Earthing may be one of the easiest and most cost-effective healthcare interventions available today. This paper describes what earthing is and how it is believed to work by explaining how the global electric circuit works and its relationship to earthing. The paper also explores research which indicates that earthing may have beneficial effects in addressing many chronic diseases of the mind and body such as diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, depression, anxiety, and possibly attention deficit disorder. The paper details an personal experience that the author had with earthing and the health of his son and ends with a brief conclusion.
Biologic Earthing for Mind and Body
The epidemic rise of chronic, lifestyle associated disease, especially in western society, is well documented and consumes a large portion of our healthcare resources. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2015 that chronic diseases now kill more people than communicable diseases for the first time in world history (2015). Conditions of the body such as diabetes, cardio vascular disease (CVD), and hypertension as well as of the mind including depression, anxiety, and insomnia are commonplace in western culture. The purpose of this paper is to explore a relatively new mind-body intervention referred to as earthing or grounding. The paper will begin by explaining the concept of earthing and how it is believed to work. The focus of the paper will then turn to what the research suggests earthing could prove effective in addressing regarding disorders of the mind as well as the body. The paper will then detail a few barriers to earthing and how to overcome them and will conclude with a personal experience of the authors’ concerning earthing and a brief summary.
What is Earthing?
Until relatively recently, humans routinely slept and walked barefoot on the bare ground. Earthing is the idea that direct contact with the bare earth exposes us to an unlimited source of free electrons that we have evolved to be able to utilize for our health (Mousa, 2016). Research suggests that these free electrons are essential for the proper functioning of our digestive, immune, and cardiovascular systems and that they may play an important role in reducing chronic inflammation and the incidence of inflammation related disorders (Chevalier & Oschman, n.d.). When the human body comes into direct contact with the earth through going barefoot or through an earthing medium, the available electrons flow into the body through the skin and are absorbed into the body through mucus membranes in the lungs and intestines (Chevalier, Mori, & Oschman, 2006). When humans are in direct contact with the earth or grounded, the body immediately discharges all electrical current and matches that of the earth which is the “natural bioelectrical environment of the human body and of other organisms throughout most of evolutionary history” (Chevalier et al., 2006, p. 2). This discharge or assumption of negative electrical potential has been shown to be related to reduction of inflammation, pain, insomnia, stress, blood viscosity, and cortisol levels as well as improved sleep, increased energy levels, mood enhancements, and accelerated wound healing (Sinatra, Oschman, Chevalier, & Sinatra, 2017). These free electrons are available to humans via the global electrical circuit (Chavalier et al., 2006).
The Global Electrical Circuit and Earthing
The global electrical circuit is a planetary phenomenon that is the product of the interaction of the sun, the earth’s atmosphere, and the thousands of lightning strikes that occur around the world every minute (UCAR Center for Science Education, 2012). The net result of this complex system is that the atmosphere retains a positive charge while the surface of the earth retains a negative one (Chevalier et al., 2006). This means that when a human is standing outside in shoes (un-grounded) the body is positively charged due to exposure to the air above but when the same person takes their shoes off, they immediately become negatively charged due to exposure to the bare earth (Chevalier et al., 2006). This negative charge is the critical piece in the concept of earthing due to the human body’s ability to utilize reactive oxygen species (ROS) molecules in white blood cells (Chevalier & Oschman, n.d.).
ROS molecules are produced in the human body during an immune response and are able to kill bacteria at injury sites (Chevalier & Oschman, n.d.). The problem with these molecules is that they are positively charged and can damage healthy cells at an injury site unless they are neutralized by some form of negative charge which the earth provides in the form of free electrons (Chevalier & Oschman, n.d.). Research suggests that positive results of grounding the human body can be found both in physical responses as well as mental ones.
Earthing for the Body
Research indicates that earthing can be an effective mind-body intervention for a number of physical disorders including diabetes, CVD, chronic inflammation, and elevated cortisol levels. In a 2011 study, twelve patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) who were unable to control their glucose levels with diet, exercise, and pharmaceutical interventions were put into two groups. The first group was grounded for seventy-two hours straight while the second group remained insulated from the earth’s surface (Sokal & Sokal, 2011). In the first group, glucose levels began at 10.6 mmol/L and decreased to 7.4 mmol/L by the end of seventy-two hours while the second (un-grounded) group began with an average glucose of 10.8 mmol/L and remained nearly constant throughout the time with no appreciable change (Sokal & Sokal, 2011). The results of this study imply that earthing can have a fairly significant effect on blood glucose levels in diabetic patients and would be a cost effective and appropriate intervention. As dramatic as these results seem to be, research has shown even more dramatic results regarding cardiac health.
CVD is one of the most prolific and deadly diseases in the western world and is the leading cause of death in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Cardiologists, however, are “losing interest in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol as the major cardio-vascular risk factor” (Chevalier, Sinatra, Oschman, & Delany, 2013, p. 102). Attention is being turned, instead, to blood viscosity and chronic inflammation and the roles they play in CVD (Chevalier et al., 2013). In 2013, a study was conducted to investigate what, if any, effects earthing can have on blood viscosity and ultimately cardiac incidents. Ten volunteers were again divided into two groups with the first being grounded and the second not while multiple blood draws were performed at various times. The results of the study showed that the group who was grounded experienced statistically significant increases in blood viscosity and decreases in levels of inflammation while the numbers for the second (un-grounded) group remained fairly constant (Chevalier et al., 2013). The study results imply that earthing is an appropriate mind-body intervention to increase blood viscosity and the risk of a cardiac event (Chevalier et al., 2013). The authors concluded that “grounding appears to be one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events” (Chevalier et al., 2013, p. 102). Another risk to cardiac health is long term or chronic inflammation.
Researchers have noticed that wounds heal significantly faster when the patient is grounded (Oschman, Chevalier, & Brown, 2015). This has led them to question what effects earthing can have on the human immune response and inflammation. Oschman, Chevalier, and Brown found that a grounded body shows measurable differences in white blood cell counts and other molecules involved in the bodies inflammatory response (2015). This means that in a grounded body, the markers for inflammation as a result of the immune system response are greatly reduced and, in some cases, eliminated which could prevent chronic inflammation from ever getting started (Oschman et al., 2015). Another aspect of the human immune response that can become problematic is the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the human adrenal glands that is secreted in times of stress and inflammation. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol have been linked to insomnia, hypertension, mood disturbances, and autoimmune disease (Galy & Teplitz, 2004). A 2004 study by Galy and Teplitz took twelve volunteers who agreed to sleep grounded for six weeks. At the end of the six weeks they were screened for cortisol levels at various times during their sleep. The majority of the test subjects (7 out of 12) saw their nighttime cortisol levels decrease by an average of 53% when compared to an average circadian cortisol secretion profile (Galy & Teplitz, 2004). The results of this study imply that earthing could be an appropriate and cost-effective mind-body intervention to lower circadian cortisol levels which would result in better sleep and reduction in hypertension and mood disturbances. As promising as these results seem to be showing the efficacy of earthing in a variety of physical disorders, the concept has also shown promise in alleviating the symptoms of some mental health disorders.
Earthing for the Mind
As previously stated, earthing has been shown to have a significant impact on circadian levels of cortisol in the body (Galy & Teplitz, 2004). A reduction in cortisol levels can have a dramatic effect on chronic stress, anxiety, and even depression. In another study, individuals who were grounded for a one-hour period reported significantly higher mood levels than their un-grounded counterparts (Mousa, 2016). Another study grounded one group of volunteers and told the other group they were grounded when they were not. Each group was asked to complete the Brief Mood Introspection Scale (BMIS) both before and during the time they were grounded. The grounded group reported significantly higher levels of positivity, elevated mood, and relaxation than the ungrounded group (Chevalier, 2015).
Research also suggests that earthing causes a parasympathetic nervous system activation as opposed to a sympathetic one (Chevlaier & Oschman, n.d.) This is the part of the nervous system responsible for reducing the flight or fight response. It reduces heart rate and calms the body and mind. The research, therefore, implies that earthing can be beneficial in reducing chronic stress and anxiety. Another major mental health challenge in western culture is depression.
Depression can occur for many reasons and sometime for no discernable reason at all. It can occur and re-occur over a period of a few days to several years. There are many pharmaceutical and cognitive interventions available but these can be expensive and have undesirable side effect. Earthing can be an effective, especially as an integrative, intervention in the treatment of depression as it has been shown to stabilize serotonin levels in the brain (Ober, Sinatra, & Zucker, 2014). This can lead to increased energy levels, improved mood, and increased tolerance to stressors (Ober et al., 2014).
The easiest and cheapest method to begin earthing is to remove one’s shoes and walk on the bare earth. This, as previously stated, immediately changes the electrical potential of the body from positive to negative which is crucial to the function of our immune system. There are difficulties, however, with this method. Many people, especially in western culture, do not feel comfortable being barefoot outside of their homes or yards. A study conducted at the University of North Carolina, Ashville found that, among those surveyed, over half were uncomfortable or very uncomfortable being barefoot outside of their homes (Harvey, Oskins, McCarter & Baker, 2016). There were many reasons for this but social pressures and negative perceptions factored in significantly (Harvey et al., 2016). Another challenge to the barefoot method is time. Much of the research presented requires longer periods of exposure or repeated exposures which can make the barefoot method non-practical. One possible mitigation to this is to purchase or make grounding products. Commercially, these are available in the form of sheets for a bed or pads that can be used in a recliner or chair. Other possibilities are a grounded matt that one could put their bare feet on while working at a desk or stickers that can be attached to the bottom of the feet. The advantage that these commercial products have over the barefoot method is that they can be used in all weather conditions, on a regular basis, for extended periods of time. This allows the person desiring to be grounded the ability to control how often and how long their exposure is. It was one of these products that made a significant difference in the life of the author’s son.
In the summer of 2015, the author’s oldest son Logan, who was eleven at the time, was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) by a psychiatrist who recommended a cocktail of three different medications. Logan’s original symptoms were difficulties with focus, a lack of social skills, trouble relating to his peers, and insomnia. The medications helped with focus but produced unwanted side effects including weight loss, lethargy, and drowsiness. In an attempt to give Logan his best possible chance, the author purchased a fitted grounding sheet that was threaded with silver and placed it on Logan’s mattress. After sleeping on the grounding sheet for a total of four nights, there was a noticeable difference in Logan’s demeanor. He became more aware of himself and those around him and began engaging socially in a way that had never occurred before. He became interested in interacting with children his own age and developed new abilities to focus intently and speak clearly. The results produced by the grounding sheet were so dramatic that Logan was taken off all prescription medications and continues to experience symptomatic relief to date. The addition of the grounding sheet was the only change made to Logan’s daily routine and his diet, bedtime, and stress levels were monitored and remained congruous throughout the experience.
Earthing is the practice of maintaining a direct connection with the negatively charged electromagnetic field of the earth. The easiest and most direct way to accomplish this intervention is by walking barefoot on the ground or a conductive medium. If being barefoot is not practical or desirable, there are several commercially available products that have the advantage of allowing one to control the amount and frequency of exposure to the electromagnetic field of the earth. Research indicates that we evolved to make use of the free electrons on the surface of the earth in a therapeutic manner. Several studies have been conducted which, even though the sample sizes were relatively small, taken together imply that earthing can be an effective mind-body intervention both in terms of therapeutic results and cost savings. The research details several physical disorders such as diabetes, CVD, and elevated cortisol levels that can be reduced or mitigated by using earthing techniques as well as some mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety and possibly ADD based on the authors personal experience. Earthing has shown promise at regulating Serotonin levels in the brain which leads to elevated mood, increased tolerance to stress, and higher levels of energy (Ober et al., 2014). Ober, Sinatra, and Zucker stated that earthing may be “the most important health discovery ever” (2014). If this turns out to be true, then earthing could possibly be the easiest and most cost-effective healthcare intervention available. Still, there are many areas that remain to be researched concerning earthing and, as healthcare costs continue to rise, now would seem the appropriate time do it.
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