'Earthing' or 'grounding' has been getting a lot of attention of late in certain communities, so about a week ago I decided to take a look. Here, in summary is what I've learned.
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What is 'earthing'?

Earthing is the practice of connecting the body with earth by touching skin to a conductive material such as grass (preferably wet), wet sand, a river, lake or sea.

Why would you want to do that?

When the body loses contact with the earth it can carry a positive voltage relative to the Earth. Some people believe this is not good for health and wellbeing. Earthing the body returns the voltage to zero which is, supposedly better for us.

Is there any 'science' to it?

Actually, yes. First of all, some theory...

During the normal processes of metabolism the body generates what are called 'reactive oxygen species' which are commonly referred to as 'free radicals'. These compounds appear to be important, at least in part because they have the ability to attack and destroy unwanted things within the body including bacteria and viruses. However, too many free radicals are a bad thing, and have been implicated in chronic disease and well as the very process of ageing.

Free radicals are involved in the process known as inflammation, which is part of the healing process. However, low-grade inflammation throughout the body may lead to pain and other problems in the muscles and joints, and is also believed to be a key driving factor in many chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In short, we want free radicals, but not too many.

Free radicals lack sparks of energy known as 'electrons'. One way to quell them is to give them electrons, and these can be supplied by nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E, and plant substances known as 'polyphenols' (found in, among other things, tea, coffee, cocoa and apples). However, substances we eat and drink are not the only way to get electrons into the body: earthing does this too. If the body has a positive charge on it, earthing allows electrons to flow into the body where, in theory, they can neutralise overblown free radical and inflammatory damage.

Carrying a positive charge may well affect the body in lots of different ways, which means that earthing may offer a range of wellbeing benefits.

Any studies?

There is indeed some evidence that earthing can help people. For example, in one study earthing was studied in 60 people suffering form sleep disturbances and chronic muscle and joint pain for at least six months [1]. Subjects were randomly divided for the month-long study in which both groups slept on earthed mattresses. Half the pads were properly earthed and the other half while the other half were "sham" grounded (not actually earthed).

Most grounded subjects described symptomatic improvement while most in the control group did not. Some subjects reported significant relief from asthmatic and respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, sleep apnea, and hypertension while sleeping grounded. Here's a table which summarises the results:

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Other 'blinded' experiments have found earthing can induce significant changes in a range of objective parameters including heart rate, brainwave activity and skin conductance. You can access a pdf of a review article about earthing by clicking the following link earthing review article.

My own personal experience

I decided to give earthing a try.

First some background: On 3rd January this year I vaulted over a high gate and landed on some steps the other side, twisting my right ankle as I did this. I've had pain in this ankle ever since. Not enough to stop me walking, but running has been out of the question. Rushing down the stairs (as I like to do) has also been quite uncomfortable. I've also had a pain in the top of my left foot. Not sure when this started, but I first noticed it at least several weeks ago.

My earthing experiment started with me sitting with my bare feet on damp grass on 14th April. I lasted 20 minutes. Later in the day I noticed that the pain in my left foot and ankle had disappeared completely (and they have not returned since).

Another odd thing is that for the preceding few days I had been brewing an ingrowing toenail on my right big toe. I used to get these a lot when I younger, but they've been rarer since I've gotten older. The normal course for these is to get steadily worse over several days and then I'd perform a bit of DIY surgery (don't ask) to relieve the issue. The morning after my first earthing escapade, I noticed that my ingrowing toenail had utterly resolved on its own.

That day I put my bare feet on the grass again, this time for 30 minutes. And then some earthing kit that I'd ordered arrived in the post and I've been using ever since (primarily an earthing mat which I put my feet on when I work).

OK, so the near miraculous resolution of my foot and ankle troubles could have been due to a lovely placebo response. I'm comfortable with this, if that's the case (though I'll never know). But one of my experiences I think points away from the improvement being purely placebo: For several months now I'd also had a niggly pain in my left elbow which is most noticeable when I wake up. While my ankle and foot pain (and ingrowing toenail) resolved, my elbow pain did not. This does not in any way disprove my foot/ankle improvement was not a placebo response, but the likelihood of it being placebo is diminished by the experience with my elbow I think.

Further reading

One of the biggest proponents of earthing is Clint Ober. He's co-authored a book, Earthing - The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? which is worth a look for those who want to dig deeper and learn more.

References:

1. Ober C. Grounding the human body to neutralize bio- electrical stress from static electricity and EMF. ESD Journal January 2000.