Earthing & Grounding: Legit or Hype?
Earthing (also called grounding) can be a controversial topic. Many people report amazing benefits, while critics point out the lack of solid scientific studies supporting this practice.
Let’s delve into the evidence:
What is Earthing or Grounding?
In short, earthing or grounding is putting the body in direct and uninterrupted contact with the earth. This means that skin needs to touch soil, sand, water, or a conductive surface that is in contact with the earth.
From a scientific perspective, the idea is that the earth has a mild negative charge to it. Over time, especially in modern life, our bodies build up a positive charge. Direct contact with the earth can even out this positive charge and return the body to a neutral state.
Many people don’t have this contact with the earth anymore, and some experts wonder if this is a contributor to the (many) rising health problems we face today. As a population, we wear rubber shoes and live indoors. In theory, many of us could go years without directly touching the earth at all, even if we’re outside.
Over time, the theory is that this positive charge builds and can lead to health problems.
Earthing Science 101
During the normal processes of metabolism the body generates what are called ‘reactive oxygen species’ which are commonly referred to as ‘free radicals’. These compounds appear to be important, at least in part because they have the ability to attack and destroy unwanted things within the body including bacteria and viruses. However, too many free radicals are a bad thing, and have been implicated in chronic disease and well as the very process of aging.
Free radicals are involved in the process known as inflammation, which is part of the healing process. However, low-grade inflammation throughout the body may lead to pain and other problems in the muscles and joints, and is also believed to be a key driving factor in many chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In short, we want free radicals, but not too many.
Free radicals lack sparks of energy known as ‘electrons’. One way to quell them is to give them electrons, and these can be supplied by nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E, and plant substances known as ‘polyphenols’ (found in, among other things, tea, coffee, cocoa and apples). However, substances we eat and drink are not the only way to get electrons into the body: earthing does this too. If the body has a positive charge on it, earthing allows electrons to flow into the body where, in theory, they can neutralize overblown free radical and inflammatory damage.
Carrying a positive charge may well affect the body in lots of different ways, which means that earthing may offer a range of wellbeing benefits.
Benefits of Earthing & Grounding
According to emerging research, earthing may be beneficial in:
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing chronic pain
- Improving Sleep (I can vouch strongly for this!)
- Increasing Energy (I noticed this also)
- Lowering stress and promoting calmness by reducing stress hormones.
- Normalizing biological rhythms including circadian rhythm
- Normalizing blood pressure and blood flow
- Relieving muscle tension and headache (I noticed this)
- Improving menstrual and female hormone symptoms
- Speeds healing- used in some places to prevent bed sores
- Reducing jet lag
- Protecting the body from effects of EMFs
- Shortening recovery time from injury or athletic activity
- Reducing snoring
- Helping support adrenal health
Scientific Evidence for Earthing
This is where the controversy begins. Critics claim that there isn’t any evidence to back up this practice and that it could even be dangerous. Proponents cite anecdotal evidence and a few small studies.
So who is right?
There actually are a couple of small scale studies that looked at the affects of earthing or grounding. One study examined 60 people with chronic pain and sleep troubles. Half of the participants slept on a grounded sheet to simulate earthing. The other half slept on a placebo sheet.
The participants who slept grounded reported reduction in chronic pain, respiratory problems, arthritis, apnea and hypertension while the control group did not.
Another much smaller study found (PDF) that earthing reduced blood viscosity, which is a risk factor in heart disease.
There have also been some preliminary studies on the effects of grounding on cortisol levels and inflammation (PDF) and I’m confident that research will continue in this area.
Grounding and Inflammation
What fascinates me most is the testing done in thermographic imaging, which basically shows a heat map of the body. Heat patterns can signal inflammation in the body.
This thermographic image was taken of a woman who complained of stiffness and chronic pain. The first picture was taken before earthing, and the second, after just 30 minutes of earthing.
Unfortunately, all of the studies on earthing are relatively small and poorly run. Hopefully future research will shed some light on the effectiveness (or not) of earthing, but for now, the strongest evidence seems to be anecdotal.
The possibility of grounding or earthing resolving inflammation is exciting, as many chronic diseases cause and stem from inflammation in the body.
My Experience with Earthing
The idea that we are meant to connect with the earth regularly made sense. At the same time, I was skeptical that something so simple would be effective. I ran the idea by some electrical engineer friends and a friend who has done research in the biomedical field and they confirmed that there could be a beneficial effect to the body.
Have you ever noticed that you sleep better on a beach vacation after walking in the sand or being in the ocean? One theory for that: the sand and ocean water are both naturally conductive materials and both help ground the body and remove excess positive electrons.
To test the theory personally, I decided to make an effort to ground myself outside often and even use an earthing sheet while sleeping.
I was certainly skeptical at first but figured I had nothing to lose by trying to electrically ground myself. I made a point to walk barefoot outside each day and purchased an earthing sheet to use while I was sleeping, as this is the body’s peak repair time.
My Grounding Results
To my surprise, I noticed the first night I used the earthing mat that I fell asleep much easier and had no trouble falling back asleep after waking up to nurse the baby. Of course, one night of results could have easily been placebo.
After sleeping great for about a month, one night I was tossing and turning and couldn’t fall asleep for a couple of hours. The next morning, I realized that the earthing sheet had disconnected!
Blood tests confirmed that my cortisol levels also improved over a period of six months while using an earthing sheet and making an effort to spend time outside barefoot.
From what I’ve read, reactions to earthing/grounding can vary drastically. Some people will notice a difference immediately while others take a few days or weeks. Others won’t feel any changes but measures of cortisol levels will show improvement. In general, it seems that the more inflammation one has, the more of a difference may be noticed from grounding.
I’m not the only one…
Many on the Tour de France, supposedly including Lance Armstrong used an earthing recovery bag to speed recovery and increase sleep quality while on this endurance race. Various Olympic swimmers, runners, and triathletes have reported using Earthing and various professional athletes have used Earthing methods as well.
Well known doctor and natural health proponent Dr. Mercola has reportedly been using an earthing mat for years and even Dr. Oz has gotten on board recently!
How to Try Grounding/Earthing
Obviously, walking outside barefoot is the easiest and cheapest way to ground yourself or practice earthing. If you are close to an ocean or swimmable natural body of water, this is another great way.
To work, the skin must be in direct contact with rock, dirt or water. The beach/ocean is possibly the best place as not only are sand and salt water extremely conductive, but salt water is also very high in magnesium. Perhaps this is why many people seem to sleep better on vacation at the beach!
Those who can’t or don’t want to spend time outdoors can accomplish some of the same results indoors. There are various products to make indoor grounding easy:
- An earthing mat can be used under your arms or feet while on a computer to reduce the amount of EMFs you are exposed to. It is also easy to bring when traveling.
- An earthing sheet can be used on beds.
Personally, I try to use an earthing mat while on my computer (it is under my desk) and an earthing sheet on our bed. I’ve definitely noticed positive changes since beginning this routine.
The Basic Concept of Earthing Is This:
The grounding mat (or sheet) is an amazing invention that allows you to do earthing while you’re inside a building. It just plugs in to the grounding wire port of a normal 3-prong outlet or a grounding rod (US and Canada only). The earth’s natural electrons flow right up through the ground wire and onto the mat, even if you’re in a high rise. You can use an outlet tester to see if the outlet is configured correctly.
Earthing: Bottom Line
Like I said, this is a controversial topic with a lot of additional research still needed. That said, in most cases (when there isn’t a strong ground current), it is free to go outside and spend some time barefoot. Spending time barefoot has many benefits, so there isn’t really a downside.
It is also relatively simple to try earthing and track results to see if it helps:
- Spend a lot of time in contact with the earth or using something like an grounding sheet
- Use a sleep app to track sleep patterns and see if sleep improves with earthing
- Also keep track of things like joint pain, headaches, etc and see if those improve over time with earthing