Jacked Check – An occasional series fact checking the world of bro science
Claim: Grounding or earthing—making skin-to-ground contact with the earth (like going to beach or walking barefoot through the grass)—has unique and special health benefits and anti-inflammatory advantages.
Rating: Mostly false
Conclusion: Does grounding lower inflammation? Yes. Can it lower inflammation more than a bar of dark chocolate? Probably not.
Let’s start with some chemistry basics upon which everyone agrees:
- Free radicals are atoms that contain an unpaired electron. Every person creates free radicals in their body, whether from normal metabolic processes or from exposure to environmental toxins.
- Free radicals extract electrons from other molecules in the presence of oxygen. This chemical reaction creates oxidative stress in the body.
- Oxidative stress can cause damage to human cells. This tissue damage has been linked to a variety of ailments.
Antioxidants, a key selling point for fruits and vegetables, literally stop oxidation in the body by giving up some of their own electrons to free radicals. Antioxidants also exist as supplements in forms like vitamin A and vitamin C.
The earth’s surface
The earth’s surface does contain free electrons. These electrons come from interactions between the sun, the ionosphere, the magnetosphere, thunderstorms, and the earth.
If you stand on the beach in just your bathing suit, free electrons from the earth’s surface do indeed bind with the free radicals in your body. In this way, the earth’s surface serves as an antioxidant.
Likewise, surfaces not connected to the earth fail to throw off electrons. Glass, wood, rubber, and plastic are examples of chemically stable substances that do not scatter free electrons. Metals do have electrons that are loosely bound, but the metallic bond keeps them connected to the surface of the metal. As a result, there are no antioxidant effects from standing on the tiles in your shower, or relaxing by the pool on the 10th floor of your condo.
Comparing electron sources
The electrons that come from the earth’s surface and from other sources are identical. So the question related to unique benefits of grounding is: How do the antioxidant properties of the earth’s surface compare to a cup of steamed broccoli?
The answer is: Who knows.
Studies do exist that show significant improvements in health of individuals that participate in grounding, but there’s no way to separate out confounding factors. For example, we know that for health, what absolutely does work is fresh air and sunlight and going for peaceful walks in nature. How much of the benefits of grounding come from absorbing free electrons from the earth vs. stepping away for an hour from the refrigerator and social media? Specifically, can the same results be achieved with ordinary supplementation with antioxidants like vitamin A, C, and E? Everything we’ve learned about chemistry in the last 100 years suggests the answer is: yes.
Areas for further research
One study with 10 participants showed that grounding increased the zeta potential of red blood cells, meaning that red blood cells became more negatively charged, more strongly repelled each other, thus reducing the viscosity of the subject’s blood. If true, grounding could have a major impact on cardiovascular health. However, much larger studies are required with control groups to confirm what is happening here.