I discovered grounding years ago when talking to a patient about his arthritis pain. He was a carpenter and told me that instead of taking medicine, he just stood barefoot outside every morning with his friends drinking coffee before they started work. He claimed that worked better than the arthritis medicine. Later, when researching it, I discovered that the concept of simply standing barefoot on the ground was referred to as earthing or grounding. As I read through the scientific research to support its utility, I realized it had merit. And, to my surprise I learned that people like Lance Armstrong and Jack Dorsey were already using grounding to their advantage.
The concept of grounding starts with an understanding that the earth itself actually has a net negative charge. This net negative charge results from lightning strikes, solar radiation and other factors. Our bodies and our skin are conductive. We know we can accidentally get a shock by sticking a finger in an outlet, and in that same fashion you can absorb electrons from the ground when you stand barefoot on the earth. Free radicals can cause harm to our bodies. And these electrons we can absorb from the earth actually neutralize free radicals in our body.
Inflammation is known to be a contributor to chronic disease. A case study published used high resolution medical infrared imaging to monitor acute and chronic levels of inflammation in the body. Across the board, this study demonstrated that when subjects slept on a grounded surface, it reduced both acute and chronic clinical markers of inflammation.
Heart rate variability or HRV has gained momentum as a marker of health. Put simply HRV is the change in your heart rate from beat to beat. It is normal to have a variation in your heart rate and this information is a window into your autonomic nervous system. Most of us know of the rest and digest versus the flight or fight feelings our nervous systems can give us. HRV increases when our bodies autonomic system is balanced. HRV decreases when we experience the anxiety, depression and hostility that is often felt when our sympathetic (fight or flight) system is in over drive. Published in 2011, a study that looked at HRV and grounding showed a statistically significant increase in HRV when subjects were grounded.
A study published in 2015 looked at the blood viscosity of subjects who did yoga on a mat that was grounded versus a mat that wasn’t grounded. They found that there was a decrease in blood viscosity in subjects who were grounded. This is significant because a high blood viscosity is associated with a fourfold higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The zeta potential of a red blood cell is a measure of the force (the negative electric charge) that encourages red blood cells to keep their distance like two magnets that repel each other. This means red blood cells are more likely to flow freely and not clump together in the form of a blood clot. In 2013 researchers at the University of California demonstrated that grounding increased this zeta potential on red blood cells, reducing blood viscosity and the potential for inappropriate blood clotting.
Sleep and cortisol are intimately intertwined. Cortisol is partially responsible for regulating the circadian rhythm. When cortisol levels are too high, the body’s natural circadian rhythm becomes disrupted, often presenting as insomnia. When stress is high and cortisol levels rise, it is very difficult to get a good night’s sleep. A study published in 2015 looked at the effect of sleeping on a grounded surface for 8 weeks. Subjects in this study reported that they felt their sleep quality had improved. And objectively, these subjects showed that their nighttime cortisol levels normalized. Grounding appears to not only reduce nighttime cortisol levels but also helps to realign the circadian rhythm.
The benefits of grounding are widespread. Studies have shown that standing barefoot on the earth for as little as 30 minutes a day can generate these health benefits. Not only does grounding reduce inflammation, a well-known contributor to chronic disease, but it has also shown its ability to reduce blood viscosity, improve sleep, and increase heart rate variability.