Multi-disciplinary research has revealed that electrically conductive contact of the human body with the surface of the Earth (grounding or earthing) produces intriguing effects on physiology and health. Such effects relate to inflammation, immune responses, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The purpose of this report is two-fold: to 1) inform researchers about what appears to be a new perspective to the study of inflammation, and 2) alert researchers that the length of time and degree (resistance to ground) of grounding of experimental animals is an important but usually overlooked factor that can influence outcomes of studies of inflammation, wound healing, and tumorigenesis. Specifically, grounding an organism produces measurable differences in the concentrations of white blood cells, cytokines, and other molecules involved in the inflammatory response. We present several hypotheses to explain observed effects, based on current research results and our understanding of the electronic aspects of cell and tissue physiology, cell biology, biophysics, and biochemistry. An experimental injury to muscles, known as delayed onset muscle soreness, has been used to monitor the immune response under grounded versus ungrounded conditions. Grounding reduces pain and alters the numbers of circulating neutrophils and lymphocytes, and also affects various circulating chemical factors related to inflammation.
Grounding or earthing refers to direct skin contact with the surface of the Earth, such as with bare feet or hands, or with various grounding systems. Subjective reports that walking barefoot on the Earth enhances health and provides feelings of well-being can be found in the literature and practices of diverse cultures from around the world.1 For a variety of reasons, many individuals are reluctant to walk outside barefoot, unless they are on holiday at the beach. Experience and measurements show that sustained contact with the Earth yields sustained benefits. Various grounding systems are available that enable frequent contact with the Earth, such as while sleeping, sitting at a computer, or walking outdoors. These are simple conductive systems in the form of sheets, mats, wrist or ankle bands, adhesive patches that can be used inside the home or office, and footwear. These applications are connected to the Earth via a cord inserted into a grounded wall outlet or attached to a ground rod placed in the soil outside below a window. For the footwear applications, a conductive plug is positioned in the shoe sole at the ball of the foot, under the metatarsals, at the acupuncture point known as Kidney 1. From a practical standpoint, these methods offer a convenient and routine, user-friendly approach to grounding or earthing. They can also be used in clinical situations, as will be described in the section entitled Summary of findings to date.1
Recently, a group of about a dozen researchers (including the authors of this paper) has been studying the physiological effects of grounding from a variety of perspectives. This research has led to more than a dozen studies published in peer-reviewed journals. While most of these pilot studies involved relatively few subjects, taken together, the research has opened a new and promising frontier in inflammation research, with broad implications for prevention and public health. The findings merit consideration by the inflammation research community, which has the means to verify, refute, or clarify the interpretations we have made thus far.
Grounding reduces or even prevents the cardinal signs of inflammation following injury: redness, heat, swelling, pain, and loss of function Rapid resolution of painful chronic inflammation was confirmed in 20 case studies using medical infrared imaging
Our main hypothesis is that connecting the body to the Earth enables free electrons from the Earth’s surface to spread over and into the body, where they can have antioxidant effects. Specifically, we suggest that mobile electrons create an antioxidant microenvironment around the injury repair field, slowing or preventing reactive oxygen species (ROS) delivered by the oxidative burst from causing “collateral damage” to healthy tissue, and preventing or reducing the formation of the so-called “inflammatory barricade”. We also hypothesize that electrons from the Earth can prevent or resolve so-called “silent” or “smoldering” inflammation. If verified, these concepts may help us better understand and research the inflammatory response and wound healing, and develop new information on how the immune system functions in health and disease.
Summary of findings to date
Grounding appears to improve sleep, normalize the day–night cortisol rhythm, reduce pain, reduce stress, shift the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic toward parasympathetic activation, increase heart rate variability, speed wound healing, and reduce blood viscosity. A summary has been published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health.4
Effects on sleep
One of the first published grounding studies examined the effects of grounding on sleep and circadian cortisol profiles.5 The study involved 12 subjects who were in pain and had problems sleeping. They slept grounded for 8 weeks using the system shown in Figure 4. During this period, their diurnal cortisol profiles normalized, and most of the subjects reported that their sleep improved and their pain and stress levels declined.
The results of the experiment led to these conclusions: 1) grounding the body during sleep yields quantifiable changes in diurnal or circadian cortisol secretion levels that, in turn, 2) produce changes in sleep, pain, and stress (anxiety, depression, and irritability), as measured by subjective reporting. The cortisol effects described by Ghaly and Teplitz5 are particularly significant in the light of recent research showing that prolonged chronic stress results in glucocorticoid receptor resistance.6 Such resistance results in failure to downregulate inflammatory responses, which can thereby increase risks of a variety of chronic diseases. This effect complements the findings described in the “Effects on pain and the immune response” section.
Effects on pain and the immune response
A pilot study on the effects of grounding on pain and the immune response to injury employed delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).7 DOMS is the muscular pain and stiffness that takes place hours to days after strenuous and unfamiliar exercise. DOMS is widely used as a research model by exercise and sports physiologists. The soreness of DOMS is caused by temporary muscle damage produced by eccentric exercise. The phase of contraction that occurs when a muscle shortens, as in lifting a dumbbell, is referred to as concentric, whereas the phase of contraction as a muscle lengthens, as in lowering a dumbbell, is referred to as eccentric.
Eight healthy subjects performed an unfamiliar, eccentric exercise that led to pain in their gastrocnemius muscles. This was done by having them perform two sets of 20 toe raises with a barbell on their shoulders and the balls of their feet on a 2-inch × 4-inch wooden board.7
All subjects ate standardized meals at the same time of day, and adhered to the same sleep cycle for 3 days. At 5.40 pm on each day, four of the subjects had conductive grounding patches adhered to their gastrocnemius muscles and the bottoms of their feet. They rested and slept on grounding systems such as that shown in Figure 4. They remained on the grounded sheets except for visits to the bathroom and meals. As controls, four subjects followed the same protocol except that their patches and sheets were not grounded. The following measurements were taken before the exercise and 1, 2, and 3 days thereafter: pain levels, magnetic resonance imaging, spectroscopy, cortisol in serum and saliva, blood and enzyme chemistry, and blood cell counts.7
Pain was monitored with two techniques. The subjective method involved morning and afternoon use of a Visual Analog Scale. In the afternoon, a blood pressure cuff was positioned on the right gastrocnemius and inflated to the point of acute discomfort. The pain was documented in terms of the highest pressures that could be tolerated. The grounded subjects experienced less pain, as revealed with both the analog soreness scale (Figure 5) and by their ability to tolerate a higher pressure from the blood pressure cuff (Figure 6).7
The DOMS grounding study report7 contains a summary of the literature on the changes in blood chemistry and content of formed elements (erythrocytes, leukocytes, and platelets) expected after an injury. The immune system detects pathogens and tissue damage and responds by initiating the inflammation cascade, sending neutrophils and lymphocytes into the region.8–12 As expected, the white cell counts increased in the ungrounded or control subjects. White cell counts in the grounded subjects steadily decreased following the injury (Figure 7).7
Previous research has shown increases in neutrophils following injury.13–16This happened in both grounded and ungrounded subjects (Figure 8), although neutrophil counts were always lower in the grounded subjects.7
As the number of neutrophils increases, lymphocytes are expected to decrease.17–19 In the DOMS study, the lymphocyte count in the grounded subjects was always below the ungrounded subjects (Figure 9).7
Normally, neutrophils rapidly invade an injured region8,20–22 in order to break down damaged cells and send signals through the cytokine network to regulate the repair process. Neutrophils’ production of ROS and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) is termed the “oxidative burst”.21 While ROS clear pathogens and cellular debris so that the tissue can regenerate, ROS can also damage healthy cells adjacent to the repair field, causing so-called collateral damage. The fact that the grounded subjects had fewer circulating neutrophils and lymphocytes could indicate that the original damage resolved more quickly, collateral damage reduced, and the recovery process accelerated. This would explain the reduction in the cardinal signs of inflammation (redness, heat, swelling, pain, and loss of function) following acute injury, as documented, for example, in Figures 1 and and2,2, and the rapid reduction of chronic inflammation documented in Figure 3.
Our working hypothesis features this scenario: mobile electrons from the Earth enter the body and act as natural antioxidants;3 they are semi-conducted through the connective tissue matrix, including through the inflammatory barricade if one is present;23 they neutralize ROS and other oxidants in the repair field; and they protect healthy tissue from damage. The fact that there are fewer circulating neutrophils and lymphocytes in the grounded subjects may be advantageous because of the harmful role these cells are thought to play in prolonging inflammation.24 We also raise the possibility that the inflammatory barricade is actually formed in ungrounded subjects by collateral damage to healthy tissue, as was suggested by Selye in the first and subsequent editions of his book The Stress of Life (Figure 10).25
While there may be other explanations, we suggest that rapid resolution of inflammation takes place because the Earth’s surface is an abundant source of excited and mobile electrons, as described in our other work.1 We further propose that skin contact with the surface of the Earth allows Earth’s electrons to spread over the skin surface and into the body. One route to the body interior could be via acupuncture points and meridians. The meridians are known to be low resistance pathways for the flow of electrical currents.26–28 Another pathway is via mucous membranes of the respiratory and digestive tracts, which are continuous with the skin surface. Sokal and Sokal29 found that the electrical potential on the body, on the mucosal membrane of the tongue, and in the venous blood rapidly drop to approximately −200 mV. When the body is disconnected from the Earth, the potential is quickly restored. These effects reveal changes in the internal electrical environment within the body.29
Selye30 studied the histology of the wall of the inflammatory pouch or barricade (Figure 10). It is composed of fibrin and connective tissue. Our hypothesis is that electrons can be semi-conducted across the barrier, and can then neutralize reactive oxygen species (free radicals).30 A semiconducting collagen pathway or corridor may explain how electrons from the Earth quickly attenuate chronic inflammation not resolved by dietary antioxidants or by standard medical care, including physical therapy (Figure 3). The barricade probably restricts diffusion of circulating antioxidants into the repair.
Taken together, these observations indicate that grounding or earthing the human body significantly alters the inflammatory response to an injury.