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Acupuncture Today
January, 2013, Vol. 14, Issue 01
 
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Stand on Your Ground - Barefoot

By Andrew Rader, LAc, MS

Sometimes you just gotta laugh. We have come to the point where studies are needed, papers are written, websites are created and workshops are given to promote something that is so fundamental, so natural, so intrinsic to our human experience that it borders on the surreal.

I am talking about "Earthing" aka. "Grounding." Earthing is the radically simple and profound idea that we, have lost electrical contact with the ground due to insulating material such as shoes, cars, and buildings and that this loss of electrical contact has profound health consequences. The fix, according to Earthing theory, is simply touching the Earth with our skin or touching an electrically grounded conductive object.

For all of human evolution, until the widespread use of shoes, people were barefoot, or wore conductive natural material on their feet, that enabled the conduction of electrons to pass between the ground and the feet. According to the theory, by simply allowing our skin to touch the Earth we become electrically grounded; meaning the difference in electrical potential between our bodies and the ground, can be neutralized. Over time, without touching the ground, or a body of water, we build up a positive charge. This is because the atmosphere is positively charged while the Earth is negatively charged, meaning that the surface of the Earth has an abundance of available electrons. We can discharge or ground and become neutral, when we touch the ground and allow the electrons to move through us from the Earth. The act of touching the Earth, whether by walking, standing, sitting or lying upon the ground, which was once just natural and constant, has now almost disappeared from our lives. Ask yourself when the last time you went barefoot outside, sat or lied down on the ground. Those who have access to the beach on a daily basis are excluded from this survey, and may count themselves as very lucky.

Touching the Earth also includes touching bodies of water that are touching the Earth, such as oceans, lakes, rivers and streams, and material that is conductive and connected to the Earth via an electrical cord. This may be one reason it feels so good to go to the beach. Swimming in the ocean and lying on the beach are now one of the few ways we ground ourselves.

If you consider how human beings have engaged with the world over the course of our entire evolution some behaviors or activities become completely overlooked. For instance, we don't really think about the fact that our heads are up and our feet are down. Imagine if all of a sudden, humans started walking on their hands, and somehow this is not noticed, and the rate of headaches, digestive trouble and wrist, elbow and shoulder disorders increases. The gastroenterologists will come up with theories, the orthopedists come up with theirs, and the neurologists have another take on it. Suddenly someone realizes that perhaps walking on our hands might have something to do with it. If that someone is not in a position of authority and didn't publish in a peer reviewed journal, and especially if a multi-billion dollar industry would be harmed by this new theory, you can imagine what forces would be brought to shut down that idea. I am being a bit dramatic here but it may not be far from the truth regarding Earthing.

I will submit a synopsis of the evidence put forth by the promulgators of Earthing. Unfortunately, the most well known sources of the evidence also have a commercial interest in Earthing. A review article from the Journal of Environmental and Public Health by Gaétan Chevalier, Stephen T. Sinatra, James L. Oschman, Karol Sokal, and Pawel Sokal state in the abstract that, "this disconnect (not touching the earth) may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and unwellness. Reconnection with the Earth's electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being."1

The review article elaborates and cites specific physiological effects of grounding. It discusses how electrons act as anti-oxidants and as anti-inflammatory agents. "Reduction in inflammation as a result of earthing has been documented with infrared medical imaging and with measurements of blood chemistry and white blood cell counts. The logical explanation for the anti- inflammatory effects is that grounding the body allows negatively charged antioxidant electrons from the Earth to enter the body and neutralize positively charged free radicals at sites of inflammation. Flow of electrons from the Earth to the body has been documented."

Due to the mechanism of reducing inflammation, the electrons are able to ameliorate pain and improve a host of chronic conditions that are rooted in inflammation. In addition to this there are indications that grounding can have an affect on diurnal cortisol levels and thyroid function which would explain its ability to alleviate insomnia and other conditions related to reduced stress hormones.

"In one experiment with non-medicated subjects, grounding during a single night of sleep resulted in statistically significant changes in concentrations of minerals and electrolytes in the blood serum: iron, ionized calcium, inorganic phosphorus, sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Renal excretion of both calcium and phosphorus was reduced significantly. The observed reductions in blood and urinary calcium and phosphorus directly relate to osteoporosis. The results suggest that Earthing for a single night reduces primary indicators of osteoporosis."

Earthing was also noted to enhance the immune response by increasing gamma globulin concentrations in the blood. One of the most profound effects has been found in the ability for grounding to increase the zeta potential in red blood cells. The zeta potential is a measurement of the potential on the surface of cells that relate to the degree to which cells attract each other. The higher the zeta potential, the more charge and the more repulsion that each cell has toward each other. What this means is that grounding causes red blood cells to become less attractive to each other and not stick together, thus making the blood less viscous and less likely to form clots.2

Possibly because of this ability to decrease the clotting tendencies of blood, grounding may have an effect on those taking anticoagulants such as coumadin. The action of other medications may also be affected by grounding and people need be made aware of this if they are on prescription medications and are actively grounding themselves on a daily basis.

In addition to all of this, many other health conditions have been cited to be eased by grounding, including but not limited to autoimmune disorders, pain and insomnia, jet lag, hormonal disorders and any conditions influenced by the inflammatory process including the aging process itself. This is quite astounding if it is even partially true.

So, here lies the rub. There are those who debunk Earthing as not being scientific. Steven Novella, MD in his Neurologica blog writes, "What is lacking are rigorous studies that are designed to establish the basic claims of earthing or to show convincing evidence of a positive clinical effect."3

What is telling are some of the comments to his blog debunking Earthing. One in particular revealed a cultural divide that cuts to the core of many differences between the descendents of Descartes' view of the world and perhaps a more wholistic view.

"I am always baffled by the tendency to romaticize(sic) the past, and I think that is also part of this pseudoscience. There is this notion that what happened decades ago (or hundreds or thousands of years ago, depending on the topic) was ideal, and modern society has harmed us by taking us away from how things are "supposed" to be. This idea is in direct conflict with reality as, every time we measure it, our life expectancies are at all time highs, and we live lives of relatively luxury. Sure we have some modern health problems, but I'll take those every day of the week versus what people we worried about decades ago." - ccbowers commenting on Steven Novella MD's blog criticizing Earthing.

Unfortunately it seems to be a commonly held notion that many folks hold, which is that technology is the answer to many of our woes and that the past, including our connection to nature is to be left behind as quickly as possible. What is missing is the fact that science, at its core, is the study of nature and how the laws of nature come to bear upon us. Whether or not Earthing as a theory is correct or not will become apparent the more folks start grounding themselves. The downside is non-existent and free of cost, when simply going barefoot, while the upside is enormous. I am willing to take that risk, for the sake of science, and take off my shoes.

References

  1. The Journal of Environmental and Public Health Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 291541, 8 pages doi:10.1155/2012/291541
  2. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine Volume 0, Number 0, 2012, pp. 1–9 Earthing (Grounding) the Human Body Reduces Blood Viscosity—a Major Factor in Cardiovascular Disease Gae´tan Chevalier, PhD,
  3. http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/earthing/

Click here for more information about Andrew Rader, LAc, MS.

 

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