Quite often I’ll get an email suggesting some new woo topic, and some of these are so absurd that I have to laugh and say “There’s a new one.” I got one such email last week. There is a practice called Earthing, of which I had never before heard. The idea is that you connect yourself to the Earth, usually with some sort of wiring and electrodes. The obvious result: Improved health, of course.
Why should this be expected to have any kind of therapeutic value? It’s quite simple. Here is the explanation on the Earthing Institute’s home page:
In an age of rampant chronic disease, reconnecting with the Earth’s energy beneath our very feet provides a way back to better health. We are bioelectrical beings living on an electrical planet.
I hope that clears it up.
There seems to be a fundamental disconnect within the Earthing community. Half of the descriptions of Earthing say that it’s about transferring the Earth’s “energy” to your body; while the other half say the exact opposite, that it’s about electrically grounding yourself. Oh well, perhaps the research is still in its nascent stages.
So what’s the angle? Well, obviously, the sale of goofy products and services. They sell bedsheets costing hundreds of dollars, bands and straps to connect to your body, pads and mats to sit on or lay on, travel kits, and my favorite, a pad to lay on your car seat that you sit on (it “neutralizes micro-electrical charges on the body”). And don’t forget your pets: They also sell pet beds, in case Rover is not feeling quite in touch with the Earth’s “energy field”. If you’d like to get in on this action yourself, here is a nifty service offered by the Earthing Institute:
The Earthing Institute is pioneering the research and application of safe and effective biological grounding systems. The institute has unique expertise to test the validity of products designed for consumer or specialized usage. Products submitted to us will undergo detailed testing procedures. Upon approval they will be certified by the institute and manufacturers be authorized to use our “Bio logo” on their products. Costs vary depending upon the level of expertise required and the time needed to test individual products.
But of course, one shouldn’t simply assert that a new idea is goofy based on its face-value silliness. One should look at the research. A cursory search of PubMed did, indeed, turn up an impressive sounding study (“The biologic effects of grounding the human body during sleep as measured by cortisol levels and subjective reporting of sleep, pain, and stress”) with the following abstract:
OBJECTIVES: Diurnal cortisol secretion levels were measured and circadian cortisol profiles were evaluated in a pilot study conducted to test the hypothesis that grounding the human body to earth during sleep will result in quantifiable changes in cortisol. It was also hypothesized that grounding the human body would result in changes in sleep, pain, and stress (anxiety, depression, irritability), as measured by subjective reporting. SUBJECTS AND INTERVENTIONS: Twelve (12) subjects with complaints of sleep dysfunction, pain, and stress were grounded to earth during sleep for 8 weeks in their own beds using a conductive mattress pad. Saliva tests were administered to establish pregrounding baseline cortisol levels. Levels were obtained at 4-hour intervals for a 24-hour period to determine the circadian cortisol profile. Cortisol testing was repeated at week 6. Subjective symptoms of sleep dysfunction, pain, and stress were reported daily throughout the 8-week test period. RESULTS: Measurable improvements in diurnal cortisol profiles were observed, with cortisol levels significantly reduced during night-time sleep. Subjects’ 24-hour circadian cortisol profiles showed a trend toward normalization. Subjectively reported symptoms, including sleep dysfunction, pain, and stress, were reduced or eliminated in nearly all subjects. CONCLUSIONS: Results indicate that grounding the human body to earth (“earthing”) during sleep reduces night-time levels of cortisol and resynchronizes cortisol hormone secretion more in alignment with the natural 24-hour circadian rhythm profile. Changes were most apparent in females. Furthermore, subjective reporting indicates that grounding the human body to earth during sleep improves sleep and reduces pain and stress.
And moreover, a paper on an alternative health web site briefly described several such studies. Wow! Pretty impressive, isn’t it?
Well, not so much. First, the above study was published in none other than the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which means that it was either not submitted to, or was rejected by, journals that have any sort of legitimate reputation. I didn’t purchase the article, but going by the abstract and by the descriptions of other studies in that PDF, all of these studies suffer from the same fatal flaws: No blinding at all, and no control groups at all. This means that the test subjects might as well have been wearing paper hats, and if told it would reduce their stress, it probably would have had the same effect. The small size of the study, 12 people, renders any result statistically useless; and my experience in such matters suggests there’s a good chance that these 12 people were very possibly employees and friends of the company selling the products.
Is it true that grounding yourself to absorb the Earth’s peaceful energy will cure all your ills? Maybe, but we wouldn’t know from these studies. Maybe we should all buy the products to find out.