Grounding 101

Grounding, also called earthing, is a technique used to improve physiologic processes by electrically connecting the body to the earth. Learn how to perform grounding and what the research says about its health benefits.

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by
Alicia Buchter
— Signos
Health writer
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Reviewed by

Alicia Buchter
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
April 11, 2024
— Updated:
April 11, 2024

Table of Contents

In the field of electrical engineering, the term grounding describes connecting an electrical circuit to the earth so that excess current can dissipate, preventing high voltages and shock hazards. The earth acts as an electrical “sink” that can neutralize excess electrical energy that could otherwise build up to dangerous levels. 

The term isn’t only used for mechanical equipment, though. Within health discourse, biological grounding describes a technique used to improve physiologic processes by creating a conductive path between the body and the earth. The ancient technique, also often called earthing, is believed to improve health by reconnecting the body to the earth electrically. The subject of grounding is not well researched. 

In this article, learn what preliminary studies have found about the potential benefits of grounding, and how you can implement the practice in your routine.

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What Is Grounding, and How Does It Work?

Grounding is a practice that originated centuries ago. Physical contact with the earth was a normal way of life for ancient cultures, which were not only physically but also spiritually close to the earth and recognized its healing power. In traditional Chinese medicine, walking barefoot on the Earth was believed to facilitate the flow of vital energy, or "qi," throughout the body, promoting balance and vitality. Only recently has contemporary research begun to investigate the underlying mechanisms of grounding’s therapeutic benefits.

The science of grounding is based on the theories of bioelectromagnetics, which explain the interactions of magnetic fields with biological entities. The earth is a reservoir of negatively-charged electrons, which are able to freely move through conductive materials. The hypotheses of grounding posits that connecting the body to the earth allows electrons from the earth the transfer to the human body, which then can neutralize harmful free radicals, reduce oxidative stress, and restore electrical balance in the body. This antioxidative effect could have wide-ranging benefits.

Promoters of grounding point out that many modern-day materials are electrically insulative. Shoes, other articles of clothing, and carpets are often made from synthetic materials like plastics which build up surplus charge through friction and prevent electron dissipation. In comparison, the water and salts in the human body make it a relatively good conductor. Without insulative materials to impede the movement of electrons, the human body can benefit from the ebb and flow of the earth’s electrons.

What the Research Says

Scientific research on grounding is very limited. Many of the supposed health benefits of grounding relate to its potential to reduce chronic inflammation, a hallmark of many health conditions including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="can-stress-make-you-sick">How Can Stress Make You Sick? Body and Mind-Related Effects</a>.</p>

5 Benefits of Grounding

Joyful woman celebrating in a sunflower field.

Some small studies have reported benefits to certain health conditions and aspects of wellbeing.

  • Wound Healing: Some researchers suggest that the earth’s electrons create an antioxidative protective barrier around wounds, preventing further damage to health tissue. In one review, 20 case studies are highlighted as evidence for this, though no control subjects are mentioned for comparison.1 Other studies that did have controls found that sleeping grounded improves muscle recovery after exercise.2
  • Immune Response: Grounding has been shown to improve human immune responses to vaccines and alters serum concentrations of globulins, a group of proteins made by the immune system.3 This suggests grounding could play a role in regulating the immune system.
  • Endocrine and Nervous Systems: Some research shows that grounding may affect thyroid hormones, as well as the movement of ions in the body, making the case that the practice could effect the nervous and endocrine systems.3
  • Diabetes: Some research shows grounding may reduce blood glucose levels and increase cells’ glucose utilization.3
  • Cardiovascular Disease: One study found that blood pressure decreased in individuals who sat for an hour with bare feet in contact with the ground, in comparison to a control group.4 Another reported that those who did yoga on a grounded mat had higher blood viscosity, an indicator of a healthy circulatory system.5

Despite these promising findings, it is important to note that all of these studies are done on small sample sizes (10 to 40 individuals in experimental groups). While researchers found differences between test and control groups to be statistically significant, it remains unclear whether these differences are large enough to merit the consideration of grounding as a treatment option. 

There are also arguments in favor of grounding’s beneficial effects on chronic fatigue, chronic pain, sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression. However, the studies on these topics do not have control groups which means the placebo effect and bias cannot be ruled out. They also rely on subjective measurements, such as perceived changes in mood and wellbeing.

Overall, further research is needed to clarify the effects of grounding. However, this does not mean grounding doesn’t have promising benefits. Many people enjoy the practice, even simply because of the psychological connection to the earth that it gives them. Read on to learn how you can experiment with the practice. 

How to Perform Grounding

Woman barefoot walking in a forest.

To prepare yourself for grounding, move to a space where you can have physical contact with the earth, typically outside. Allow your skin to touch natural material on the earth’s surface. This may mean removing your shoes and socks, and standing, walking, lying, or sitting on the ground. 

Physical contact doesn’t have to be with soil; touching sand, mud, grass, or other plants can also ground you. Some argue that moistening the skin or earth at the point of contact can improve the effect. Others choose to perform grounding by submerging themselves in water, like swimming in the ocean or lakes. 

There is not enough evidence to be sure how long you should practice grounding. Some benefits have been reported immediately after only a couple minutes of grounding, while others were observed after repetitive grounding sessions over many weeks. Most people incorporate grounding as a long-term practice rather than a one-time treatment since repetitive grounding over time is generally considered to be the most beneficial. 

Some methods of grounding you could try include:

  • Taking a barefoot walk in your backyard or a park.
  • Sitting outside with your bare feet touching the ground.
  • Lying or sitting on the sand at the beach.
  • Gardening with your bare hands in the soil.
  • Reading while lying with exposed skin on a lawn outside.
  • Swimming in natural bodies of water.

You can also use grounding equipment, which can provide a convenient method for grounding while inside. Equipment can include grounding mats, grounding socks, grounding blankets, grounding patches and metal rods and wires connected to the earth. All work by connecting the body electrically to the earth, and allow the user to maintain this contact without having to be outside. These could become especially handy if you have limited accessiblity to the outdoors or if you would like to perform grounding while sleeping or working. 

While the benefits of grounding are still coming to light, what we know for sure is that grounding has very few risks and is easy to perform. If you are interested in the practice, experiment by taking a barefoot walk or moving your meditation outside and take note of how your body feels. 

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<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="stress-and-blood-sugar">Can Stress Cause High Blood Sugar?</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Oschman, J. L.; Chevalier, G.; Brown, R. The Effects of Grounding (Earthing) on Inflammation, the Immune Response, Wound Healing, and Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Inflammatory and Autoimmune Diseases. J. Inflamm. Res. 2015, 8, 83–96. https://doi.org/10.2147/JIR.S69656.
  2. Jamieson, I. A. Grounding (Earthing) as Related to Electromagnetic Hygiene: An Integrative Review. Biomed. J. 2023, 46 (1), 30–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bj.2022.11.005.
  3. Sokal, K.; Sokal, P. Earthing the Human Body Influences Physiologic Processes. J. Altern. Complement. Med. 2011, 17 (4), 301–308. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2010.0687.
  4. Teli, S. S.; M, S. V.; L, P.; D, D. An Experimental Study on Immediate Effect of Direct Barefoot Contact with Earth on Prehypertension. Int. J. Med. Res. Rev. 2015, 3 (8), 836–840. https://doi.org/10.17511/ijmrr.2015.i8.157.
  5. Brown, R.; Chevalier, G. Grounding the Human Body during Yoga Exercise with a Grounded Yoga Mat Reduces Blood Viscosity. Open J. Prev. Med. 2015, 5 (4), 159–168. https://doi.org/10.4236/ojpm.2015.54019.
  6. A Brief (and Certainly Incomplete) History of Earthing - Earthing Institute. https://earthinginstitute.net/brief-history-of-earthing/ (accessed 2024-04-08).
  7. Lin, C.-H.; Tseng, S.-T.; Chuang, Y.-C.; Kuo, C.-E.; Chen, N.-C. Grounding the Body Improves Sleep Quality in Patients with Mild Alzheimer’s Disease: A Pilot Study. Healthcare (Basel) 2022, 10 (3), 581. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare10030581.
  8. What Is Grounding and Can It Help Improve Your Health? https://www.healthline.com/health/grounding#benefits (accessed 2024-04-08).

About the author

Alicia Buchter is a content writer for Signos and earned her degree in Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.

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