Get­ting grounded could have ben­e­fits

Some sci­ence sug­gests walk­ing bare­foot on grass could be good for you

The Peterborough Examiner - - Arts & Life - CARRIE DENNETT Carrie Dennett is a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian nu­tri­tion­ist.

It is not a se­cret that spend­ing time in na­ture is good for you. For years, re­searchers have been de­tail­ing how peo­ple who live near green spaces — parks, green­belts, tree-lined streets, ru­ral land­scapes — have bet­ter phys­i­cal and men­tal health, and prac­tices such as Ja­panese for­est bathing and Nordic hygge, which has a strong out­doorsy com­po­nent, are be­ing em­braced here in the United States. Could ground­ing be next?

I was in­trigued when a col­league re­cently rec­om­mended a mu­tual pa­tient — see­ing her for stress man­age­ment and me for nu­tri­tional ad­vice — ex­per­i­ment with walk­ing bare­foot in the grass for a short time each day. A few weeks later, I stum­bled across an ar­ti­cle that gave a name to that prac­tice — ground­ing. The idea be­hind ground­ing, also called earth­ing, is hu­mans evolved in direct con­tact with the Earth’s sub­tle electric charge, but have lost that sus­tained con­nec­tion thanks to build­ings, fur­ni­ture and shoes with in­su­lated syn­thetic soles.

Ad­vo­cates of ground­ing say this dis­con­nect might be con­tribut­ing to the chronic dis­eases preva­lent in in­dus­tri­al­ized so­ci­eties. There is ac­tu­ally some sci­ence be­hind this. Re­search has shown bare­foot con­tact with the earth can pro­duce nearly in­stant changes in a va­ri­ety of phys­i­o­log­i­cal mea­sures, help­ing im­prove sleep, re­duce pain, de­crease mus­cle ten­sion and lower stress.

There are many rea­sons con­nect­ing with na­ture is good for mind and body, but elec­tric­ity prob­a­bly is not one you have con­sid­ered. If you think back to the last time you took a sci­ence class, you may re­mem­ber that ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing hu­mans, is made up of atoms. Th­ese mi­cro­scopic par­ti­cles con­tain equal num­bers of neg­a­tively charged elec­trons, which come in pairs, and pos­i­tively charged pro­tons, so an atom is neu­tral — un­less it loses an elec­tron. When an atom has an un­paired elec­tron, it be­comes a “free rad­i­cal” with a pos­i­tive charge, ca­pa­ble of dam­ag­ing our cells and con­tribut­ing to chronic in­flam­ma­tion, can­cer and other dis­eases. In this case, “pos­i­tive” is not a good thing.

One rea­son direct phys­i­cal con­tact with the ground might have ben­e­fi­cial phys­i­o­log­i­cal ef­fects is the earth’s sur­face has a neg­a­tive charge and is con­stantly gen­er­at­ing elec­trons that could neu­tral­ize free rad­i­cals, act­ing as an­tiox­i­dants. You may think of an­tiox­i­dants as coming from food, and in­deed a diet rich in fruits, veg­eta­bles and other foods that pro­vide beta-carotene, se­le­nium, lutein, ly­copene and vi­ta­mins A, C and E help pre­vent cel­lu­lar damage from free rad­i­cals. Still, it is in­ter­est­ing that we may be able to get them di­rectly from the earth, too.

Re­search also sug­gests phys­i­cal con­tact with the Earth’s sur­face can help reg­u­late our au­to­nomic ner­vous sys­tem and keep our cir­ca­dian rhythms — which reg­u­late body tem­per­a­ture, hor­mone se­cre­tion, di­ges­tion and blood pres­sure, among other things — syn­chro­nized with the day/night cy­cle. Desyn­chro­niza­tion of our in­ter­nal clocks has been linked to a num­ber of health prob­lems, as ev­i­denced by re­search on shift work­ers.

The key may be the im­pact on the va­gus nerve. This is the largest nerve of the au­to­nomic ner­vous sys­tem — ex­tend­ing from the brain to the colon — and plays a key role in heart, lung and di­ges­tive func­tion. Strong va­gal tone helps you re­lax faster af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing stress, while weak va­gal tone is as­so­ci­ated with

chronic in­flam­ma­tion. In­flam­ma­tion, in turn, is as­so­ci­ated with a num­ber of chronic dis­eases — in­clud­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, Type 2 di­a­betes and some forms of can­cer. Va­gal tone is of­ten as­sessed by mea­sur­ing the vari­a­tion in your heart rate when you breathe in and out, and in one study, ground­ing was shown to im­prove heart rate vari­abil­ity and thus va­gal tone in preterm in­fants. In an­other small study of adults, one two-hour ses­sion of ground­ing re­duced in­flam­ma­tion and im­proved blood flow.

While many clin­i­cal stud­ies have demon­strated ben­e­fi­cial phys­i­cal changes when par­tic­i­pants are grounded, stud­ies tend to be small and are done in­doors us­ing wires that con­nect to ground out­lets. This is partly be­cause us­ing a lab is more prac­ti­cal than tak­ing study par­tic­i­pants out­doors, but also so par­tic­i­pants will not know if they are grounded or not — to avoid a placebo ef­fect. There is lit­tle re­search specif­i­cally on the ef­fects of ground­ing in na­ture and whether it re­sults in the same pos­i­tive ef­fects on stress, pain and sleep.

Still, since be­ing out­doors is proved to be good for you, it prob­a­bly would not hurt to try it your­self to see if you no­tice any ben­e­fits. So how do you ground? Sim­ply al­low your skin to be in con­tact with any nat­u­ral con­duc­tors of the earth’s elec­tric­ity, work­ing up to at least 30 min­utes at a time (un­for­tu­nately, stud­ies do not seem to have ad­dressed how of­ten ground­ing should oc­cur). You can walk bare­foot on grass, moist soil, sand, gravel or con­crete (but not other types of pave­ment). You can swim in the ocean, a lake or other nat­u­ral body of wa­ter. You can sit under a tree, lean­ing against the trunk.

If you have con­cerns about whether it is san­i­tary to walk bare­foot out­side, con­sider keep­ing a patch of lawn off-lim­its to your dog. Or put a blan­ket or towel be­tween your skin and the ground; nat­u­ral fi­bres such as cot­ton and wool do not in­ter­fere with ground­ing. Wear leather­soled shoes. Or, gar­den in­stead. Dig­ging glove­less in the gar­den also puts you in direct con­tact with the earth — just make sure you are not us­ing chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides or fer­til­iz­ers.

If you do no­tice you are more re­laxed, or you are sleep­ing bet­ter, or you have less pain or fa­tigue — is it the ground­ing or a placebo ef­fect? Re­search con­tin­ues at sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties, but while many in­te­gra­tive and main­stream health-care prac­ti­tion­ers use ground­ing as one treat­ment tool, it is far from wide­spread. You can learn more on the Earth­ing In­sti­tute web­site.

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Re­search sug­gests phys­i­cal con­tact with the Earth’s sur­face can help reg­u­late our au­to­nomic ner­vous sys­tem and keep our cir­ca­dian rhythms syn­chro­nized with the day/night cy­cle.

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