Until now, the physiological significance and possible health effects of stabilizing the internal bioelectrical environment of an organism have not been a significant topic of research. Some aspects of this, however, are relatively obvious. 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.
We can predict that such charge differentials will influence biochemical and physiological processes. First, the structure and functioning of many enzymes are sensitive to local environmental conditions. Each enzyme has an optimal pH that favors maximal activity. A change in the electrical environment can alter the pH of biological fluids and the charge distribution on molecules and thereby affect reaction rates. The pH effect results because of critical charged amino acids at the active site of the enzyme that participate in substrate binding and catalysis. In addition, the ability of a substrate or enzyme to donate or accept hydrogen ions is influenced by pH.
Another example is provided by voltage-gated ion channels, which play critical biophysical roles in excitable cells such as neurons. Local alterations in the charge profiles around these channels can lead to electrical instability of the cell membrane and to the inappropriate spontaneous activity observed during certain pathological states [31
Earthing research offers insights into the clinical potential of barefoot contact with the Earth, or simulated barefoot contact indoors via simple conductive systems, on the stability of internal bioelectrical function and human physiology. Initial experiments resulted in subjective reports of improved sleep and reduced pain [10
]. Subsequent research showed that improved sleep was correlated with a normalization of the cortisol day-night profile [13
]. The results are significant in light of the extensive research showing that lack of sleep stresses the body and contributes to many detrimental health consequences. Lack of sleep is often the result of pain. Hence, reduction of pain might be one reason for the benefits just described.
Pain reduction from sleeping grounded has been confirmed in a controlled study on DOMS. Earthing is the first intervention known to speed recovery from DOMS [21
]. Painful conditions are often the result of various kinds of acute or chronic inflammation conditions caused in part by ROS generated by normal metabolism and also by the immune system as part of the response to injury or trauma. Inflammation can cause pain and loss of range of motion in joints. Inflammatory swelling can put pressure on pain receptors (nocireceptors) and can compromise the microcirculation, leading to ischemic pain. Inflammation can cause the release of toxic molecules that also activate pain receptors. Modern biomedical research has also documented a close relationship between chronic inflammation and virtually all chronic diseases, including the diseases of aging, and the aging process itself. The steep rise in inflammatory diseases, in fact, has been recently called “inflamm-aging” to describe a progressive inflammatory status and a loss of stress-coping ability as major components of the aging process [32
Reduction in inflammation as a result of earthing has been documented with infrared medical imaging [28
] and with measurements of blood chemistry and white blood cell counts [21
]. 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 [28
]. Flow of electrons from the Earth to the body has been documented [15
A pilot study on the electrodynamics of red blood cells (zeta potential) has revealed that earthing significantly reduces blood viscosity, an important but neglected parameter in cardiovascular diseases and diabetes [29
], and circulation in general. Thus, thinning the blood may allow for more oxygen delivery to tissues and further support the reduction of inflammation.
Stress reduction has been confirmed with various measures showing rapid shifts in the ANS from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance, improvement in heart rate variability, and normalization of muscle tension [19
Not reported here are many observations over more than two decades by Ober et al. [12
] and K. Sokal and P. Sokal [11
] indicating that regular earthing may improve blood pressure, cardiovascular arrhythmias, and autoimmune conditions such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Some effects of earthing on medication are described by Ober et al. [12
] and at the website: http://www.earthinginstitute.net/
. As an example, the combination of earthing and coumadin has the potential to exert a compounded blood thinning effect and must be supervised by a physician. Multiple anecdotes of elevated INR have been reported. INR (international normalized ratio) is a widely used measurement of coagulation. The influence of earthing on thyroid function and medication has been described earlier.
From a practical standpoint, clinicians could recommend outdoor “barefoot sessions” to patients, weather, and conditions permitting. Ober et al. [12
] have observed that going barefoot as little as 30 or 40 minutes daily can significantly reduce pain and stress, and the studies summarized here explain why this is the case. Obviously, there is no cost for barefoot grounding. However, the use of conductive systems while sleeping, working, or relaxing indoors offer a more convenient and routine-friendly approach.