Is There Anything to "Earthing"?
I recently read about the practice of “earthing” – the idea that walking barefoot outside will “ground” us and make us healthier. Is there any scientific basis for these claims?
Andrew Weil, M.D. | January 27, 2022
“Earthing,” also called “grounding,” stems from the idea that in modern city life we no longer have direct physical contact with the earth, and therefore are losing out on purported health benefits. According to earthing proponents, you can ground yourself by walking outside barefoot, sitting with bare hands in contact with the ground, or being connected to the earth via grounding devices that allegedly transfer electrons from the earth to your body. There are even special shoes that feature copper contacts in the soles, thus facilitating a link between your body and the earth. I do find walking outside barefoot to be refreshing, but I don’t see a lot of evidence that these grounding devices provide health benefits.
The theory is that electrons drawn into the body from the earth neutralize damaging free radicals and reduce disease-related chronic or acute inflammation. In one investigation, participants slept on a special mat that had a connection to a grounding device outside the house. When compared to the ungrounded participants in the same study, the grounded ones showed changes in some biomarkers including serum sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron, total protein and others.
A handful of small studies have found that grounding appears to provide some general health benefits, such as better sleep, less pain, reduced stress and tension, and better immune function compared to study participants who weren’t grounded. One study suggested that earthing eliminates the potentially harmful effects of the electromagnetic fields given off by all the electronic devices that surround us.
It is notable that these studies involve participants using various grounding devices, not walking barefoot.
Earthing enthusiasts claim that throughout history, our ancestors walked barefoot or wore shoes made from animal skins, which gave them direct contact with the earth. Of course, for the most part, those ancestors, grounded or not, lived short, hard lives, so it is difficult to draw conclusions about the effect of grounding, if any, on their overall health.
We’ll need additional studies of better design and with more participants before we can know whether it is really possible to derive health benefits from earthing. While the studies done so far are intriguing, some of the hype for earthing is over-the-top. I don’t buy the extravagant claim by one proponent that, “You can literally feel the pain draining from your body as soon as you touch the earth.” Is that something you’ve noticed whenever you’ve stood barefoot in your backyard or kicked off your sandals at the beach?
Be aware that there’s a substantial commercial aspect to earthing. One website that I visited sells a range of equipment, including earthing beds said to do what “no other mattress on the planet can…(reconnect) you to the Earth’s gentle, natural healing energy while you sleep.”
I’m all for going barefoot whenever possible, outdoors or in. It stimulates the feet and can be very relaxing. Those who practice reflexology often recommend walking barefoot on round stones to help stimulate pressure points on the feet, and I’ve written on this site about barefoot running, which (when you get used to it) is supposed to be less jarring and less likely to lead to injuries. As for earthing, let’s wait and see if future research confirms and expands on the very little we know now – but by all means kick off your shoes whenever you get the chance.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, Oschman JL, Sokal K, Sokal P. “Earthing: health implications of reconnecting the human body to the Earth’s surface electrons.” J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:291541. doi:10.1155/2012/291541 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/
Menigoz W, Latz TT, Ely RA, Kamei C, Melvin G, Sinatra D. Integrative and lifestyle medicine strategies should include Earthing (grounding): Review of research evidence and clinical observations. Explore (NY). 2020 May-Jun;16(3):152-160. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2019.10.005. Epub 2019 Nov 14. PMID: 31831261. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31831261/
Originally Published January 2013. Update January 2022.