Grounding - Boosting Wellness from the Ground Up
We are electrical beings. Every cell in our body generates electrical currents. These are necessary for our bodily processes to function, for example our hearts to beat, our nervous systems to send signals to our brains and our muscles to contract and relax, alongside many other fundamental chemical processes.
Written By Marianne Sheena - Nutritional Therapist specialising in gut, hormonal and adrenal health. Her approach focuses on combining dietary changes with lifestyle and biohacking techniques to rebalance and restore optimal health
How does this happen?
Human cells essentially operate like a battery, where one side has a different charge to the other, and this difference in charge generates an electrical current. In the body, these electrical currents are generated when certain charged minerals in our blood, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium (referred to as “ions”), pass across our cell membranes into our cells, which have the opposite charge. The charge of an ion is driven by whether it has greater or fewer electrons than the stable form of the molecule: positively charged ions have fewer electrons, while negatively charged ions have more electrons. Our cells are typically negatively charged on the inside, while the environment outside these cells has a positive charge. Our cell membrane sits between this “charge differential”, acting as a barrier and only allowing certain substances into the cell. The process of the cell membrane allowing the positively charged ions to flow into the negatively charged cell is what generates an electrical current.
What is grounding?
Grounding, also referred to as earthing, is based on the concept that the earth is a source of huge electrical energy, generated through various natural processes, including thunderstorms and lightning strikes, solar radiation, and electrical currents that flow deep within the earth's crust.
Grounding is the process of putting your body in contact with the surface of the earth to leverage the earth’s electronic charge to positively influence the electronic charge of our own bodies.
Our ancient ancestors, who didn’t wear shoes and slept on the ground, would have maintained constant contact with the earth. However, in the modern world, since we no longer live a caveman lifestyle, frequent contact with the earth has been lost through insulated footwear, indoor living, high rise buildings with no outdoor space and sleeping on elevated beds.
How do I ground myself?
Grounding is an incredibly simple process which involves your bare skin making direct contact with the earth, including soil, grass, sand and natural bodies of water such as a lake or the sea.
When we make contact with the earth, it allows the transfer of free electrons from the earth to our bodies. These are thought to spread over the surface of the skin and penetrate into our bodies. One theory is that they enter the body through acupuncture points and meridians which are known to have lower resistance to the flow of electrical currents. These electrons exert an antioxidant effect on our bodies, similar to when we eat antioxidant rich foods. This slows or even prevents the damage to our tissues from exposure to free radicals.
Incorporating grounding into daily routines
There are numerous ways to incorporate grounding into your daily life. Sitting on the grass during a lunch break, practicing outdoor yoga, or even gardening with bare hands are simple, yet effective ways to stay connected with the earth's energy.
What if you don’t fancy walking barefoot outdoors or in water?
While barefoot or bodily contact with the earth is the cheapest and easiest way to experience the benefits of grounding, if this is not for you or just not convenient, there is also a plethora of grounding equipment now on the market. This includes grounding mats, sheets or blankets, wrist or ankle bands, footwear, socks and patches. In order to achieve the grounding effects, these are connected to the earth via a cord inserted into a grounded wall outlet or, in the case of socks or footwear, via a conductive ribbon connecting the skin of the wearer’s foot with a conductive sole on the shoe.
Sleeping grounded with grounding sheets or mats
Grounding sheets or mats can be a game-changer for those looking to extend the benefits of earthing into their sleep routine. By simply placing the sheet on your bed or using a grounding mat under your mattress, you will be connected to the earth's electrical charge which provides a continuous flow of electrons while you sleep.
What are the health benefits?
Reduced pain and inflammation and improved exercise recovery
Thermal imaging has highlighted dramatic and rapid reduction in inflammation after periods of earthing. Key inflammatory markers, such as white blood cells, cytokines, and other molecules have also been shown to be reduced after earthing. This may also explain the evidence demonstrating pain reduction following grounding practices, as well as the significant benefits in relation to soreness and inflammation after exercise. In a small-scale study, individuals who were exposed to intense exercise followed by grounding over a period of four days experienced at least 50% less pain than those in the control group. In a further study undertaken at the University of Salzburg, researchers found that grounding reduced muscle damage markers and concluded that grounding may provide a “simple methodology to enhance acute and long-term recovery” after intensive exercise. This suggests that grounding is a powerful addition to any fitness/exercise regime.
Improved wound healing
Studies indicate that grounding may accelerate the healing process by facilitating tissue repair and regeneration, with research suggesting that an “electron deficiency” may be driving the inflammatory cascade that ensues post injury. If this is the case, this would explain why the flood of electrons into the body when grounding rapidly reduces this inflammation and increases the speed of tissue repair and regeneration.
Grounding while sleeping by using a conductive mattress has been shown to have significant benefits for those experiencing disrupted sleep, reducing both the time to fall asleep and the number of times individuals wake during the night.
Reduced stress and cortisol normalisation
Grounding techniques have also been shown in numerous studies to shift the nervous system from sympathetic “fight or flight” stress mode towards a more parasympathetic “rest and digest” state, which is key to managing stress and balancing the nervous system.
Equally impressive is the research on the impact of grounding on cortisol, a stress hormone which has various detrimental health impacts when elevated for long periods and which can dramatically disrupt sleep if it’s raised at night. Studies have demonstrated that grounding whilst sleeping significantly reduces night time cortisol levels and normalises cortisol profiles, bringing secretion of cortisol more into alignment with natural circadian rhythm profiles. As a result, stress was also reduced.
Increased Heart Rate Variability
Ask any self-respecting biohacker and they’ll tell you that heart rate variability is a key marker of stress levels, recovery capacity and overall health. It’s not a coincidence that grounding is one of the first techniques in a biohacker’s toolkit. A 2011 study showed that 40 minutes of grounding generated significant improvements in HRV, with HRV steadily increasing over the grounding period, suggesting that the benefits increase with the length of time a person grounds themself for.
The charge of the surface of our red blood cells has been shown to be linked to cardiovascular disease. When this charge is lowered it results in greater blood viscosity and clumping of red blood cells, both of which are strongly linked to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Grounding has been shown to increase the charge of red blood cells, providing significant cardiovascular health benefits. This is because the increased charge of the cells causes each cell to exert a repelling force to other nearby cells which keeps them spaced and avoids them aggregating in a harmful way.
Several studies report improvements in mood, reduced feelings of anxiety, and alleviation of depressive symptoms after the incorporation of grounding practices. This is likely due to the effect of grounding in reducing inflammation in the brain, which can deplete dopamine levels, as well as in boosting alpha brain waves, which are associated with a calmer and more relaxed state.
Are there any negative effects?
Grounding has been found to be very safe and is probably the most natural technique for supporting your health and wellbeing.
Earthing products are also safe as they only connect to the ground port of an electrical outlet and typically have plastic pins for the live parts of the socket, which means they only conduct with the earth, not with the electricity itself. These products usually come with a socket testing device to allow you to test your outlet before plugging in and using your earthing products.
So should I start grounding myself?
Given the existing research, the absence of negative impacts and the fact that finding a patch of grass and standing barefoot for a period of time is completely free, it’s hard to find a reason for anyone not to kick off their shoes in nature and give this a go!