Humans have been walking barefoot for hundreds of thousands of years – up until very recently that is. With the introduction of shoes (and specifically synthetic soled shoes), we have lost our vital connection to the earth.
You go for a nice long barefoot walk in the bush or the beach and come back feeling calmer, more relaxed, you sleep better that night, your blood pressure is reduced and you feel invigorated and alive. Why? Is it just because you have left the stresses of your work and life in the city, or is there a more physiological reason?
According to thousands of research papers, it is not just the psychological aspect of being away from the stresses of work and home that benefit us when we walk in the bush or the beach, but the process of earthing (or grounding) which in turn increases our absorption of negative ions.
Before we start discussing earthing, a little chemistry lesson is needed. All matter, living or not, is made up of atoms. These atoms are continually losing, gaining and sharing their electrons. When an atom either gives up or gains electrons and ends up with an uneven number, it becomes an ion. Ions can be either positively charged (cation) or negatively charged (anion).
It is the negative ions that are abundant in nature. These ions are extremely powerful antioxidants and have many positive impacts on our health. Once they reach our bloodstream they produce biochemical reactions that help to reduce stress, reduce pain, improve sleep, reduce blood glucose levels in diabetics, boost the immune system, thin the blood for optimum cardiovascular health and most importantly reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation, often subtle and low level, is the driving force for virtually all disease.
Positive ions are emitted from computers, televisions, power lines, car exhaust fumes and other forms of pollution, mobile phones and any technological devise. When we work in buildings all day we are surrounded by these health damaging positive ions.
Too many positive ions can lead to feelings of fatigue and low mood and can contribute to respiratory infections and asthma.
As far back as 1966, research published in Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, concluded that positive ions induced asthma attacks in normal infants and that they also negated the therapeutic effects of negative ions in patients with asthmatic bronchitis.
Free radicals are positively charged ions and we need to allow as many of the negatively charged ions to enter our body to eliminate these free radicals. Free radicals build up in our body from inflammation, stress, pollution, and the foods we eat. They are an inevitable part of living, and in small amounts have a positive impact on our health, but we need to keep them to a minimum and the easiest way to do that is to introduce more negative ions into our body through earthing.
According to Dr. Pierce Howard, PhD, the Director of Research at the Centre for Applied Cognitive Sciences in North Carolina, negative ions “…increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy.”
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine used a conductive mattress pad that “earthed” the participants while they slept and concluded that “… grounding the human body to earth (“earthing”) during sleep reduces night-time levels of cortisol … improves sleep and reduces pain and stress.”
Also published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a 2012 study concluded that earthing “… reduces blood viscosity and clumping” and that “Grounding appears to be one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events.”
A 2002 study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology concluded that ” … negative air ions are effective for the reduction and the prompt recovery from stress caused by computer operation.”
So, how to we “earth” ourselves?
When you walk barefoot, the negative ions transfer from the ground to your body. As water is a great conductor, the best place to earth is on the beach, in or near the water. Because of all the different minerals in salt water, it is more conductive than fresh water but fresh water is a great alternative. Walking barefoot on grass, especially if the grass is wet with water or dew, is also very good. Concrete is also a good conductor but not if it has been sealed with paint or a sealer. Bitumen, wood, tiles, plastic and rubber soles do not allow the electrons to pass through. You can also lie on the grass (just wear some swimmers). By doing this, you can get a triple benefit of soaking up some sun for the Vitamin D, practise your deep breathing and absorb all those wonderful negative ions.
You can also use a Himalayan salt lamp inside which emits negative ions and you can purchase an earthing mat to use when you sleep or when working on a computer.
So incorporate as many of these ideas as you can – buy a Himalayan salt lamp, lie on the grass, purchase an earthing mat, ditch the shoes and start walking barefoot outside whenever possible.
By Andrea Southern, Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist Stafford and The Gap in Brisbane. For an appointment phone 0412 791 705