Earthing, which refers to something as basic as being connected to Mother Earth, may to some come across as a dubious health concept. 15 years ago, I might have seen it that way myself, perhaps thinking that it’s something ‘alternative’. Today, however, I don’t doubt that it pays to be grounded. The main reason is simple: From a Darwinian point of view, it’s quite obvious that we’ve evolved to have our feet firmly placed on the ground. By nature, we’re not truck drivers or skyscraper-dwelling office workers. And we’re certainly not space travelers. Rather, by design, we’re barefooted hunter-gatherers. This is not to say that earthing is a panacea (it certainly isn’t). It’s not quackery either though. As I see it, it’s just a natural, fundamental part of being an earthly creature.
The evolutionary rationale
From an evolutionary point of view, it makes obvious sense that there are benefits to being intimately connected to the surface of the Earth. After all, our bond with Mother Nature may be said to be our most fundamental and important relationship. It’s one we’re stuck with either we like it or not, in the sense that it’s constantly with us as part of our genetic heritage.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were obviously grounded. Not because they made a conscious decision to be, but rather because they didn’t have access to all of the stuff – shoes, cars, buildings, planes, and concrete roads – that we’ve used to ‘elevate’ ourselves off the ground. Some of them, and in particular those who came to venture out of Africa, into colder parts of the world, may have used animal skin as a way to cover and protect their feet; however, they would never have worn anything closely resembling the typical factory-produced shoes that we currently have available to us.
Basically, it’s safe to say that the hominin lineage evolved in contact with the natural surface of the Earth. This notion is underscored by the fact that most of our evolutionary journey took place in a warm part of the world and by studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer groups who still inhabit such a habitat, like the Hadza and the San.
This is important to recognize, because it implies that we’re biologically attuned to the ground. Just like we’ve come to depend on the UVR-emitting sun and oxygen-producing trees to function well, we’ve likely come to rely on certain aspects of the natural surfaces of the Earth. This idea is supported by a growing body of research…
The science of reconnecting with Mother Earth
Yesterday, I finally got around to exploring a scientific paper that’s been on my to-read list for a long time. The article, which is is called “Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons”, provides an overview of the premise and research on earthing. Personally, I’m not an expert on the concept. I recognize its importance and the rationale behind it; however, I’m by no means knowledgeable enough to give a detailed account of the science on the matter. Hence, I’m not able to skillfully evaluate the merits of everything the authors’ claim. That said, I’d say the overall vibe of the review is one of trustworthiness, in part because of its heavy reliance on experimental research.
So as to raise awareness of the significance of earthing, I thought I’d bring up certain key sections of the paper, which I really liked and have a feeling, based on the research I’ve done, is high on the list of the best review papers on the topic that’s been published to date.
To begin with, the authors highlight the fact that the surface of the Earth is not some lifeless, inert structure, but rather an electromagnetic force to be reckoned with…
Omnipresent throughout the environment is a surprisingly beneficial, yet overlooked global resource for health maintenance, disease prevention, and clinical therapy: the surface of the Earth itself. It is an established, though not widely appreciated fact, that the Earth’s surface possesses a limitless and continuously renewed supply of free or mobile electrons. The surface of the planet is electrically conductive (except in limited ultradry areas such as deserts), and its negative potential is maintained (i.e., its electron supply replenished) by the global atmospheric electrical circuit. (1)
Next, they get into why that is relevant to the inhabitants of the Earth, particularly focusing on the human body:
Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems. Moreover, oscillations of the intensity of the Earth’s potential may be important for setting the biological clocks regulating diurnal body rhythms, such as cortisol secretion. It is also well established that electrons from antioxidant molecules neutralize reactive oxygen species (ROS, or in popular terms, free radicals) involved in the body’s immune and inflammatory responses. (1)
The authors also emphasise that our recent detachment from the Earth’s surface represents an underappreciated mismatch that likely contributes to maintaining the current disease landscape:
Modern lifestyle has increasingly separated humans from the primordial flow of Earth’s electrons. For example, since the 1960s, we have increasingly worn insulating rubber or plastic soled shoes, instead of the traditional leather fashioned from hides. Rossi has lamented that the use of insulating materials in post-World War II shoes has separated us from the Earth’s energy field. Obviously, we no longer sleep on the ground as we did in times past.
During recent decades, chronic illness, immune disorders, and inflammatory diseases have increased dramatically, and some researchers have cited environmental factors as the cause. However, the possibility of modern disconnection with the Earth’s surface as a cause has not been considered. (1)
Moving forward, the paper features a review of experimental research. Here’s the gist of what has come to light:
Emerging scientific research supports the concept that the Earth’s electrons induce multiple physiological changes of clinical significance, including reduced pain, better sleep, a shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and a blood-thinning effect. (1)
Moving on to the discussion, the authors bring home the point that modern humans are in a state of imbalance by asserting that,,,
In the absence of Earth contact, internal charge distribution will not be uniform, but instead will be subject to a variety of electrical perturbations in the environment. It is well known that many important regulations and physiological processes involve events taking place on cell and tissue surfaces. In the absence of a common reference point, or “ground,” electrical gradients, due to uneven charge distribution, can build up along tissue surfaces and cell membranes. (1)
At the end, they provide the following take-home message:
The research done to date supports the concept that grounding or earthing the human body may be an essential element in the health equation along with sunshine, clean air and water, nutritious food, and physical activity. (1)
Other research echoes and supports the basic propositions offered in this paper by affirming that earthing affects physiological processes and can help counteract inflammation and oxidative stress – two principal drivers of human disease (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Of note, the research that has been conducted to date has primarily revolved around the concept of electron transfer. One can’t exclude the possibility that other factors cause beneficial outcomes following contact with the surface of the Earth.
Some personal reflections
As I alluded to in the beginning, personally, I’m convinced that earthing is beneficial. I know there are naysayers out there, some of whom I’ve seen voice their opinions online; however, I don’t find this opposition to be as weighty/convincing as the Darwinian reasoning, personal experience, experiences of others, and scientific evidence that support my favorable stance. Most importantly, my gut feeling is that there is something to this whole earthing thing. I think much of that has to do with the fact that history has shown us that pretty much whenever we’ve lost touch with some central aspect of our ancestral experience, we’ve suffered in some way.
This is not to say that I can say, on the basis of my knowledge, that we’ve got all the mechanisms down to a tee or that I’m so deluded as to think that earthing has the potential to single-handedly bring the diseases of civilization to the curb; however, I do think it deserves recognition alongside other relevant factors such as sun exposure and microbial stimuli.
Personally, I haven’t looked into or gone to the step of purchasing a conductive earthing product, such as a special mattress or pillow. I’m not excluding the possibility that I’ll do so in the future; however, I don’t have any immediate plans of going down that route. I’ve been thinking about getting a better pair of shoes though, as I strongly suspect that the ones I have now score quite poorly in terms of their conduction.
I’ve been ditching footwear whenever possible, but seeing as I live up north, opportunities to go barefoot outside are scant for most of the year. However, during the past couple of summers, following my increasing appreciation of the earthing concept, I’ve jumped at every opportunity to go barefoot, which likely helped promote wellness alongside other factors such as sunshine and activity.
In recent times, as we’ve gone from having our feet firmly planted on the ground to living at a level above it, we’ve increasingly lost touch with the electrically charged surface of the Earth. A growing body of research suggests that this decoupling of the human body from its earthly underpinnings has had unintended consequences, contributing to causing sleep disturbances, moodiness, and chronic disease, thereby supporting the belief that it pays to be grounded.