In recent months we have noticed more people discussing the benefits of “grounding” or “earthing.” This got us curious to find out more about how this hack works, and to get a sense of the science behind it. Here is what we found.
What is it?
The concept is simple: grounding is basically reconnecting with earth’s natural flow of electricity. Most of us have lost this connection due to the simple fact that we are usually spending the majority of our time indoors, and—when we do go outside—we are usually wearing shoes. The result is that we have isolated ourselves from the earth’s gentle electric current.
The theory goes that the loss of this electric “nutrition” may be connected to increases in chronic inflammation and oxidative stress that are often associated with many age-related diseases. Earthing has also been cited as a way to accelerate healing from wounds.
Grounding can be done by simply walking barefoot outside. The contact of your bare skin with the ground is enough to trigger the flow of electrons. You can also ground indoors by using special grounding mats, socks, and even sheets.
Biohacker extraordinaire Ben Greenfield’s POV.
Our inquiry on grounding led us to this episode of Ben Greenfield’s podcast. If you are not familiar with Greenfield, he is one of the most prominent biohackers out there. He is very focused on longevity and on optimizing human performance.
What we like about him is that he tends to be fairly meticulous about investigating the science behind the different things he tries. So it got our attention when he listed earthing as one of his top, go-to hacks.
In the podcast, Ben interviews Clint Ober, who arguably is the person who started the earthing “movement.” While they go deep into the topic, we have to confess that parts of the discussion have a bit of a “woo-woo” vibe, as Greenfield himself jokes in his intro to the interview. The fact that Ober’s tagline for his company is “conscious science in service to the miraculous intelligence in nature” gives you a sense of what we mean.
But the idea that re-connecting with mother earth (as you do through grounding) can have beneficial health effects is appealing. It seems plausible when thinking about how our ancestors evolved tens of thousands of years ago. And the story of how Ober got to focus on grounding as a therapeutic method is also a compelling personal journey. Grounding definitely turned his health around. And since then, Ober has been devoted to educating the world on its benefits.
So what does the science say?
The benefits of earthing have not been researched very deeply. The hypothesis is that establishing skin contact with the earth enables free electrons from the earth’s surface to flow into the body. These electrons then influence our internal electric biology through the connective tissue matrix between cells. This negatively charged current appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect by neutralizing oxidative stress.
Most of the studies that have been published on this topic have involved small samples of participants, and much of the evidence is based on their subjective reporting of the benefits. Among the effects measured are: (1) drops in self-reported and measured pain levels in grounded participants vs the control group; (2) lower levels of pro-inflammatory agents such as white blood cells, neutrophils, and lymphocytes after strenuous exercise; (3) faster healing of wounds in grounded subjects; and (4) self-reported improvements in sleep quality.
One big caveat: the most prominent analyses we found (1,2) on this subject were both conducted by the same team of researchers and were sponsored by a company selling earthing gear. And, the researchers reported owning a small amount of shares in this company.
Our final take.
It doesn’t surprise us that the medical establishment has not paid a lot of attention to grounding as a therapeutic. The whole thesis behind grounding is based on electricity, not biology. So earthing certainly falls into the “alternative treatment” category, in our judgement. That might explain why it is poorly understood.
We wouldn’t necessarily recommend running out and buying yourself a set of earthing sheets or socks. But if you are searching for solutions to problems related to poor sleep, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or inflammation, you might as well give earthing a try.
First, listen to Ober’s explanation in the podcast about how grounding works. If you're convinced, try it and observe any effects! Based on Ober’s experience, it should be noticeable relatively quickly.
If you do decide to try it, we would love to hear what you learned! Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org