By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
In What is “Grounding” or “Earthing”?, we introduced the basics of “Earthing,” or “grounding”: the process of connecting with the earth’s primordial, healing energy to help reduce inflammation and ultimately improve health by promoting electron balance in the body. For those of you who want the nitty gritty on how Earthing benefits the heart, we created this article: a more in-depth explanation of the potential cardiovascular benefits of grounding, looking specifically at how Earthing profoundly affects the autonomic nervous system (ANS), heart rate variability (HRV) and blood viscosity/zeta potential.
Feeling Groovy: Earthing and Health
The hippie wisdom in getting back in touch with our earthly roots just may have had something to do with grounding’s health benefits. Earthing can help protect our bodies against chronic inflammation, which is, in part, caused by lack of electrons with which to neutralize positively-charged free radicals. As with antioxidant deficiency, electron deficiency due to insufficient contact with the earth’s electromagnetic surface, or “disconnect syndrome,” can result in excess oxidative damage.
When we attune to the earth’s electric potential, we soak up negatively-charged electrons that neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Many of Earthing’s reported benefits, such as chronic pain relief and faster wound recovery, may simply result from reduction of free radical activity and inflammation, which frees up the immune system to perform other reparations. Other potential antioxidant benefits such as lowered blood pressure and better circulation may also result from the blood thinning effect of grounding. While reduced inflammation may also explain improved sleep and lessened menstrual symptoms, these reported Earthing benefits may also be due to the favorable effect grounding has on the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which can lead to greater overall hormonal balance.
The Autonomic Nervous System
As a system which rapidly responds to emotional and environmental stimuli, the ANS controls a wide range of bodily functions. Cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, hormonal, urinary, and other body systems are regulated by the ANS’s sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) branch prepares the body to deal with stressors, while the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) branch relaxes the body.
When we are chronically stressed, we may experience symptoms like headaches, insomnia, muscular tension, back or neck pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, and even cardiac problems. These symptoms generally indicate excess activity of the SNS branch, (release of stress hormones) and depression of the PNS branch. Continual SNS activity can lead to chronic elevation of cortisol levels, which leaves us in a perpetual “fight or flight” state. Excess cortisol can also promote inflammation in the body and negatively impact insulin levels.
Factors Contributing to SNS Activation
- Environmental and/or medical conditions: air pollution, congestive heart failure, depression, anxiety, hypertension, insulin resistance, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, sleep apnea.
- Psychosocial and behavioral conditions: chronic stress, anger, hostility, rage, abuse of stimulants, sleep deprivation, smoking, social isolation, loneliness, sedentary lifestyle, sugar-laden diet.
- Pharmaceutical drugs: beta-agonist bronchodilators, peripheral alpha blockers, short-acting calcium channel blockers.
Chronic elevation of cortisol disrupts our circadian rhythms and affects our ability to sleep. It has also been linked to inflammatory pain and depression, and increases our risk of chronic conditions like hypertension and arrhythmias, and even sudden death. By encouraging parasympathetic branch activity, grounding helps people relax and reduce stress. Grounding’s balancing effect on the ANS, which may also be achieved through various mind-body practices, also leads to normalization of cortisol levels and improved heart rate variability.
In a study (Ghaly) of 12 individuals with sleep disorders, pain and stress, sleeping on a grounding mattress pad for eight weeks restored the subjects’ day-night cortisol secretion to normal. The majority also reported better sleep as well as less fatigue, pain and emotional stress.
In another controlled study (Chevalier 2006) of 58 healthy people, researchers discovered that grounding increased PNS activity and reduces stress levels and tensions. Using a biofeedback system to measure brain activity (using electroencephalography, or EEG), muscle tension (using electromyography, or EMG) and blood volume pulse activity, researchers found that even one half-hour of grounding could catalyze favorable effects on the ANS.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
In addition to using cortisol as a yardstick for chronic stress, cardiologists also examine our heart rate variability (HRV) to detect ANS imbalance and its impact on our heart function. HRV is a measure of the beat-to-beat alterations of heart rate. People whose heart rates do not vary much despite changes in external stimuli are said to have low HRV. They are less able to “go with the flow” when faced with stress and are more prone to stress-related disorders, especially cardiovascular events. Low HRV indicates that the ANS is imbalanced due to excess SNS activity. With its balancing effect on the ANS, grounding is a natural means of increasing HRV and promoting heart health.
Blood Viscosity (Zeta Potential)
One of the most profound effects researchers have observed in people who ground is thinner blood, or reduced blood viscosity. Thin blood circulates faster to deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells all over the body, as well as remove toxins from them. Thick, sticky blood, on the other hand, tends to clot, which places people at greater risk of cardiovascular events. Blood may thicken due to advancing age, smoking, and conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes/metabolic syndrome, or hyperlipidemia. Cholesterol also can play a role in blood viscosity: elevated LDL levels contribute to viscous blood, while higher HDL levels are associated with thinner blood.
On a cellular level, blood becomes thicker when red blood cells clump together, or aggregate. Cells stick together when they lack enough negative surface charge with which to repel each other.
Zeta potential describes the relative surface charge of red blood cells. Increased zeta potential indicates thinner blood and greater negative charge of red blood cells. As electrons are negatively charged, absorbing them by Earthing may increase the negative surface charge of our red blood cells, and thus decrease blood viscosity and increase zeta potential.
In a recent pilot study on zeta potential (Chevalier 2013), I and other researchers sampled blood from 10 healthy subjects before and after 2 hours of grounding with an Earthing device. They then examined the relative movement of red blood cells using a video camera that had been mounted on a dark-field microscope, and found that Earthing lowers blood viscosity and improves blood flow.
The blood cells clearly demonstrated increased zeta potential and decreased blood viscosity. Such significant changes in blood after only 2 hours of grounding indicates that walking barefoot on the earth’s surface for at least 2 hours a day (alternately, using an Earthing device) may protect against cardiovascular events like heart attacks or strokes. It follows, that sleeping at night while grounded provides the greatest opportunity for blood thinning effects.
Physicians often prescribe drugs like Coumadin (warfarin) or recommend aspirin to help thin blood, however lifestyle changes are also effective (alone or with medication). Moderately and regularly exercising and making dietary adjustments involving lower salt, sugar and trans-fat consumption can reduce blood viscosity, as can eating more fish (omega-3s) and nattokinase. Quitting smoking, donating blood, and supplementing with garlic, fish oil, Vitamin E, and / or ginko biloba can also help keep blood thin. Earthing is perhaps the easiest and most simple way to reduce blood viscosity. However, people taking blood thinners like Coumadin should consult with their doctors before Earthing; combining these strategies can cause excess blood thinning.
Earthing as the Ultimate Anti-Aging Strategy?
Besides keeping chronic inflammation at bay, Earthing may also keep us healthy by enhancing ATP production / recycling in our bodies, the same principle underlying metabolic cardiology. ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is our bodies’ primary energy source. To recycle ATP, our bodies take electrons from fatty acids. By absorbing negative free electrons from the earth’s surface, our bodies may more easily recycle ATP. Although scientific research is necessary to validate this, it’s possible that, by facilitating ATP production, Earthing improves cardiovascular and immune system function and ultimately slow down the process of aging.
Improved heart rate variability, autonomic nervous system balance and greater zeta potential all reflect the power of Earthing to keep us “feeling groovy.” Barefoot hippies knew something about the healing powers of peaceful, loving (relaxed) vibes, even if clinical results had not yet proved it.
You might also be interested in reading Earthing: the most important health discovery ever? by Clint Ober, Martin Zucker and I (Basic Health, 2010).
1. The process of “Earthing” has been previously differentiated from the process of “grounding” because the latter serves a safety mechanism to prevent dangerous voltages in electrical distribution systems. For the purpose of this discussion, however, “grounding” and “Earthing” are used interchangeably.
Additional References and Resources:
- Oschman JL. Can electrons act as antioxidants? A review and commentary. J Altern Complement Med. 2007 Nov;13(9):955-67.
- Sinatra ST, Roberts J. Reverse Heart Disease Now. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007.
- Sinatra ST. The Sinatra Solution: Metabolic Cardiology, 2011 Basic Health Publications, Inc., 2008.
- 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 Compliment Med. 2004,10(5):767-76.
- Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, et al. Earthing (Grounding) the Body Reduces Blood Viscosity – A Major Factor in Cardiovasuclar Disease. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2013;19(2)102-110.
- Chevalier G. Sinatra ST, et. al. Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons. J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 291541.
- Chevalier G, Mori K, Oschman JL. The Effects of Earthing on Human Physiology Part 1. European Biology and Bioelectromagnetics, Jan 31, 2006; 600-21.
- Chevalier G, Mori K. The Effects of Earthing on Human Physiology Part 2: Electrodermal Measurements. Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine. 18(3):11-34.
- Earthing Institute
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