subtly throughout the day based on the intensity of sunlight and other atmospheric conditions (Ober, et al., 2014).
Our electrical bodies interact with the earth’s electrical field according to research
As noted in an article posted by the University of Maryland, our bodies are also electrically active entities (Plante, 2016). Electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium are used within the human body to create electrical currents inside and outside our cells. These currents are in turn used to generate electrical impulses necessary for life.
Heart beats, nerve cell communication, cellular metabolism, our very thoughts–all these things (plus many more) are dependent on electrical currents within the body (Plante, 2016). In fact, ALL LIFE is dependent on manipulation of electrons–such provides the energy that makes life possible!!!!!! (Powell, 2015). Interestingly, research also has confirmed that our bodies exchange electrical currents with the earth’s surface when we are grounded (such as by directly contacting the earth’s surface with our skin, or through a conductive surface such as leather soles, water, moist surfaces, grounding mats, or other conductive mediums) (Chamberlin, Smith, Chirgwin, Appasani, & Rioux, 2014).
So research demonstrates that our bodies when grounded interact with the earth’s surface electrically speaking, but what impact if any does this interaction (or lack of) have on our health?
Earthing: Health claims
Proponents of earthing as a means of health improvement state that the electrical exchange from the earth to the body and back helps to stabilize bio-electrical activities within the body (Ober et al., 2014). They state this electrical stabilization leads to improvements in a number of health-related physiological aspects. Health claims regarding the effects of direct contact between the human body and the earth’s electrical field include the following:
- Reductions in systemic inflammation
- Reductions in pain related to inflammatory conditions and injuries
- Improved circulation and cardiac functionality
- Normalization of hormonal levels and cycles (such as normalized cortisol)
- Improved blood pressure
- More rapid wound and injury healing times
- Reduction in free radical activity through electron binding and stabilization of the free radical (antioxidant activity)
- Improved sleep
- Reductions in autoimmune activity (Ober et al., 2014)
All of this sounds great!…but what does the clinical, scientific research actually say? What evidence is there to support these claims?
Earthing: What does the current research and evidence say?
Health claims are exciting, but without supportive evidence, they remain just that…claims. However, research supporting the above claims is mounting. To be fair, the research studies are in early phases which means they consist of smaller-sized population groups studied over a relatively short duration of time. Nonetheless, the results are exciting as multiple separate studies are repeatedly and increasingly demonstrating a biological benefit that comes from what used to be a given: being in contact with the earth’s electric field.
Sleeping grounded: Research demonstrates improved sleep
A month long study involving 60 participants with complaints of joint pain and poor sleep quality exposed participants to either sham grounding (where they slept on a conductive mat placed on their bed but the wire leading outside their bedroom window was NOT actually grounded to the earth) or slept grounded to the earth (sleeping on the same type of mat but the wire leading from the mat was in direct contact with the earth’s surface).
- 85% of the grounded participants reported improvements in sleep onset time versus only 13% of the control group (those who were not grounded)
- 93% of those grounded reported improved sleep quality versus 13% of the control group
- 100% of those grounded reported feeling rested in the morning versus 13% of the control group
- 82% of those grounded reported reductions in muscular pain, and 74% reported reductions in joint pain versus 0% of those not grounded (Ober, 2000 as cited in Chavalier et al., 2012)
A separate study analyzed overnight cortisol levels of 12 participants who reported stress, pain, and sleep disruption (Ghaly &Teplitz, 2004 as cited in Chavalier et al., 2012) . In persons with low stress and healthy sleep cycles, cortisol is lowest at midnight and spikes at 8am. The stressed individuals had cortisol spikes at the start of the study all over the place during the night, consistent with poor sleep quality. After sleeping for six weeks on grounding mats, cortisol levels normalized overnight. Subjectively, the participants reported better sleep, less nighttime awakenings, and lower pain levels.
Sleeping grounded produces significant, measurable physiologic changes: As measured in various blood and urine samples
Additional research outlining a series of five controlled and blinded studies (study participants were blinded as to whether or not they were actually grounded, and in some cases, the researchers themselves were also blinded), sleeping grounded produced measurable objective changes in a number of physiologic measures (Sokal & Sokal, 2011). Participants who were grounded excreted less calcium and phosphorus into their urine–effects that are considered protective of skeletal tissues. Grounding during sleep led to significant changes in blood concentrations of potassium, chloride, magnesium, and sodium, iron, total protein, albumin, and glucose (decreasing such).
Sleeping grounded also altered thyroid hormone levels (boosting TSH, T4, and lowering T3). Finally, sleeping grounded appeared to significantly alter expressions of specific immune globulins following vaccination versus those that received the vaccine but slept non-grounded. Numerous immune globulins were boosted in the grounded group (Sokal & Sokal, 2011). The researchers concluded that earthing appears to improve metabolic functions and significantly impacts neurological and endocrine (hormone regulating) functions within the human body.
Relaxation: Earthing produces immediate measurable changes in brainwave and muscular electrical patterns
A randomized controlled double-blinded study involving 50 adults noted that when 28 adults in the intervention arm of the study were exposed to grounding, there were measurable and immediate changes to brainwave patterns in the left hemisphere as measured on an EEG (Chevalier, Mori, & Oschman, 2006 as cited in Chevalier et al., 2012). Additionally, immediate changes were measured in the electrical nerve and muscle potentials as measured by surface electromyelograms. Immediate reductions in blood pulse volumes were also measured. The researchers concluded these changes were consistent with a down regulation of sympathetic nervous system activity–consistent with increased physiologic resting states (Chevalier et al., 2006 as cited in Chevalier et al., 2012).
Resting state: Earthing improves heart rate variability and vagal tone
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Hershey grounded premature infants–note: this should give you an idea of the safety of earthing/ grounding! (Passi, Doheny, Gordin, Hinssen, & Palmer, 2017). When the infants were grounded, the electric voltage potential on their skin dropped immediately to match that of the earth’s electric potential, meaning grounding helped the infants discharge excess electric fields (such as static electricity) picked up from their high-tech environment. High electric fields have been shown to damage human cells in cultures as well as pose risk to fetuses (Passi et al., 2017).
Corresponding with the discharge of excess electrical fields while being grounded, the infants experienced significant and substantial improvements in their heart rate variability and improvements in their vagal tone–consistent with an increased resting / lower stressed state (Passi et al., 2017). These improvements were quickly lost when the infants were no longer grounded. Similar findings occurred with a controlled trial involving adults (Chevalier & Sinatra, 2011).
Twenty-eight adults were exposed to sham grounding as well as real grounding at separate time intervals. Sham grounding versus actual grounding sessions were randomized in terms of which session occurred first or second. Each session lasted 40 minutes (Chevalier & Sinatra, 2011). During sham grounding, heart rate variability increased only slightly, associated with their resting state during the testing. However, during actual grounding, heart rate variability rose significantly and substantially over and above the increase experienced during sham grounding. This shows that earthing improved heart rate variability more than what can be explained by simple relaxation.
Inflammation: Earth-donated electrons serve as antioxidants and result in reductions in inflammation
Most everyone has heard of antioxidants. Antioxidants’ claim to fame is their ability to neutralize otherwise unstable molecules known as free radicals (Lobo, Patil, Phatak, & Chandra, 2010) Free radicals in the body happen to be positively-charged reactive oxygen and nitrogen species molecules (Lobo et al., 2010; Menigoz et al., 2019). They are formed through normal physiologic processes such as energy production, metabolism, as well as exposure to toxins in the environment. Left unchecked, free radicals cause cellular damage, DNA damage, and contribute to more rapid aging and disease (Lobo et al., 2010).
One mechanism of action accomplished by antioxidants in neutralizing free radicals occurs through donation of electrons, neutralizing the electrical charge so the free radical stabilizes and does not have to steal an electron from molecules contained within our cells (Lobo et al., 2010). Earthing produces a continually renewed source of electrons to our bodies which are able to bind with and neutralize free radicals (Manigoz et al., 2019). This is important for management of inflammation, as inflammatory conditions produce high amounts of damaging free radicals.
Earthing produces measurable decreases in inflammation
Several studies conducted on persons exposed to an exercise training stimulus designed to produce delayed-onset muscle soreness and inflammation showed that, when grounded following the exercise, participants experienced a reduction in white blood counts post exercise along with a significant reduction in a variety of metabolic markers that rise with muscular damage and inflammation (Brown, Chevalier, & Hill, 2015; Chevalier et al., 2012; Manigoz et al., 2019). Subjectively, participants in these studies who were grounded post-exercise also reported less muscle stiffness and pain post-exercise. Grounded participants experienced a significantly more rapid recovery from exercise induced muscular damage.
Strikingly, thermal imaging (click on link and scroll down) before and after grounding demonstrates profound changes consistent with reductions in inflammation (Monigoz et al., 2019). Individuals suffering with chronic knee pain, shoulder pain and back pain were exposed to grounding. Prior to grounding, the inflamed tissues generated bright red, orange and yellow hues as expected with heat generating inflammatory conditions. Following grounding exposure, repeat thermal imaging showed substantial cooling of these tissues, consistent with reductions in inflammation.
Earthing improves cardiovascular function through various mechanisms: Reductions in blood “thickness”
Improvements in cardiovascular function and circulation have been demonstrated in research using objective measures. For example, a small study of 10 participants measured blood viscosity (“thickness” or proneness to clumping of red blood cells) (Chevalier, Sinatra, Oschman, & Delany, 2013). Elevated blood viscosity has been found in persons with hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, smokers and with advancing age.
Viscosity factors such as red blood cell clumping can be observed in a microscope. An elevated negatively charged surface on a red blood cell (known as zeta potential) increases spacing between red blood cells. This process works like two magnets repelling each other when the negative ends are pointed at one another, and reduces clumping and viscosity (Chevalier et al., 2013). This allows blood to flow more easily through tiny capillaries located in tissues far from the main arteries.
All test subjects had substantial increases (an average of 270%) in their red blood cell zeta potential after grounding for two hours, as well as clear reductions in red blood cell clumping under a microscope. The results are consistent with reductions in blood viscosity. Interestingly, the results demonstrated normalization of zeta potential, as the subjects initially had low zeta potentials and elevated clumping of cells (Chevalier et al., 2013). Basically, earthing optimized red blood cell function without overly thinning the blood!
Warning: Earthing is not an “anticoagulant” and does NOT replace anticoagulant therapy, never change a medication regimen without first discussing with your healthcare provider.
Earthing improves cardiovascular function through various mechanisms: Lower blood pressure?*
Does earthing reduce blood pressure? It is too early to say, however, very early findings suggest it might. As listed above, increased blood viscosity is found in hypertensive patients. Grounding individuals reduced their blood viscosity. Further, improvements in vagal tone and heart rate variability show a reduction in activity of the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system.
*Preliminary research shows promise–though again, this research is considered low evidence due to very small size and lack of control groups, lack of randomization and other factors. In this case study, 10 individuals who grounded for 10-12 hours a day by sleeping on grounding mats as well as sitting their feet on a grounding mat while awake during the day had their blood pressure checked monthly over a three to four month period. Blood pressures were measured during an initial visit when the grounding materials were provided with education, then monthly for 3 readings (Elkin & Winter, 2018).
The average systolic blood pressure measures (top number) one month into the study was 127, then reduced to 121 two months into the study, and finally, 119 by the third month. Diastolic averages (the bottom number) were reduced from 77 to 74 then to 71 respectively. Individual improvements in systolic blood pressure ranged from 8.6% to 22.7% with average improvements of 14.3% (Elkin & Winter, 2018). Hopefully this pilot study will encourage larger, more robust clinical trials.
Risks are considered to be low with earthing, as it really is no different than walking barefoot, swimming, bathing, gardening or sleeping on the ground. The intent of using grounding mats is not to replace those activities but to increase the total amount of time that you are in contact with the earth’s electrical field. There are anecdotal reports of a need to modify certain medication dosages with grounding, such as blood “thinning” medication dosages, diabetic medications or thyroid medications. Any concerns should be discussed with your healthcare provider if you take these medications (Menigoz et al., 2019).
While risks are low, risks come into play when using a grounding mat if you do not check your outlets to ensure your house is properly grounded prior to using the mat. This should not be a problem in newer homes, but older homes (such as those built before the mid-70’s) may not be properly grounded. Even in newer homes, it’s always best to be safe and ensure your outlet is properly grounded before using a grounding mat.
Always follow your product’s guidelines before using. The product I purchased provided an outlet testing device so as to test the outlet prior to using my product. Not all products provide this, though testing devices generally can be found at low cost at hardware stores. The product I use can be purchased here.
Finally, just like you should avoid showers or tubs during lightning storms (why? cause you are grounded during those activities!), you should avoid the grounding mat during lightning storms (Ober et al., 2014). I use a grounding mat on our couch and bed, and unplug both of those if the weather is calling for even a low chance of thunder storms. I check the weather every night before bed, not really a difficult thing to do with our phones nowadays!
Earthing (also known as grounding) appears to have active, measurable biological effects. These effects appear to be useful in regulating hormones, reducing inflammation, improving parasympathetic nervous system activity (the resting arm of your nervous system), improving heart rate variability and improving circulation through reduction of blood viscosity. Consistent with improvements in parasympathetic nervous system activity, better sleep duration and quality have been reported in the literature. Earthing offers a passive, generally safe means of complimenting your health regimen, though more research is needed to fully understand the scope and number of health benefits that can be expected from increasing time in touch with the earth’s electrical field.
Thanks for reading!! Hope you enjoyed this article! Feel free to leave a comment, share on social media, and / or sign up your email to receive notice when I release new or updated articles!! Sincerely, Donovan
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