What is Earthing?

Earthing means connecting the body to the earth’s surface electric charge. Earthing is said to be a form of “electric nutrition” and a “universal regulating factor in Nature” because research has shown that it has a profound impact on human health (Menigoz et al., 2020). In fact, the simple act of regular contact with the earth has been shown to positively influence immune function, enhance muscle healing, improve bone health, reduce blood pressure, increase blood flow, enhance nervous system functioning, and improve sleep and mood.

The earthing movement came out of Germany in the late 19th century and promoted sleeping on the ground outdoors and being barefoot outside as ways to achieve health (Just, 1903). In the 1920’s, Dr. G.S. White reported that sleeping on the ground, or connected to the earth such as by copper wire attached to grounded pipes, resulted in improved sleep (White, 1929). However, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that these ideas gained traction, when Clint Ober (Ober, 2000) and Sokal and Sokal (Sokal & Sokal, 2011) in Poland confirmed through research studies that there were many health benefits to being grounded to the earth. Ober, who worked with cable TV, realized this association through his experience with electrical systems, which require contact with the ground in order to be electrically stable. When these systems are connected to the negative charge on the earth’s surface they are said to be “grounded”. The term “grounding” is used synonymously with the term “earthing”.

There are two ways to connect to the flow of electrons over the surface of earth: (1) directly, by putting the body in contact with natural conductive surfaces such as grass, soil, gravel, stone and sand; (2) putting the body in contact with grounded conductive mats, pads, body bands, or patches (usually while sitting or sleeping). The earth’s electron flow comes primarily from lightning strikes, solar radiation, and other atmospheric phenomena. These electron sources are continuous and give the earth a natural negative electric charge, since free electrons are negatively charged. (Menigoz et al., 2020).

Until quite recently, it was the natural human state to be grounded virtually 24 hours a day. Humans walked barefoot and slept on the ground for most of our evolutionary history. Even when we adapted to wearing footwear and using bedding, it was made from animal skins that when moistened with ground moisture or sweat were able to conduct electrons from the ground to the body. Only recently have we shifted to wearing footwear with synthetic soles, living primarily on top of concrete. In this way, we might be said to be disconnected from our “electric roots” (Sinatra et al., 2017). 

The theory of “electron deficiency syndrome” states that as a consequence of the loss of an electric connection to the earth, that a natural source of electron flow to the body has been lost, which will have significant adverse physiological consequences (Oschman et al., 2015).

Following this, it is possible that the loss of electric connection to the earth, a relatively recent phenomenon, might underlie (at least in part) the rise in global illness of the 21st and 22nd century (Menigoz et al., 2020).

Humans As Bioelectrical Beings

The idea that electron flow from the earth may play an important role in regulating human physiology is consistent with our understanding of humans as bioelectrical beings. Internal bioelectric signals regulate the function of the cardiovascular, nervous, immune and endocrine systems. The measurement of the body’s electrical character is called electrophysiology. 

The flow of electrons over the surface of the earth can be transferred into the human body through direct contact. Electrons have a negative charge, and in the body, like to occur in pairs. These electrons can act to neutralize free radicals, which have an unpaired electron that makes them unstable. Some free radicals are also known as reactive oxygen species. Free radicals are readily produced in the body and can do damage to surrounding cells and tissues. The free electron of a free radical can be “quenched” by an electron donor, stabilizing it in a pair. This is how antioxidants work – they act as electron donors to neutralize free radicals. In this way, the earth is seen as a giant antioxidant (Menigoz et al., 2020).

Probing into this mechanism more deeply, it has been proposed that the electron flow provided by earthing may be able to break through the “inflammatory barricade” that can slow the healing response. This barricade develops in response to trauma or infection and serves to wall off damaged tissues and prevent bacteria, pathogens, or debris that result from an injury from travelling to (and harming) nearby tissues. However, the barricade also prevents treatments like antioxidants from accessing the site of injury, which can reduce the rate of healing. Because the barricade is made of the connective tissue collagen, which is a semi-conductor, electrons are able to cross through and perform their healing antioxidant action at the site of damage. In fact, all proteins act as semi-conductors which could have profound implications for the movement of electrons throughout the body. This may be particularly relevant for chronic inflammatory diseases (Sinatra et al., 2017). 

The effect of earthing on the electrical potential of the body has been demonstrated in research. Measurements of the body’s electrical induced fields in the left breast, abdomen, and left thigh were measured while both grounded and ungrounded, and it was found that the measured voltage in the grounded state was equalized with the Earth’s electrical potential. This voltage stayed constant despite the application of an electrical field. In contrast, when ungrounded, the application of an electrical field to the three body positions resulted in a large increase in electrical potential at the surface of the body, which is thought to disturb the electrical charges of molecules inside the body (Applewhite, 2005). 

As described by Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, when the electric potential of the body is the same as the Earth’s electric potential (which is what has been shown to occur during grounding), the body becomes an extension of the Earth’s electrical system in a phenomenon known as the “umbrella effect”, which results in the person being unaffected by electrical disturbances (Feynman et al., 1963). Earthing has also been shown to result in rapid changes in measures of body electrophysiology as measured by brain electroencephalograms (EEG’s) and muscle electromyograms (EMG’s) (Chevalier et al., 2006). This evidence clearly indicates that the concept of earthing affecting the electrical nature of the body is not merely theoretical. 

Effects of Earthing on the Body

Immune System

The immune system regulates inflammation. Earthing has been shown to alter the inflammatory response to an injury, especially chronic infection. This is thought to be accomplished by passage of electrons through the inflammatory barricade previously described, which allows for healing following infection and injury. Inflammation has been shown through infrared imaging to decrease within 30 minutes of earthing, which is accompanied by metabolic changes that suggest tissue healing (Oschman et al, 2015).

Earthing the human body has also been shown to speed up the immune response following vaccination. This has been demonstrated by measuring levels of immune markers in the blood following vaccination (Sokal & Sokal, 2011).

Musculoskeletal System

Earthing helps muscles to recover from exercise. Three studies have shown that earthing is able to reduce delayed onset muscular soreness (DOMS) that occurs 24-72 hours after unusual or strenuous exercise. In the first study, 4 healthy men experienced a reduction in DOMS as well as pain and inflammation compared to a control group (Brown et al., 2010). In the second study, a larger group of 16 healthy men experienced similar effects (Brown et al., 2015). In the third study, subjects slept on an earthing sleep mat and compared to a control group, experienced positive effects such as a faster recovery, decreased inflammation, and less muscle damage (Müller et al., 2019). Earthing during cycling exercise has also been shown to significantly reduce the level of blood urea, which is an indicator of muscle and protein breakdown (Sokal et al., 2013). Based on these findings, it appears that earthing may be a simple and effective method to enhance recovery after exercise, which is important as very few interventions are known to help with DOMS. 

Bone health has also been shown to benefit from earthing. After a single night of sleeping grounded, subjects showed decreases in levels of the minerals calcium and phosphorus in both the blood and urine, which suggest a reduced rate of bone loss (Sokal & Sokal, 2011).

Cardiovascular System

Earthing has been shown to improve blood flow in adults. Specifically, earthing has been found to increase the Zeta potential of red blood cells. The zeta potential is an indicator of the strength of the negative charge on the surface of red blood cells that helps to maintain the spacing of the blood cells while in the blood, which reduces the “viscosity” or thickness of the blood. When the zeta potential is higher, blood cells repel each other and there is less clumping and improved blood flow. In one study, the zeta potential increased by an average of 270% within two hours of earthing (Chevalier et al, 2013). The relationship of this effect to negative charge, and the speed of the effect, seems to clearly illustrate the electrical influence of earthing on the body. 

Earthing has also been shown to reduce blood pressure. In a study of 10 patients with hypertension, all subjects experienced a decrease in blood pressure with earthing. Blood pressure decreased when patients grounded themselves for at least 10 hours per day using a grounding mat. Systolic blood pressure decreased by an average of 14% (Elkin & Winter, 2018).

Other cardiovascular related effects have been found with earthing. A placebo-controlled study found an increase in respiration rate, stabilization of blood oxygenation, and an increase in the pulse rate and perfusion index (a measure of blood flow) variability when grounded. These changes are thought to indicate the onset of a healing response that requires an increase in oxygen consumption (Chevalier, 2010).

Autonomic Nervous System

Earthing affects the function of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in both infants and adults. The ANS is responsible for regulating body processes such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and digestion. When earthing patches were placed on the skin of premature babies, within minutes increases in heart rate variability (HRV) were observed, which indicate better functioning of the ANS. This may help to reduce the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, which is severe illness that affects about 10% of premature infants and can cause death (Passi et al., 2017). In adults, earthing has been found to cause a shift from an overactive expression of the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) to a parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) state that regulates heart rate, respiration, digestion, and other functions (Chevalier, 2010). Earthing also exerts a normalizing effects on levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol (Ghaly & Teplitz, 2004). In this way, earthing has the effect of reducing stress.

Skin

Earthing has been found to increase blood flow to the skin. Following earthing, there was a rapid increase in blood flow to the face in a placebo-controlled study in which the control group was given a “sham” earthing experience (Chevalier, 2014). This might explain the results of a survey that found that women reported having better facial complexions after earthing (The Earthing Institute). Increased blood flow to the face, neck and torso has also been shown following earthing (Chevalier, 2015). 

The effects of earthing on the skin have also been studied in the context of wound healing. A case study of an 84 year old woman with an eight-month old open wound near her ankle responded dramatically to two weeks of using an earthing patch after several unsuccessful treatments at a specialized wound center (Sinatra et al., 2017). This is consistent with animal research that shows that electric currents increase energy production and protein synthesis in rat skin (Cheng et al., 1982).

Sleep

Many people report better sleep with earthing. The first report of improved sleep with grounding came in the 1920’s from Dr. G.S. White (White, 1929). More recently, in a study of 12 participants, 11 subjects reported that they fell asleep faster and all subjects reported fewer nighttime awakenings after 8 weeks. Subjects also showed normalization in their 24-hour profile of cortisol secretion (Ghaly & Teplitz, 2004). Similarly, in a controlled, blinded study of 60 subjects who reported disturbed sleep and chronic muscle and joint pain, the group who slept on the grounded sleep mats reported a wide variety of benefits, including improved sleep and sleep apnea after one month (Ober et al., 2010).

Mood

Earthing has been shown to improve mood. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 40 adult men and women, those who spent an hour sitting comfortably in a recliner on a grounded mat, with their head on a grounded pillow, and with grounding patches on their palms and soles showed significantly improved mood compared to the control group, who used the same products that were not grounded. Specifically, participants reported a more pleasant mood, feeling less tired and more relaxed, and feeling more positive (Chevalier, 2015). 

Clinical Recommendations

Earthing represents an incredibly safe, inexpensive, and effective intervention that can easily be integrated into one’ life. There are three ways that health care providers can recommend earthing to their patients. These are:

  1. Earthing outdoors. Sessions of 30-40 minutes daily have been shown to be effective (Sinatra 18). This is also the most inexpensive method of earthing. People can go barefoot outdoors or can buy outdoor conductive footwear. Unfortunately, time and weather may be limiting factors. Also note that in order for electron transfer to occur, one must be on a natural conductive surface, such as soil, sand, gravel, grass or stone.
  2. Earthing products. There are a number of grounding products that are available commercially. These include sleep mats, blankets, bands, patches, chairs, and mats. These products are connected via an electrical cord to a grounded outlet, or less commonly, to a grounding pole placed in the earth. Prices vary but are quite reasonable.
  3. Earthing in clinic. Health care practitioners can provide treatments to patients while lying on an earthing mat, or can provide in-clinic earthing sessions where patients use grounding products like chairs, mats, and patches.  

Conclusion

Our modern lifestyles provide us with many benefits, but they also have served to disconnect us from the earth. It is becoming increasingly clear that this may have adverse effects on our health, and conversely, that health can be improved by reconnecting with the “electric nutrition” of the earth in some way. While earthing outdoors is a free and easy way to get grounded, there are many accessible products available that can facilitate this connection. Given the ease and safety of this intervention, it is recommended that everyone incorporate earthing into their routine of health maintenance and disease prevention. 

Dr. Genevieve Newton, DC, PhD  spent close to 20 years as a researcher and educator in the field of nutritional sciences before joining Fringe as its Scientific Director. Gen’s job is to “bring the science” that supports Fringe’s products and education. She is passionate about all things Fringe, and is a deep believer in healing body, mind and spirit using the gifts of the natural world. 

The contents in this blog; such as text, content, graphics are intended for educational purposes only. The Content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider.

For more information about Fringe light products, go to: https://fringeheals.com/shop-all-products/

References

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