THERE’S little time to get our feet dirty in today’s world, but that may change as a simple new therapy offers myriad benefits.
The concept sounds too good to be true: Enjoy better health just by walking barefoot on the earth. It may seem a bit hippy-dippy, but research links this practice, known as “earthing”, to everything from reduced levels of inflammation and pain to improved sleep.
Perhaps it’s a little odd to have a philosophy that describes what many of us did every day as kids – dodging bindis in the grass, feeling the sand between your toes – but modern lifestyles have formed a barrier between our bodies and Earth’s surface.
Shoes, carpet and high-rise buildings are just some of the culprits that stop us forming a physical connection with the ground. This lack of connection deprives us of “electrical nutrition”, according to health writer Martin Zucker. He co-authored the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? with cardiologist Stephen Sinatra and Clinton Ober, who discovered earthing after suffering a near-fatal disease in the ’90s.
Zucker says the earth’s ability to restore and stabilise the bioelectrical circuitry in our bodies is “an overlooked resource” that has nourished living beings throughout the ages – until we built barriers, that is.
The Science of Earthing
Jim McFarlane, an associate professor in physiology at the University of New England in NSW, says the idea of earthing shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. “I think there’s quite a lot of truth in it,” he says, explaining that our bodies become electrically charged as a result of simple things we do each day, such as walking on carpet, wearing clothes and driving cars. “The charge never dissipates because we wear shoes and we’re isolated from any earthing surfaces,” he adds.
The human body is mostly water and minerals, which makes it a good conductor of electricity and means its functioning relies on complex electrical and chemical processes. McFarlane explains that living in an electrically charged environment means the natural equilibrium of chemical substances is altered and they don’t “function as they would when the body is earthed”.
The surface of our planet, however, is “like a big sink” that drains the built-up positive charge from our body, McFarlane says. So by connecting with our planet’s own electrical system, we can bring ourselves back to a natural state of balance.
The Proven Effect
Research has shown that earthing can offer a range of benefits. A 2010 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found changes in pulse rate, respiratory rate and blood oxygenation during earthing, and concluded “the results warrant further research”.
A year later, Polish researchers used a double-blind experimental technique to demonstrate that earthing could cause statistically significant changes in the concentration of minerals and electrolytes in subjects’ blood serum and urine. The results showed an increase in the concentration of gamma globulin, which contains antibodies that strengthen the immune system. Continuous earthing was also shown to decrease blood glucose in patients with diabetes.
Possible Health Benefits
Although clinical research is still in its early stages, the results – along with anecdotal evidence – suggest a link between earthing and overall wellbeing. An article published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health in 2012, summarised research studies that have associated earthing with improvements in sleep, diminished muscle and joint pain and reductions in stress levels, and the severity of inflammation.
A 2013 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that two hours of earthing reduced the surface charge of red blood cells, consequently reducing blood viscosity and clumping, which cause resistance in blood flow. It noted that increased blood viscosity can be a predictor of cardiovascular events and recommended further research to determine if earthing could reduce the risk.
GP David Richards says he’s achieved “pretty spectacular” results after introducing some of his patients to earthing through the use of an “earthing button” that simulates barefoot contact with the earth. “Most people with high blood pressure, thyroid disease and diabetes start to improve [as a result of earthing] and have to reduce their medication,” he says, adding that he believes these results are generally a result of the anti-inflammatory effects of earthing: “Just about every problem I see on a daily basis has some inflammatory component.”
How to Start Earthing
Trying this technique for yourself is as simple as finding the nearest patch of earth and kicking off your shoes, although wet sand and damp grass are said to provide the optimal earthing experience. Richards encourages people to “go barefoot as much as possible, whenever possible”.
For those who don’t have access to a patch of lawn, or are just not the barefoot type, earthing products are available. Linda McNair, the director of Australian earthing store Barefoot Healing, points to a range of mattress covers, wristbands and mats that can be placed beneath your desk and connected to the earth via a wall socket (crucially, with the power off).
Earthing blankets are popular for animals with inflammatory joint conditions and there’s even specially designed footwear, which McNair describes as providing “connection with protection”.
“Earthing keeps me healthy after cancer”
Andy Zagami, 28, Melbourne – “I had cancer three times between the ages of 21 and 26. The surgeries and chemotherapy treatment completely destroyed my energy levels. I started looking for natural remedies to heal my body and was instantly interested in earthing. I now sleep on an earthing mat and use one while sitting at the computer. I wake up feeling more rested and have noticed a big improvement in my concentration and energy levels.”