Earthing Research 2
Anatomical and biophysical aspects
The concept that the inflammatory barricade forms from collateral damage to healthy tissue surrounding an injury site is supported by Selye’s classic studies published along with his description of the granuloma or Selye pouch (Figure 10).25,30 Moreover, research in cell biology and biophysics reveals the human body is equipped with a system-wide collagenous, liquid–crystalline semiconductor network known as the living matrix,31 or in other terms, a ground regulation system32,33 or tissue tensegrity matrix system (Figure 11).34 This body-wide network can deliver mobile electrons to any part of the body and thereby routinely protect all cells, tissues, and organs from oxidative stress or in the event of injury.23,31 The living matrix includes the extracellular and connective tissue matrices as well as the cytoskeletons of all cells.31 Integrins at cell surfaces are thought to allow for semi-conduction of electrons to the cell interior, and links across the nuclear envelope enable the nuclear matrix and genetic material to be part of the circuitry.23 Our hypothesis is that this body-wide electronic circuit represents a primary antioxidant defense system. This hypothesis is the central point of this report.
The extracellular part of the matrix system is composed mainly of collagen and ground substances (Figures 11 and and12).12). The cytoskeleton is composed of microtubules, microfilaments, and other fibrous proteins. The nuclear matrix contains another protein fabric composed of histones and related materials.
It is not widely appreciated that collagen and other structural proteins are semiconductors. This concept was introduced by Albert Szent-Györgyi in the Korányi memorial lecture in Budapest, Hungary in 1941. His talk was published in both Science (Towards a New Biochemistry?)35 and Nature(The Study of Energy Levels in Biochemistry).36 The idea that proteins might be semiconductors was immediately and firmly rejected by biochemists. Many modern scientists continue to reject semi-conduction in proteins, because living systems only have trace amounts of silicone, germanium, and compounds of gallium that are the most widely used materials in electronic semiconductor devices. However, there are many ways of making organic semiconductors without using metals. One of the sources of confusion was the widely held belief that water was a mere filler material. We now know that water plays crucial roles in enzymatic activities and semi-conduction. Hydrated proteins actually are semiconductors, and have become important components in the global microelectronics industry. Organic microcircuits are preferred for some applications, because they can be made very small, self-assemble, are robust, and have low energy consumption.37,38
One of the leaders in the field of molecular electronics, NS Hush, has recognized Albert Szent-Györgyi and Robert S Mulliken for providing two concepts fundamental to the industrial applications: theories of biological semi-conduction, and molecular orbital theory, respectively.39 In recent studies, given awards by the Materials Research Society in both Europe and the USA, scientists from Israel made flexible biodegradable semiconductor systems using proteins from human blood, milk, and mucus.40 Silicon, the most widely used semiconducting material, is expensive in the pure form needed for semiconductors, and is inflexible and environmentally problematic. Organic semiconductors are predicted to lead to a new range of flexible and biodegradable computer screens, cell phones, tablets, biosensors, and microprocessor chips. We have come a long way since the early days when semi-conduction in proteins was so thoroughly rejected.41,42,43
Ground substance polyelectrolyte molecules associated with the collagenous connective tissue matrix are charge reservoirs (Figure 12). The matrix is therefore a vast whole-body redox system. The glycosaminoglycans have a high density of negative charges due to the sulfate and carboxylate groups on the uronic acid residues. The matrix is therefore a body-wide system capable of absorbing and donating electrons wherever they are needed to support immune functioning.44 The interiors of cells including the nuclear matrix and DNA are all parts of this biophysical electrical storage and delivery system. The time-course of the effects of grounding on injury repair can be estimated in various ways. First, we know from medical infrared imaging that inflammation begins to subside within 30 minutes of connecting with the earth via a conductive patch placed on the skin.2,3 Secondly, metabolic activity increases during this same period. Specifically, there is an increase in oxygen consumption, pulse rate, and respiratory rate and a decrease in blood oxygenation during 40 minutes of grounding.45 We suspect that the “filling” of the charge reservoirs is a gradual process, possibly because of the enormous number of charged residues on the polyelectrolytes, and because they are located throughout the body. When charge reservoirs are saturated, the body is in a state we refer to as “inflammatory preparedness”. This means that the ground substance, which pervades every part of the body, is ready to quickly deliver antioxidant electrons to any site of injury via the semiconducting collagenous matrix (see Figure 16B).
These considerations also imply anti-aging effects of earthing or grounding, since the dominant theory of aging emphasizes cumulative damage caused by ROS produced during normal metabolism or produced in response to pollutants, poisons, or injury.46 We hypothesize an anti-aging effect of grounding that is based on a living matrix reaching every part of the body and that is capable of delivering antioxidant electrons to sites where tissue integrity might be compromised by reactive oxidants from any source.47,48
Molecules generated during the immune response were also followed in the DOMS study.7 Parameters that differed consistently by 10% or more between grounded and ungrounded subjects, normalized to baseline, included creatine kinase, phosphocreatine/inorganic phosphate ratios, bilirubin, phosphorylcholine, and glycerolphosphorylcholine. Bilirubin is a natural antioxidant that helps control ROS.49–53 While bilirubin levels decreased in both grounded and ungrounded groups, the margin between the subjects was large (Figure 13).7
The inflammatory markers changed at the same time that the pain indicators were changing. This was revealed by both the visual analog pain scale and by the pressure measurements on the right gastrocnemius (Figures 5 and and6).6). The authors of the DOMS study suggested that bilirubin may have been used as a source of electrons in the ungrounded subjects.7 It is possible that the lower decline in circulating bilirubin in the grounded subjects was due to the availability in the repair field of free electrons from the Earth.
Other markers encourage the hypothesis that the grounded subjects more efficiently resolved tissue damage: the pain measures, inorganic phosphate-phosphocreatine ratios (Pi/PCr), and creatine kinase (CK). Muscle damage has been widely correlated with CK.54–56 As Figure 14 shows, CK values in the ungrounded subjects were consistently above those in the grounded subjects.7 Differences between Pi/PCr of the two groups were monitored by magnetic resonance spectroscopy. These ratios are indicative of metabolic rate and cellular damage.57–60 Inorganic phosphate levels are indicative of hydrolysis of PCr and adenosine triphosphate. The ungrounded subjects had higher levels of Pi, while the grounded subjects showed higher levels of PCr. These findings indicate that mitochondria in the grounded subjects are not producing as much metabolic energy, probably because there is less demand due to more rapid achievement of homeostasis. The differences between the groups are shown in Figure 15.
The pilot study7 on the effects of earthing in speeding recovery from the pain of DOMS provides a good basis for a larger study. The concepts presented here are summarized in Figure 16 as a comparison between “Mr Shoes” (an ungrounded individual) and “Mr Barefoot” (a grounded individual).
Voluminous current research correlates inflammation with a wide range of chronic diseases. A search for “inflammation” in the National Library of Medicine database (PubMed) reveals over 400,000 studies, with more than 34,000 published in 2013 alone. The most common cause of death and disability in the United States is chronic disease. Seventy-five percent of the nation’s health care spending, which surpassed US$2.3 trillion in 2008, is for treating chronic disease. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes are the most common and costly chronic diseases.61 Others include asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, bowel disorders, cirrhosis of the liver, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, lupus, meningitis, and psoriasis. Ten percent of all health care dollars are spent treating diabetes. Osteoporosis affects about 28 million aging Americans.61,62 However, there are few theories on the mechanisms connecting chronic inflammation with chronic disease. The research on grounding or earthing summarized here provides a logical and testable theory based on a variety of evidence.
The textbook description of the immune response describes how large or small injuries cause neutrophils and other white blood cells to deliver highly ROS and RNS to break down pathogens and damaged cells and tissues. Classical textbook descriptions also refer to an “inflammatory barricade” that isolates injured tissues to hinder the movement of pathogens and debris from the damaged region into adjacent, healthy tissues. Selye described how the debris coagulates to form the inflammatory barricade (Figure 10). This barrier also hinders the movements of antioxidants and regenerative cells into the blocked-off area. Repair can be incomplete, and this incomplete repair can set up a vicious inflammatory cycle that can persist for a long period of time, leading to so-called silent or smoldering inflammation that in turn, over time, can promote the development of chronic disease.
Remarkable as it may seem, our findings suggest that this classical picture of the inflammatory barricade may be a consequence of lack of grounding, and of a resultant “electron deficiency”. Wounds heal very differently when the body is grounded (Figures 1 and and2).2). Healing is much faster, and the cardinal signs of inflammation are reduced or eliminated. The profiles of various inflammatory markers over time are very different in grounded individuals.
Those who research inflammation and wound healing need to be aware of the ways grounding can alter the time-course of inflammatory responses. They also need to be aware that the experimental animals they use for their studies may have very different immune systems and responses, depending on whether or not they were reared in grounded or ungrounded cages. It is standard research practice for investigators to carefully describe their methods and the strain of the animals they use so that others can repeat the studies if they wish. An assumption is that all Wistar rats, for example, will be genetically and physiologically similar. However, a comparison of neoplasms in Sprague–Dawley rats (originally outbred from the Wistar rat) from different sources revealed highly significant differences in the incidences of endocrine and mammary tumors. The frequency of adrenal medulla tumors also varied in rats from the same suppliers raised in different laboratories. The authors “stressed the need for extreme caution in evaluation of carcinogenicity studies conducted at different laboratories and/or on rats from different sources.”63
From our perspective, these variations are not at all surprising. Animals will differ widely in the degree to which their charge reservoirs are saturated with electrons. Are their cages made of metal, and if they are, is that metal grounded? How close are their cages to wires or conduits carrying 60/50 Hz electricity? From our research, those factors will have measurable impacts on immune responses. In fact, they represent a “hidden variable” that could have affected the outcomes of countless studies, and also could affect the ability of other investigators to reproduce a particular study.
Dominant lifestyle factors such as insulating footwear, high-rise buildings, and elevated beds separate most humans from direct skin connection with the Earth’s surface. An earth connection was an everyday reality in past cultures that used animal skins for footwear and to sleep on. We suggest that the process of killing pathogens and clearing debris from injury sites with ROS and RNS evolved to take advantage of the body’s constant access to the virtually limitless source of mobile electrons the Earth provides when we are in contact with it. Antioxidants are electron donors, and the best electron donor, we strongly believe, is right under our feet: the surface of the Earth, with its virtually unlimited storehouse of accessible electrons. Electrons from the Earth may in fact be the best antioxidants, with zero negative secondary effects, because our body evolved to use them over eons of physical contact with the ground. Our immune systems work beautifully as long as electrons are available to balance the ROS and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) used when dealing with infection and tissue injury. Our modern lifestyle has taken the body and the immune system by surprise by suddenly depriving it of its primordial electron source. This planetary separation began accelerating in the early 1950s with the advent of shoes made with insulating soles instead of the traditional leather. Lifestyle challenges to our immune systems proceeded faster than evolution could accommodate.
The disconnection from the Earth may be an important, insidious, and overlooked contribution to physiological dysfunction and to the alarming global rise in non-communicable, inflammatory-related chronic diseases. A lack of electrons can also de-saturate the electron transport chains in mitochondria, leading to chronic fatigue and slowing the cellular migrations and other essential activities of the cells of the immune system.64 At this point, even a minor injury can lead to a long-term health issue. When mobile electrons are not available, the inflammatory process takes an abnormal course. Areas that are electron deficient are vulnerable to further injury – they become positively charged and will have difficulty warding off infections. The result is an immune system constantly activated and eventually exhausted. Cells of the immune system may fail to distinguish between the body’s diverse chemical structures (called “self”) and the molecules of parasites, bacteria, fungi, and cancer cells (called “non-self”). This loss of immunologic memory can lead to attacks by some immune cells on the body’s own tissues and organs. An example is the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the diabetic patient. Another example is the immune system attacking cartilage in joints, producing rheumatoid arthritis. Lupus erythematosus is an extreme example of an auto-immune condition caused by the body’s immune system attacking host tissues and organs. Lupus, for example, can affect many different body systems, including skin, kidneys, blood cells, joints, heart, and lungs. With time, the immune system becomes weaker and the individual more vulnerable to inflammation or infections that may not heal, as often seen with the wounds of diabetic patients. Specifically, which part or parts of the body the weakened immune system will attack first depends on many factors such as genetics, habits (sleep, food, drinks, exercise, etc), and toxins in the body and in the environment.65,66 A repeated observation is that grounding, or earthing, reduces the pain in patients with lupus and other autoimmune disorders.1
Accumulating experiences and research on earthing, or grounding, point to the emergence of a simple, natural, and accessible health strategy against chronic inflammation, warranting the serious attention of clinicians and researchers. The living matrix (or ground regulation or tissue tensegrity-matrix system), the very fabric of the body, appears to serve as one of our primary antioxidant defense systems. As this report explains, it is a system requiring occasional recharging by conductive contact with the Earth’s surface – the “battery” for all planetary life – to be optimally effective.