Grounding: Going barefoot to prevent cardiovascular disease!

This is another one of calling out the loons post! Grounding or earthing has all the hallmarks and characteristics associated with it being snake oil and pseudoscientific woo. The gullible are falling for the dubious marketing of those with a product to sell. The claims made by those who promote it are a great source of fodder for the skeptics blogs. Grounding is based on the premise that direct physical contact (ie barefoot) of the body with the earth has physiological benefits via an ‘electrical’ connection with the earth. To any physicist the claims make no sense.

Some that promote a barefoot lifestyle have latched on to grounding as another health benefit of going barefoot. Fortunately there are others in the barefoot community that recognize the pseudoscientific nonsense that it is and call it out. Nice to see me quoted there saying: “If the barefoot running community want to be taken seriously they have to stop misusing, misquoting, misrepresenting and misunderstanding the research“, which is something I have said many times in many places for many years! The way that some in the barefoot community are embracing the nonsensical understanding or explanations of grounding are not doing themselves any favors and open themselves to ridicule by skeptics and those who go by the evidence.

The reason that this came up on my radar was this study from February that just showed up in my alerts:

Earthing (grounding) the human body reduces blood viscosity-a major factor in cardiovascular disease.

Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, Oschman JL, Delany RM.
J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Feb;19(2):102-10.
OBJECTIVES:
Emerging research is revealing that direct physical contact of the human body with the surface of the earth (grounding or earthing) has intriguing effects on human physiology and health, including beneficial effects on various cardiovascular risk factors. This study examined effects of 2 hours of grounding on the electrical charge (zeta potential) on red blood cells (RBCs) and the effects on the extent of RBC clumping.
DESIGN/INTERVENTIONS:
Subjects were grounded with conductive patches on the soles of their feet and palms of their hands. Wires connected the patches to a stainless-steel rod inserted in the earth outdoors. Small fingertip pinprick blood samples were placed on microscope slides and an electric field was applied to them. Electrophoretic mobility of the RBCs was determined by measuring terminal velocities of the cells in video recordings taken through a microscope. RBC aggregation was measured by counting the numbers of clustered cells in each sample.
SETTINGS/LOCATION:
Each subject sat in a comfortable reclining chair in a soundproof experiment room with the lights dimmed or off. Subjects: Ten (10) healthy adult subjects were recruited by word-of-mouth.
RESULTS:
Earthing or grounding increased zeta potentials in all samples by an average of 2.70 and significantly reduced RBC aggregation.
CONCLUSIONS:
Grounding increases the surface charge on RBCs and thereby reduces blood viscosity and clumping. Grounding appears to be one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events.

Sounds impressive? But, like so many other studies on grounding they all suffer from the same problems:

  • no control group
  • the measurements or assessments were done by people who were not blinded (ie they knew what the effect was they were looking for)
  • the study was funded by and the authors have shares in the company that sells grounding products

So this study like all the others that claim to show some scientific benefits for grounding can be added to the scrap heap. No credible scientific study has yet shown that there is anything to grounding. All those promoting it have a product to sell. The pattern is very familiar.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and it clearly shows that grounding is pseudoscientific woo marketed by snake oil salesman. This is not going to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, Oschman JL, & Delany RM (2013). Earthing (grounding) the human body reduces blood viscosity-a major factor in cardiovascular disease. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 19 (2), 102-10 PMID: 22757749

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About Craig Payne

University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger, dad. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

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3 Responses to Grounding: Going barefoot to prevent cardiovascular disease!

  1. Scott August 12, 2013 at 6:05 am #

    Great find Craig!

    Loved exploring this in more detail to find http://www.groundology.com/

    An interesting use of the suffix “ology” to add credit to totally uncreditable methods, but there is always an out-clause (cover my a&%e clause)

    “Please note that none of the information here constitutes medical advice in any way, or claims cure or treatment of any medical condition. Always consult a medical doctor regarding any personal health issues.”

  2. Bob Budding August 16, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    “THERE ARE IDIOTS. Look around.”
    ~Larry Summers

  3. Craig Payne September 10, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    I was bored so I just went through all the scientific publications on grounding or earthing. I could not find one that did not have a fatal flaw in it! (eg lack of controls; flawed stats tests; lack of blinding; etc). I could not believe how really bad these studies where. they were all published in low quality alternative journals, which is probably why they got through the peer review process. they would not get past first base at any credible journal.

    I just can’t believe that so many people are that gullible.

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