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On Earthing: The Barefoot Pilgrimage

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Kahlil Gibran​

We live in the best time in human history. Constant innovation in medicine and technology make us age slower and live longer. The quality of life has dramatically improved. We don't have to sleep on the floor or walk barefoot, as our ancestors did. Our modern life, however, has increasingly separated us from the connection with nature. Since humans started wearing shoes about 40,000 years ago, we have gradually removed ourselves from the natural flow of the planet’s energy, and we are no longer grounded. In the late 19th century, the German back-to-nature movement affirmed many health benefits from walking barefoot in a natural environment. In the 1920s, an American medical doctor, George White, reported that patients who during sleep were connected to the ground by copper wires attached to water or radiator pipes had an improved quality of sleep and increased energy level. At the end of the 20th century, experiments carried out independently by American and Polish scientists showed physiological benefits from using conductive bed mats and ECG-type electrode patches, connected indoors to the ground outside. An American researcher Clint Ober noticed that when all electrical systems are stabilised by grounding to the Earth, any interference is eliminated from the signal. Two Polish doctors, a father and son Sokal, discovered that grounding the human body influences biochemical, bioelectrical and bioenergetic processes and may help manage chronic illnesses. What is grounding and why walking without shoes may be good for us? Grounding refers to any form of contact with the Earth's surface by walking barefoot outside or sitting, working, or sleeping indoors and being connected to conductive systems that transfer the energy from the ground into the body. The idea of putting our bare feet on the ground is that by connecting with the planet, we soak up the electrons that act as natural antioxidants. Our body is mostly water, which makes it a good conductor of electricity. In result, grounding brings us back to a natural state of equilibrium.

Let’s take a closer look at the scientific evidence of grounding. In published a few years ago observational study, researchers were looking at how grounding may be associated with cortisol levels in relation to changes in sleep, pain, and stress. All participants were asked to sleep in their beds with conductive mattresses simulating the direct contact with Earth’s surface. After eight weeks, eleven of twelve participants reported falling asleep more quickly, and all twelve reported waking up fewer times at night. Grounding the body during sleep also appeared to affect positively morning fatigue levels, daytime energy, and nighttime pain levels. The study, however, showed an association, not causation, and had many limitations like a very small group of people involved. So, let’s review a few randomised clinical trials. A recent randomised controlled trial enrolled 58 adults investigating earthing effects on our physiology, particularly on stress levels and tension. All participants were wearing conductive adhesive patches placed on the sole of each foot for an hour while a monitoring system was recording electrophysiological data. The study concluded that earthing had significant effects on electrophysiological properties of the brain and muscles decreasing overall stress and tension levels. Another clinical trial was looking to answer a question whether grounding may also improve so-called heart rate variability, a measurement of the heart's response to autonomic nervous system regulation that plays an important part in supporting the cardiovascular system. The study enrolled 27 people who were asked to sit in a reclining chair with four adhesive electrode patches placed on the sole of each foot and each palm. The researchers have reported that during the two-hour grounding sessions, all participants had significant improvements in heart rate variability, which went way beyond basic relaxation results. An interesting data comes from the largest randomised clinical series of experiments to date. Scientists were looking at whether the natural electric charge on the surface of the planet has any influence on our cardiovascular, endocrine and nervous system. All participants were grounded with a small copper plate placed on the foot. The plate was then connected with a wire to a larger plate placed outside. In one experiment, a single night of grounding caused significant changes in thyroid hormones suggesting that earthing may have an impact on hepatic, hypothalamus, and pituitary link to the thyroid function. In another experiment, the researchers observed significant changes in blood minerals and electrolytes levels like iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium and also a decreased levels of urinary calcium and phosphorus, both directly related to osteoporosis. Further experiments have shown that grounding has the potential to lower blood pressure, decrease blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, regulate autoimmune conditions like lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis and increase the levels of gamma globulins suggesting a greater response from the immune system. Grounding may be an important, but overlooked factor contributing to our overall health and wellbeing. Emerging scientific research supports the idea that walking barefoot and connecting with the planet generates some physiological changes of clinical significance. However, more data is needed to prove that earthing may play as essential part in positive health as nutritious foods and physical activity. Going barefoot for half an hour a day is a great way to connect, to ground and to simply relax. If we free our minds and our feet, we may find ourselves walking with an inner landscape of beauty, grace and gratitude.

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