Many of us spend hours of the day, perhaps all day, inside homes, offices, or other largely artificial environments. Some experts are saying that these environments over-expose us to chemicals that, along with electronics and processed foods, throw off our body’s balance and increase the risk of cancer and other health problems. Such concerns about “dirty electricity” or “electromagnetic pollution” are behind the “earthing” movement, which encourages individuals to touch the earth without conductivity obstruction like rubber shoes. This practice is also known as “grounding.”
According to an article in the Journal of Environmental Public Health, “reconnection with the Earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being.” This claim is based on research finding that walking barefoot outside or connecting to conductive systems that transfer electrons from the ground to the body results in better sleep and reduced pain. Such a finding is significant, according to the paper’s authors, because it signals a new direction for environmental medicine, which has tended to focus on environmental factors’ negative impact on human health.
Here’s the rationale for earthing: Processed foods and toxins in artificial environments generate free radicals or cell-damaging molecules. These molecules induce oxidative stress, stealing electrons from our cells in effort to restore their own electron balance. This leads to inflammation, which is increasingly being linked to non-infectious diseases like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and atherosclerosis. Nature can reduce the impact of these improperly charged radicals by stabilizing a person’s internal bioelectrical environment.
The easiest way to “earth” or “ground” oneself is to enjoy shoe-free time outside or lay on the ground, allowing your skin to come in contact with the soil. But this isn’t the most convenient thing to do, nor is it desirable in a lawn treated with weed killer and fertilizer. There are also grounding products (mattress pads, body patches, and blankets, for instance) that supposedly help to improve electrical flow.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine recently reported on the use of a conductive mattress pad among twelve subjects complaining of sleep dysfunction, pain, and stress. In this study, subjects’ cortisol levels decreased according to saliva tests, and participants reported a reduction or elimination of symptoms. Improvements in blood pressure, energy levels, and respiratory function were also noted.
But some deemed the study “statistically useless,” as only a handful of participants were involved and there was no control group. These critics claim that larger blind, controlled studies are needed to gain substantial answers.
Other skeptics compare “earthing” to the electrical treatments pedaled in the 19th century as cures for dysfunctions such as impotence, indigestion, liver disease, nervous disorders, heart disease, hernias, and exhaustion. One particularly popular treatment in the era was Dr. McLaughlin’s Belt, sold in convenience stores across the country. The zinc and copper coiled contraption, which came in sizes for both men and women, used wires to zap the body with small doses of electricity.
Skeptics compare “earthing” to the electrical treatments pedaled in the 19th-century as cures for dysfunctions such as impotence, indigestion, liver disease, nervous disorders, heart disease, hernias, and exhaustion.
Advertisements for this product and others like it often featured testimonials from well-known actresses and leading health professionals who claimed to have their “systems” regenerated. The Pulvermacher Galvanic Company promoted its electrically charged pouch (a suspensory sack) by claiming that the product provided “necessary support to the scrotum” and electric-curative currents to “envelop the suffering parts, gradually equalize the circulation of blood in the enlarged veins, and effect a permanent cure.”
Electro-therapeutic products eventually became the target of lawsuits, as plaintiffs claimed the devices actually worsened their conditions. The products went virtually extinct in the early 1900s, as health authorities began to prosecute unlicensed medical sellers.
But this history does not appear to be stopping “earthing” from gaining popularity. Blogs and books on the subject are growing in number, as are sales of grounding products. Perhaps this is because the idea of going outside, breathing fresh air, and connecting with the ground is appealing to individuals who live and work in increasingly toxic and artificial environments. “Human health and human disease result from three things that interact,” according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine: “the environment, a person’s own likelihood of developing illness, and age.” This realization is pushing many individuals to pursue more natural remedies for their ailments.