Daniel Chong, ND
What are the most basic, fundamental recommendations we can make to our patients when teaching them how to improve their health and prevent disease? Eat well. Exercise. Get more sleep.
Sound familiar? That is what I learned in school. Some might argue that other steps such as exposure to sunshine and fresh air, stress reduction, quality social interaction, living a purposeful life, and even hydrotherapy are equally necessary and fundamental, and I really would not argue against any of them. What I would, however, argue for is the inclusion of an additional step: one that, until recently, has been fairly unrecognized, certainly by the allopathic medical system but also by most alternative health practitioners. What is it?
Touch the Earth
Wait a second, you say. Unless I have had this whole gravity thing wrong all along, I thought we were touching the earth. Well, we are, but not like we should be. It just so happens that humans are actually meant to touch the earth with our bare skin, and doing so may be as fundamentally healthy for us as any other health-promoting habits you have learned about or taught to your patients along the way.
The most common term used these days to describe this simple, yet powerful healing technique is earthing. Another term is grounding. If you have yet to explore this technique, and certainly if you are not recommending it to your patients yet, you are all missing out. In fact, these days from what I have seen in my own practice, I would now rate it as easily on par with all those other basics we know so well.
Traditional healthcare systems like Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, both of which some would argue have had a heavy influence on some aspects of naturopathic medicine, have promoted the health benefits of skin-to-skin contact with the earth for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. If that is not reason enough, there is also now a growing body of research not only proving what those wise physicians knew all along but also showing exactly what happens when we perform this simple act.
What is known for certain is that, when you touch the earth with your skin or through material that does not insulate you from its energy field, you immediately begin absorbing a significant amount of electrons from its surface into your body. The key questions are whether or not this matters to you and what exactly happens to you when you do it. My experiences, having recommended this treatment to patients now for the past 2 years, have been nothing short of astounding in some cases. I like research and reproducible “proof” as much as the next physician, but for me the responses I see in my own patients trump all. Nonetheless, for other obvious reasons, research and the proof it can provide are important. Here are some highlights from what we know so far.
Touching the Earth Is Calming
Touching the earth reduces many negative effects of stress and can help you sleep. Have you ever arrived at your favorite park or beach, taken your shoes off, and felt a seemingly instantaneous sense of calm overtake you? You have probably never even thought twice about it. Being at the beach or in a park is just nice, so of course you feel calmer, right? No, it appears there may be something more to it than that.
Recent research into the effects of grounding is showing that it leads to an increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity and reduces sympathetic activity.1 Because most of us walk around in a state of almost perpetual sympathetic overdrive, anything that encourages parasympathetic activity is beneficial. Beyond that, additional research into other parameters of stress has shown that grounding also directly normalizes both cortisol secretion, a hallmark of stress activity in the body, and melatonin secretion, which is of course crucial for a good night’s sleep and possibly much more. ibid.
Touching the Earth Is Anti-inflammatory
Chronic inflammation has been implicated as a potential causative factor in a number of chronic diseases. It is beyond the scope of this article to review the details of chronic inflammation, how and why it happens, but it is important to realize that chronic inflammation is not a good thing, and earthing may be a simple way to reduce it, whatever the cause may be.
As we know, an inflammatory response in your body begins with the production of free radicals (electrically charged particles) in an injured area, which help prevent infection and stimulate the healing process. However, when an inflammatory response becomes chronic, the excessive free radical activity begins to damage healthy tissue in the surrounding area. Depending on the tissue in question, this process could result in cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, or one of many other types of chronic disease.
Earthing, which saturates the healthy tissue in your body with negative electrons, literally works to create a barrier through which these free radicals cannot pass. In turn, it protects you from the outlying damage the free radicals would otherwise cause.2
Touching the Earth Helps Keep Your Blood Flowing
For blood to flow efficiently through your veins, arteries, and capillaries, the cells need to move freely among each other and not get stuck together. To aid in this process, the surfaces of your red blood cells all have a negative charge to them, known as a zeta potential, literally causing them to repel each other. The greater the negative charge is around your blood cells, the greater is the zeta potential and the better your blood cells will bounce off of each other and continue flowing along. The electrons you absorb from the earth’s surface are negatively charged as well and contribute to a greater zeta potential. 4 The end result then is that touching the earth helps naturally encourage blood flow. This discovery has far-reaching implications for the field of cardiology, and some of the most cutting-edge, brightest minds in it have begun to take notice. Dr Stephen Sinatra of Heart MD Institute is one of the more well-known and respected physicians in the field of integrative cardiology. He is also a huge proponent of earthing and encourages it as a preventive health measure for all cardiology patients. 5
There are many more reasons why reconnecting with the earth is good for you and your patients, some of which I am sure have yet to even be discovered. Perhaps the most obvious explanation for us, though, is that it is simply natural.
With our technologically advanced world changing at such an astoundingly fast pace, it is easy to forget where we have come from and what our bodies are adapted to. We all know what it boils down to is that chronically ill people have literally become that way specifically because of how unnatural their lives are and how far away from nature they have moved both literally and figuratively. Time and again, we all see proof that the reintroduction of simple, natural necessities like whole food, movement, and sleep into their lives helps our patients get better. Adding earthing to your list of recommendations will undoubtedly serve to further enhance our already thorough, thoughtful, and appropriate treatment protocols.
So, tell your patients to start putting their bare feet on the ground and reconnecting, and recommend using some of the additional equipment now available to help them do so when touching the earth is impossible or impractical. They will thank you for it.
Daniel Chong, ND is a naturopathic physician, licensed in the state of Oregon, who works with patients to help them reestablish their fundamental human needs in the areas of nutrition, lifestyle, and energy medicine. He is also a consultant to Juil.com, a unique company manufacturing footwear designed to help you remain grounded and connected to the earth. He can be contacted through his website, DrDanielChong.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @drdanielchong.
- Ghaly M, Teplitz D. The biologic effects of grounding the human body during sleep as measured by cortisol levels and subjective reporting of sleep, pain, and stress. J Altern Complement Med. 2004;10(5):767-776.
- Brown D, Chevalier G, Hill M. Pilot study on the effect of grounding on delayed-onset muscle soreness. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(3):265-273.
- Chevalier G. Changes in pulse rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygenation, perfusion index, skin conductance, and their variability induced during and after grounding human subjects for 40 minutes. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(1):81-87.
- Heart MD Institute. Everybody must get grounded. http://www.heartmdinstitute.com/heart-healthy-lifestyles/alternative-healing/grounding-earthing/grounding-healthy-heart. Accessed September 20, 2012.
- Life Extension. Chronic inflammation. http://www.lef.org/protocols/health_concerns/chronic_inflammation_01.htm. Accessed September 20, 2012.