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Well Grounded Snake Oil

It's important to ground your house. But you? Not so much.

Image by Ali_K
I'm amazed at the lengths that some people will go to in order to make a dishonest buck. I mean, wouldn't it be easier just to start a legitimate business than to spend years trying to scam people out of their hard earned money for things like cold fusion generators, cell phone radiation shields, and homeopathic nonsense?

And yet, here's another scam you should know of, and avoid.

Technically speaking , grounding (which is also known as earthing) is a real thing. Your house is electrically grounded by conductive pipes and wires sunk into the soil. The conductors provide a path for electrons to flow between the electronics in your home and the earth. This is important because without it many electronic devices would malfunction, or you could get a serious shock when turning on or off lights and appliances. There are, however, no medical benefits to grounding your body, despite the assertions of a new wave of shysters.

The scam was recently featured in a Wall Street Journal article. Grounding proponents claim that you need to be grounded in the same way that your TV does, and that simply connecting yourself solidly to the earth, through a wire or by walking barefoot, can cure an endless list of ills. From diabetes to heart disease to insomnia to (I kid you not) pain in your big toe, grounding fixes it all for the mere cost of a few hundreds of dollars in equipment.

There is a very simple way to see why the medical claims can't be true, which I'll get to in a minute. A wise consumer, though, should quickly realize that anything that's touted to cure essentially everything probably does nothing at all. Most of the ailments on the lists of things grounding is supposed to help have very well known and distinct causes. Is it likely that one treatment can address radically different diseases? No.

Your body as a bag of salt water
But here's the simple explanation about why grounding can't cure the things the proponents claim it can: your insides are, literally, inside you, but the charges affected by grounding you are exclusively on the outside.

An electron in your salt-water-bag body
To put it bluntly, your body is the electrical equivalent of a big bag of salt water. Electrical charges can move around in salt water because it's a conductor. Imagine if I were to put an excess electron in the middle of a bag of salt water. The water itself is neutral, so the electron can move about randomly.

Electrons repelling each other in your body
Now suppose I put another electron in the water. The two charges would repel each other because, as you probably know, like charges repel, while opposites attract.

As the like charges repel, they push each other until they're as far apart as possible. For a bag of salt water that means the charges end up on the outer surface. As I add more and more charges, they all repel and similarly end up on the outer surface.
Where two electrons end up on your salt-water-bag body

(Alternatively, if I put a positive and negative charge in there, they would attract each other, get very close and cancel each other out, which leaves no net charge inside.)

The end result is that no matter how many charges I put on a bag of salt water, the inside is completely neutral and all excess charges are on the outside.
A bunch of electrons on your charged body

If you were to place an organ, like a kidney in the bag of salt water, it would have no way of knowing whether or how much charge is on the outside of the bag.

Your kidney blithely unaware of the electrons on the outside of your salt-water-bag body
That means excess charge can't affect your kidney or anything else inside you. By the same token, taking that excess charge away isn't going to help your kidney or anything else inside your body because it doesn't matter whether it's there or not.

Grounding can't help you, but at least it also can't hurt you. So if you don't buy my argument, you can always buy the snake oil. You'll be a bit poorer, but otherwise none the worse for wear.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I deleted the previous comment because it was nothing but an ad for earthing nonsense.

    All the best,


  3. Einstein believed in grounding, he walked around barefoot all the time. Just read his Biography. Doubt Einstein?

  4. Yet the studies on earthing/grounding appear to show many measurable physiological changes upon grounding.

    For example:

    "A multiparameter double-blind study was designed to reproduce and expand on previous electrophysiological and physiological parameters measured immediately after grounding with an improved methodology and state-of-the-art equipment [20].

    The immediate decrease in SC indicates a rapid activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and corresponding deactivation of the sympathetic nervous system. The immediate increase in SC at cessation of grounding indicates an opposite effect. Increased RR, stabilization of BO, and slight rise in heart rate suggest the start of a metabolic healing response necessitating an increase in oxygen consumption."

    With another follow up study showing improved HRV(heart rate variability)

    "The rapid change in skin conductance reported in an earlier study led to the hypothesis that grounding may also improve heart rate variability (HRV), a measurement of the heart's response to ANS regulation. A double-blind study was designed with 27 participants [27]. Subjects sat in a comfortable reclining chair. Four transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) type adhesive electrode patches were placed on the sole of each foot and on each palm.

    Participants served as their own controls. Each participant's data from a 2-hour session (40 minutes of which was grounded) were compared with another 2-hour sham-grounded session. The sequence of grounding versus sham-grounding sessions was assigned randomly.

    During the grounded sessions, participants had statistically significant improvements in HRV that went way beyond basic relaxation results (which were shown by the nongrounded sessions).

    Since improved HRV is a significant positive indicator on cardiovascular status, it is suggested that simple grounding techniques be utilized as a basic integrative strategy in supporting the cardiovascular system, especially under situations of heightened autonomic tone when the sympathetic nervous system is more activated than the parasympathetic nervous system."

    Not to mention several other small studies which claim:

    Pain reduction from sleeping grounded has been confirmed in a controlled study on DOMS. Earthing is the first intervention known to speed recovery from DOMS.

    A pilot study on the electrodynamics of red blood cells (zeta potential) has revealed that earthing significantly reduces blood viscosity, an important but neglected parameter in cardiovascular diseases and diabetes [29], and circulation in general.

    Stress reduction has been confirmed with various measures showing rapid shifts in the ANS from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance, improvement in heart rate variability, and normalization of muscle tension.

    "Multi-disciplinary research has revealed that electrically conductive contact of the human body with the surface of the Earth (grounding or earthing) produces intriguing effects on physiology and health. Such effects relate to inflammation, immune responses, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases."

    "Specifically, grounding an organism produces measurable differences in the concentrations of white blood cells, cytokines, and other molecules involved in the inflammatory response."

    "Grounding reduces pain and alters the numbers of circulating neutrophils and lymphocytes, and also affects various circulating chemical factors related to inflammation."

    "From these results, it appears that earthing the human body has significant effects on electrophysiological properties of the brain and musculature, on the blood volume pulse, and on the noise and stability of electrophysiological recordings.

    Taken together, the changes in EEG, EMG, and BVP suggest reductions in overall stress levels and tensions, and a shift in autonomic balance upon earthing"


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