Walking barefoot on the grass or on a sandy beach feels good. And now growing evidence reveals why -- direct physical contact with the earth is good for our health.
I am fascinated by this new concept in healing, which is called earthing or grounding.
Theory: Direct contact with the earth puts us in touch with the natural electrical energy of the earth’s surface. (Wearing shoes that separate you from the ground doesn’t count, nor does sleeping in a sleeping bag.)
Research by electrophysiologists and other medical experts suggests that the earth’s electrical energy may help protect and stabilize our body’s own electrical system, recharging, replenishing and, ultimately, healing us.
In the late 1990s, I saw this type of healing firsthand. I had a friend in Portland, Oregon, who was a highly regarded medical doctor and acupuncturist from China. I was intrigued with his acupuncture treatments because he would use wire to connect the needles to young plants growing outside the building. The reason, he explained, was to conduct energy from the plants to enhance his patients’ acupuncture treatments. With this technique, he was able to heal many severe ailments, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. I never really understood how this healing process worked, although I knew it involved some kind of electrical conductivity. Now I realize that he was employing the same bioelectric concept as that of earthing.
The concept of earthing is gaining momentum today because of the efforts of Stephen Sinatra, MD, a holistic cardiologist, and Clinton Ober and Martin Zucker, coauthors of Earthing (Basic Health), a new book about the health benefits of grounding. To find out more, High Energy for Life spoke to Dr. Sinatra.
For Dr. Sinatra, earthing is the most important health discovery made in his 40 years of practicing medicine. He believes that modern life has disconnected us from the earth in many ways. We live and work in multistory buildings high off the ground... and spend our nights on thick mattresses far from the earth. This separation from the surface of the earth reduces our connection to its charge, which has resulted in our bodies being deficient in electrons, says Dr. Sinatra.
At the same time, modern life has brought with it a host of medical conditions associated with chronic inflammation, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. As Dr. Sinatra and his colleagues see it, inflammation in the body is out of control mainly because we have lost contact with the earth.
The earth’s surface is negatively charged and has an unlimited supply of "free" electrons. If your body has lots of positively charged free radicals (creating inflammation), the earth’s free electrons can help to neutralize them. When our feet or our bodies touch the ground, electrons naturally flow from the place where they are plentiful (the earth) to where they are not (our bodies). Many people find that this connection with the earth immediately produces a warm, tingling sensation or a sense of well-being. This contact can trigger health benefits, often within minutes. These benefits include relieving muscle tension, headaches and menstrual symptoms. Earthing also can boost the immune system... combat inflammation... reduce stress hormones... and improve blood pressure. For people who are ill -- and therefore have the most free radicals -- the benefits can be dramatic. Those who are healthy usually sleep better and have more energy.
Research has been under way since 2000 to explore the mechanics of these benefits. Example: The relationship between earthing and inflammation was documented in a series of thermography (infrared imaging) studies in 2004 and 2005. These studies showed how skin surface temperatures change, and inflammation was reduced after grounding. In a 2010 study, researchers from the University of California at Irvine measured physiological changes in participants who were seated in recliners and connected to the earth via wires attached to a grounding rod in the earth. Earthing was found to reduce nervous system arousal and improve blood oxygenation.
To benefit from earthing, walk barefoot or sit in a chair with your shoes off and your feet planted on the ground for 30 minutes. You can also wade or swim in the ocean, which is rich in minerals and highly conductive, more so than lakes.
You must have direct, sustained skin contact (any part of your body will do) with the surface of the earth to benefit. Gardening, for example, which involves putting your hands in and out of the earth, does not provide the same benefit.
To help people simulate grounding when they can’t be outside, Clinton Ober created specially made grounding products, including floor mats and bedsheets. These products are connected either to a grounded outlet in your home (in buildings built after 1960) or connected by a cord to a grounding rod placed in the earth. (For more information about these products, go to www.Earthing.com or call 800-228-1507. Dr. Sinatra has a financial interest in these products.)
Try earthing for yourself -- and see how you feel.
Mark A. Stengler, NMD, is a naturopathic medical doctor and leading authority on the practice of alternative and integrated medicine. Dr. Stengler is author of the Bottom Line Natural Healing newsletter, author of The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies (Bottom Line Books), founder and medical director of the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine in Encinitas, California, and adjunct associate clinical professor at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. www.DrStengler.com