Q - Have you heard of earthing? What is it and can it help me?
Carmen S., Los Angeles, Calif.
Earthing is a relatively new medical idea, with some impressive research from various disciplines behind it, but the actual practice is as old as the hills. “Earthing” means connecting with the earth—literally.
Humans did this for thousands of years simply by walking barefoot on the ground. The relatively new convention of walking with shoes—particularly shoes that have rubber or plastic soles—has literally disconnected us from the benefits of the Earth’s electromagnetic field.
Our planet herself gives out a frequency of about 10 hertz, which was first measured at the Max Planck Institute in the 1960s. This frequency is sometimes called the “Schumann resonance frequency of the Earth.”
In the late 1990s, Clinton Ober, a retired cable TV executive, postulated that since electrical instruments work better and last longer when grounded, then perhaps humans would benefit from grounding also. When Ober started sleeping on the ground, he found that he felt better, and he called this practice “earthing.”
After Ober first described the practice, a variety of medical professionals (cardiologists, anesthesiologists, endocrinologists) and athletes (mostly famously Tour de France cyclists) began experimenting with walking barefoot on the ground or sleeping on “grounding” pads as part of their prescription for improved athletic endurance, recovery, and overall well-being. Even the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is paying attention. Though it doesn’t cite “earthing” per se, the Forest Service does emphasize the benefits of connecting with nature.
A recent position paper from the USDA, called “Health and Wellness Benefits of Spending Time in Nature,” aims to improve the health of Americans “where they live, work learn and play.” Some of the deliverables include trail and park maps that can be made available in schools, hospitals, senior centers, and doctors’ offices. The report notes that spending time in nature can benefit people of any age.
Give it a Try
Implementing “earthing” ideas can be very simple, or you can choose to go more high tech. The easiest idea is to walk barefoot. Literature analysis definitively shows that people who walk outside 150 minutes per week are healthier in all ways than people who don’t. Walking improves digestion, sleep, and blood sugar control, as well as lowers cancer risk. Walking also helps ease some types of arthritis, and it has been shown to be more effective than Zoloft at reducing depression.
For most of us, walking barefoot for 150 minutes weekly is a tall order. This is where earthing shoes come in. The idea behind earthing shoes is simple. The Earth gives off electrons that are negatively charged, and therefore act as antioxidants. Copper is a potent electron receptor, being positively charged. So wearing shoes with copper connections “grounds” the electrical flow and allows the flow of electrons from the Earth into your body.
At www.juil.com, you can find attractive and extremely comfortable shoes with copper connectors at the heel and toe pads that go all the way through to the ground. Concrete is porous, so you will still be grounded if you walk with these special shoes on pavement. Since trying earthing clogs for myself, I feel more pleasant and calm when interacting with patients and family. At first I thought it was all in my head, but now I’m pretty sure it has something to do with my feet.
If you want to go beyond just the shoes, try earthing.com. This website will teach you all about mattress pads and other tools that can help you stay grounded. Grounding pads are also available for pets, for the floor under your computer station, and even for your car.
While earthing is still a relatively new idea, preliminary research is beginning to show some measurable benefit. One physician researcher found that sleeping in earthing sheets lowers cortisol levels. Cortisol is our stress hormone and also the body’s response molecule to inflammation. Many medical researchers conclude that chronic inflammation is a leading cause of human disease, and some now consider chronic inflammation to be an electron deficiency. More research is needed to discover the full benefits of earthing, but there’s no denying that spending more time outside in nature can benefit us all.
Do you have a health question? Email "Dr. Em" at email@example.com; please put "Ask the Naturopath" in the subject line.