| August 17, 2012

You may not be familiar with the practice of Earthing, but if you’ve ever sat down on a sandy beach or walked barefoot across your front lawn, you’ve tried it. And, according to some, it might just be good for your health.

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What exactly is Earthing?

Earthing (first described by Clint Ober in his book “Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?") is the practice of obtaining the healing properties of the Earth through the simple act of touching it. It might sound a bit far-fetched at first, but some doctors — like Laura Koniver, M.D., a general practitioner in Summerville, S.C. — say there’s sound reasoning behind it.

To first understand these reasons, Dr. Koniver says we must understand free radicals, which are highly reactive atoms, molecules or ions that have unpaired electrons. “Basically, free radicals are intimately connected to inflammation,” says Koniver, who adds that inflammation is linked to cancer, heart disease, immune dysfunction, aging and cognitive decline. “Using your body in any way, shape or form can create inflammation, so even during something healthy like yoga, where we’re stretching and creating microscopic tears to the muscles, we’re still building up free radicals.”

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That’s very natural and normal, says Koniver, but the problem lies in neutralizing the damage done by these free radicals. “That’s why you hear in the news so much about antioxidants, and antioxidants help because they come in and neutralize this damage.” Although, as Koniver says, antioxidants can only do so much to neutralize these free radicals. “It helps, for sure, but it’s definitely a drop in the bucket compared to what Earthing can do.”

How does Earthing work?

According to Dr. Koniver, the free radicals that we build up throughout the day are positively charged, and the surface of the Earth is negatively charged.

“It’s a symbiotic thing,” adds Dr. Koniver. She argues that if we can get our vitamin D from the sun and our oxygen from the trees, we too can get healing electrons from the ground. In Dr. Koniver’s words, “We are meant to build up free radicals and inflammation by the way we live our lives, and the Earth is our docking base.”

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How do we begin Earthing?

The great thing about Earthing (or Grounding, as it's also known) is that it can be practiced almost anywhere, and it's completely free. First things first, though — take off your shoes. If you’re walking with rubber soles separating your feet from the ground, you won’t be getting the benefits.

“Even wearing cloth or natural fabrics is fine,” says Koniver. “You can wear socks or clothing and still get that electron transfer. It’s really just the manmade rubbers in shoes, and flooring and insulation, that separates the transfer.” This transfer, according to Koniver, can also be made through any point of the body, as long as that body part is making direct contact with the ground.

Where do we Earth?

According to Dr. Koniver, some places are better than others, but Earthing can be practiced in just about any natural setting. “To me, if healthy grass is growing outside over a layer of soil, it’s connected to the crust of the Earth, and that’s all it needs to be,” says Koniver. She adds that beaches are probably the best places to Earth (as the moisture from the ground acts as a conductor) but that a person can reap the healing benefits from grass, sand, rock, dirt, soil, and to a lesser extent, even concrete that’s been laid over the crust of the Earth. “Concrete acts as a semi-conductor,” says Koniver, “so if you live in a city with no real access to nature, you can map out a little patch and kick off your shoes.”

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How long we should be Earthing?

“There’s no wrong answer,” says Koniver. “I really believe that your body would be thankful for two seconds.” Ideally, though, Koniver recommends Earthing every day for at least 10 minutes, but stresses that “You can’t overdo it.” And, if 10 minutes is too hard to work into your schedule, she advocates fitting in as much barefoot time as you possibly can. “At the end of the day, if all I have time to do is take off my shoes and walk across my lawn to the mailbox, I’ll take it.”

What are the health benefits of Earthing?

According to Dr. Koniver, Earthing can help with a wide range of health problems, including arthritis, stress, sleeping disorders and depression. In fact, she also believes in Earthing as a way to treat her patients who are experiencing menopause.

At the moment, Koniver is also studying the effects of Earthing on obesity. “I think Earthing can help with the obesity epidemic in kids and adults, and also with diabetes,” says Koniver, who is currently working with a group of overweight patients to research her theory. “Every person in my study, except for two, is losing weight with no other changes in diet or exercise,” she says. “I have a patient who is losing over 10 pounds a week, doing nothing different besides Earthing."

What do Earthing opponents say?

Even though Earthing may not have negative side effects, the health movement is not without its critics. Some claim that Earthing offers nothing more than a placebo effect, while others have written off the practice as nonsense.

“That’s really wacky. I don’t even hesitate to say that’s really crazy,” says Dr. Robert Lahita, a New Jersey-based rheumatologist and microbiologist, of Earthing. Lahita, who treats patients that suffer from arthritis, says that it's difficult to make the claim that Earthing is effective without more research.  “For diseases for which there are no causes or cures, there are hundreds of ideas for wacky remedies,” Lahita says.

Lahita, however, encourages young children to play in the dirt for another reason altogether: to help bolster their immune systems. “I think it's healthy to have exposure to antigens at a very young age,” he says.

What else should we know about Earthing?

If Dr. Koniver could relay one last message about Earthing, it’s that Earthing is safe, simple and free. “You don’t need to be a millionaire to get this treatment,” she says. “It’s coming from the Earth, and the Earth’s only known function is to support life, which it has done since the beginning of time. So, hopefully, people won’t be averse to something new, especially when it leads to better health.”

So if you think Earthing is for you, give it a shot the next time you’re walking across your lawn to pick up the mail. After all, you’ve got nothing to lose but your shoes.