What is Earthing?

First published in December 2012 issue of Better Nutrition

Q: Hi Doctor Em!  Have you heard of earthing?

A: Yes,”earthing” is a relatively new medical idea, with some impressive research from various disciplines behind it — but it’s as old as the hills.  “Earthing” means connecting with the earth — literally.  Humans have done this for thousands of years by walking barefoot on the ground.  The relatively new convention of walking with shoes, particularly rubber or plastic-soled shoes, has disconnected us from the benefits of the Earth’s electromagnetic field.  The planet herself gives out a frequency of about 10 hertz, which was discerned 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 (that’s the third prong of the plug on your electrical instruments’ cords) then maybe humans would benefit from grounding also.  When Ober started sleeping on the ground, he felt better, and started to call this practice “earthing.”

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 wellbeing.

Even the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service is paying attention to this trend.  Though not citing “earthing” per se, connecting with nature is an important objective for a segment of the USDA Forest Service.  A recent position paper from the USDA, “Health and Wellness Benefits of Spending Time in Nature” aims to “translate” the CDC (Center for Disease Control) 2009 directive to improve the health of Americans “where they live, work learn and play.”  Some of the “deliverables” to communities and schools include trail and park maps that can be made available in schools, hospitals, senior centers, doctors’ offices and health centers.  The Forest Service report emphasizes that the benefits of being in Nature are not age restricted!

Implementing “earthing” ideas can be very simple, or 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 that people who don’t.  Walking improves digestion, sleep, blood sugar control and lowers cancer risk.  Walking diminishes some types of arthritis.  Walking has been shown to be significantly more effective than Zoloft at reducing depression.

For most of us, walking barefoot 150 minutes weekly is a tall order.  This is where “earthing” shoes come in.  Juil.com is a lovely website where you can get attractive and extremely comfortable shoes with copper connectors at the heel and toes 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.  I havebeen wearing my earthing clogs recently and I feel more pleasant and calm wheninteracting with patients and family.  That’s great for everybody!  At first I though thiswas all in my head, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with my feet too.

The Earth gives off electrons.  Electrons are negatively charged (bond to positively charged, or “acidic” ions like hydrogen) and therefore act as anti-oxidants.  Copper is a potent electron receptor, being positively charged.  Wearing the shoes with copper connections to the earth (just like all the electrical circuits in your home or office) “grounds” the electrical flow in your body into the Earth’s natural field and allows the flow of healing electronsfrom the Earth up into your body.

Another website, earthing.com, will teach you all about mattress pads (and many other tools) embedded with silver threads, that plug into the “ground” (or third hole) of your electrical outlet so you can sleep grounded.  Grounding pads are also avialable for pets, for the floor under your computer station (i have my bare feet on a floor mat right now) and even for your car.  One of the physician researchers found the 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.  Chronic inflammation is now being considered to be an electron deficiency.

The upshot of this article is to introduce my readers to the “earthing” movement and encourage you to get outside, get moving, and stay grounded!