Ask the Pharmacist

Q) I recently received an advertisement about a product related to “earthing” that sounded like it might help my husband. What is earthing and is there actually any science supporting it?

A) That is a good question, especially with the plethora of healthcare related scams there are to entice and willingly take your hard-earned money. Earthing, or grounding as it also known as, is a therapeutic technique that is supposed to reconnect you to the earth so that you can experience positive effects from its electrical charges . Note that it isn’t really the same as the mental health technique known as grounding in which an individual is taught how to keep in the “present” and helps prevent them from feeling overwhelmed.

The theory behind earthing is that our entire body is a series of gazillions of electrical charges that occur within and between cells. It is this electrical conductivity that functions as part of our immune system defence and the belief is that, by connecting to the earth’s electrical charges, the natural defences of our body can be restored. This occurs because the earth has a mild negative charge to it.

Over time, especially in more recent decades, our bodies build up a positive charge. This positive charge is a result of a by-product of our metabolic processes since our body generates free radicals which have been implicated in numerous chronic diseases and in aging. Free radicals lack electrons, which gives them a slight positive charge and leads to a high level of reactivity and, it is theorized, damage to the cells around them. The earth can provide the needed electrons to neutralize these free radicals and make them less destructive. By having direct contact with the earth (such as walking barefoot or touching the earth with our bare hands) we can even out this positive charge and return our body to its natural neutral state.

It’s hard to argue that many of us, particularly in western cultures simply do not have much contact with the earth anymore, even as children. We spend less time than ever outdoors and when we do our feet are encased in rubber or our hands in leather. There are undoubtedly some of us who go years without actually having our flesh contact the ground we live on. Grounding is definitely an under-researched topic and the studies that have been done have lacked the money needed to be of long enough in duration and large enough of a population to be considered great science. However, research is emerging that earthing can have multiple benefits in reducing inflammation, cardiovascular damage, improving one’s mood and reducing muscle damage and pain. In fact, the list of purported benefits includes:

· Improving sleep and normalizing the circadian rhythm
· Reducing snoring
· Increasing energy
· Reducing inflammation
· Lowering stress
· Reducing chronic pain
· Normalizing blood pressure
· Relieving muscle tension and headaches
· Improving menstrual and female hormonal symptoms
· Helping support adrenal health
· Reducing jet lag
· Speeding healing such as in bed sores or from a muscular skeletal injury (such as a sprain)
· Protecting the body from EMFs (the invisible fields of energy that are associated with electricity and are one of the suspected culprits for people who feel unwell around wifi among other sources)

Note these claims aren’t just published by companies trying to sell you products (we’ll get more into that later), they are from legitimate organizations such as the United State’s National Institute of Health (NIH). There, a paper reviewed the research efforts of about a dozen scientists that had published multiple studies in peer-reviewed journals (this is an important distinction from the many journals that are not peer-reviewed and therefore in many cases serve as nothing more than advertising vehicles). Taken together, the studies collectively demonstrated that earthing is a promising new frontier in inflammation treatment and there is hope that the broader research community will continue to pursue this in order to refute or verify these claims.

Among the studies published was one on 12 subjects examining the effects of grounding on sleep and our circadian cortisol production. Cortisol is our major “stress” hormone and excessive amounts of it are implicated with a host of nasty medical disorders. All of the subjects were in pain and had problems with sleep. After sleeping grounded for 8 weeks, most of the subjects reported that their sleep, pain and stress improved, and blood work confirmed that their cortisol levels normalized.

Another pilot study in 8 healthy subjects involved them using dumbbells to perform an exercise that resulted in pain in their gastrocnemius muscles. The day before the exercise and at days 1,2 and 3 post exercise, the following measurements were taken: pain levels, an MRI, spectroscopy, blood cortisol levels, blood and enzyme chemistry and blood cell counts. Four subjects were given grounded patches to wear and slept on grounded sheets and the other four were treated identically minus the grounded products. The grounded patients experienced less pain in their verbal assessments. As well, their assorted blood chemistry and scans showed that the markers of tissue damage that one would expect after an injury were improved.  There are other studies and anecdotal evidence on other uses including a few on leg ulcers that showed what appear to be greatly sped up signs of healing.

Though all of this sounds great, how does one become grounded? Obviously walking outside barefoot is the easiest and cheapest way to practice earthing. Swimming in a natural body of water (another great reason to love living in Bruce County!) is another excellent way. To work, the skin must be in direct contact with grass, rock, dirt or water. The beach is awesome since both sand and water are excellent conductors.

The reality for many of us is that getting that direct skin contact with the earth is not such an easy feat; especially for those that are immobile and spend most of their day in a wheelchair. As we eluded to, there are a barrage of products that can be applied to our skin or plugged into a grounded outlet that apparently will give the same benefits. These include mattresses, pillow cases, seat cushions among others. Many of the studies used these products on the subjects rather than having them stand outside to achieve their positive results. That is great news, especially as we head into fall and winter and we will be less inclined to go barefoot outdoors or jump into our beautiful lake.

Keep in mind that this is far from proven but it does seem to be completely safe. It can also be either free or relatively inexpensive so it’s hard to argue against giving it a try. For more information about this or any other health related questions, contact your pharmacist.