Today’s Solutions: April 17, 2024

Clint Ober still vividly remembers the telling-off a friend got from his mom one day after the boys walked over to the friend’s Indian reservation: “Quick! Take your shoes off or you’ll get sick!” To her, shoes were strange. Native Americans have gone barefoot since time immemorial, or worn soft leather moccasins that allowed them to feel the ground.
Back then, Ober didn’t get it. How could shoes make you ill? But today, he says, it makes perfect sense. Fifteen years ago, the former TV salesman and cable entrepreneur made a change that’s dominated his life ever since. He discovered that spending time physically connected to the Earth made his chronic insomnia and backache disappear.
Now, after years of research, Ober claims that a lack of contact with the planet brings on illness and inflammation. Since most of us can’t spend our days walking barefoot in the grass, he’s come up with a clever way to “earth” ourselves indoors: through the grounding hole in an electrical outlet.
“By now, you’re probably wondering what you got yourself into,” Ober says, laughing, as he explains his work. And to be honest, it does sound a little sketchy. But Ober has garnered a flock of converts around the world who say earthing has improved their sleep and circulation, lowered their stress and lightened their levels of pain and inflammation. His book has been translated into 12 languages, and healthy-living gurus such as David Wolfe rave about it. U.S. cyclists even used earthing sheets during the Tour de France in a bid to improve sleep quality and recovery speed.
Were the Native Americans onto something? Does a lack of physical contact with the Earth really have negative effects? Ober’s sure of it. “Connecting to the Earth restores, stabilizes and maintains the human body’s most electrical state,” he says.
Ober grew up in a Montana ranching family and retains a slight cowboy drawl. He got interested in the TV business at an early age, started his own company and worked in the cable business in the early days. It made him rich, but in 1993 a serious liver disease nearly killed him. An experimental treatment saved his life. Ober blamed his illness on years of overwork. He sold all his possessions and hit the road in a camper.
Ober Event Large
Four years later, he was sitting on a bench in the wild, glorious mountains of Sedona, Arizona, when a busload of Japanese tourists stopped nearby. Watching them disembark, Ober noticed they were all wearing white sneakers with thick synthetic soles. Suddenly, a thought struck him: “Is there any consequence to it that we’re not naturally grounded anymore?”
He recalled how you had to ground TV cables to prevent interference to the signal. A coaxial cable has a copper core surrounded by a conductive copper shield. “The shield is electrically connected to the Earth,” Ober explains. “It’s grounded so that the Earth can either deliver or absorb electrons and prevent damage from electrical charges.” He wondered if, when the human body touched the Earth, it too became grounded and exchanged electrons with the planet.
He couldn’t get the idea out of his head. From a hardware store he bought a roll of metallic duct tape, some wire and a grounding rod. He taped the wire to his sheets and ran it outside to the rod, which he stuck in the dirt. Then he started experimenting.
Using a voltmeter, Ober measured the electrical current in his body. If he approached an electronic device or electrical wiring, the voltage increased. But if he touched his makeshift duct tape assembly, it plummeted. “I fell asleep with the voltmeter still on my chest, and I woke up in the morning with that thing lying beside me,” Ober says. “That was pretty significant. I had a lot of sleep issues and had some pain from a back injury, so I always took a lot of Advil before I fell asleep.”
Ober was surprised. He decided to test his human earthing system on some friends. All of them reported sleeping better, and one even said his arthritis pain had gone away. Within days, Ober’s own backaches had vanished. “That’s when I recognized that something was going on,” he says.
He decided to look for information on bodily earthing. To his surprise, he came up empty. He scoured libraries and asked doctors if they knew how touching the Earth affected the human body. “They thought I was totally nuts,” he says, laughing. In 2001, he met cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, who was affiliated with Connecticut’s Manchester Memorial Hospital for years before starting the Heart MD Institute, which provides information on cardiac disease. “Clint,” Sinatra said, “if you’re affecting pain and sleep, you need to look at inflammation.”
Western health care has been paying more attention to chronic inflammation lately. Increasing numbers of scientists are blaming it for a range of illnesses, including chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies, diabetes, intestinal disorders, low and high blood pressure, obesity, sleep problems, recurrent pain and skin diseases.
Ober didn’t know much about inflammation, but when he read up on it, he found out free radicals played a key role. Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms created during metabolic processes such as cell division and cellular energy production. When something goes wrong in the body—for instance, something becomes inflamed—extra free radicals are produced for the purpose of breaking down “bad” cells. If too many are created, they can do damage.
Free radicals have unpaired electrons—remember those plus and minus signs in physics class?—and are constantly looking to regain stability. To do that, they steal electrons from unhealthy or healthy cells.
Antioxidants, molecules that can give up electrons without becoming unstable, can safely neutralize free radicals. Their sources include vegetables, fruit and nuts. According to Ober, the Earth’s electrons can act as antioxidants too—the planet’s surface is full of electrons, he argues. “The free electrons pulsating perpetually on the surface of the conductive Earth are easily transferred up, into and throughout your body as long as there’s direct skin contact with the ground.”
Recalling the grounding of TVs, Ober thought that must be what was happening. He knew the human body was a conductor, so it had to be able to pick up electrons from the Earth, which would be capable of neutralizing free radicals. He thought about how in the past people had gone barefoot and slept on the ground, so that electrons would have flowed continuously into their bodies. And he thought about how little contact modern humans had with the Earth and how much more susceptible they were to inflammation.

Clint Ober
Clint Ober claims that a lack of contact with the plant brings on illness and inflammation in our bodies.
His solution: “Earthing.”

Alix Mayer lives with her husband and 11-year-old twins in a tidy neighborhood of Palo Alto, home to Stanford University and a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley powerhouses Apple and Google. Here, in one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world, Mayer searched in vain for a solution to her sleep problems and chronic pain.
Mayer suffers from Lyme disease, an infection transmitted by deer ticks. A multisystem disease, when left untreated it affects a number of organs and tissues. Mayer, an MBA, was working as a market strategy executive for Apple when she was forced to take sick leave. She suffered constant nausea, pain and migraines that kept her from sleeping. She tried dozens of remedies, diets and supplements, but nothing worked. “It was like a living death,” she wrote on her blog. Then she came across earthing at a health conference in Long Beach.
By then, Ober had invented a range of indoor earthing devices, including a conductive adhesive patch and mats and sheets you could plug into the grounding hole of an electrical outlet. Mayer tried a patch at the conference. “Over the course of a few hours, I felt more calm,” she says. “Also, I noticed that the level of headache pain went down.” Back home, she continued to practice earthing. “Over time, I noticed a steady improvement in my symptoms,” she says.
Naturally, Mayer meets people who are skeptical about earthing. When they ask how it works, she explains: “When your body is inflamed, it tries to repair itself, and it releases free radicals, which have a positive charge. The Earth has a negative charge, so the electrons neutralize free radicals. And that starts a cascade of free radical deduction, inflammation reduction and pain reduction.” But, she adds, “I’m willing to accept that we don’t totally understand it.”
Ober, too, encounters plenty of criticism. Many people immediately dismiss earthing as nonsense. Others don’t believe the Earth has a negative charge. “But then why would we ground electric equipment?” he says. Some people also mistrust Ober because he’s making money from something the Earth supplies free. It’s frustrating, he says, but understandable. “I’m honestly not a swindler,” he sighs. “I’m just trying to show people that we need to have more contact with the Earth. And since people don’t want to sleep outside at night, I had to invent something to make that contact possible.”
Another argument brought by Ober’s critics is that his electron uptake theory is oversimplified. The Earth’s electrons aren’t antioxidants, they say, and no one can explain exactly how the body takes them up.
Ober hears it over and over: “If you want people to believe you, you have to do reliable scientific research.” Right now, that’s all he’s doing. He assembled a group of scientists who’ve conducted dozens of studies. But they’ve been small-scale and appeared in journals few of his critics take seriously.
Yet the results do suggest that earthing has an effect on the body. A 2004 study by anesthesiologist Maurice Ghaly found that people experienced reduced stress after earthing. Twelve participants slept under special sheets for eight weeks, and Ghaly measured their secretion of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, before and after. All the subjects’ cortisol levels improved.
In another study, published in 2011 in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the Polish doctors Pawel and Karol Sokal examined the blood of 168 people before and after earthing. They found the practice had a positive effect on thyroid hormone production and blood glucose levels.
“It’s true that the studies are small-scale,” acknowledges Jan van Stiphout, a spearhead of the earthing movement in the Netherlands. But he considers the anecdotal evidence valuable too. “I know so many people who’ve benefited from it.” He says his own sleep has vastly improved since he began using an earthing sheet. “We’re electrical beings; so many signals run through our bodies. Our hearts are even electrically driven. Our bodies are good conductors, so it’s logical that this would have an effect.”
Like Clint Ober, Van Stiphout has made radical life changes since he discovered earthing two years ago. He used to run a financial advising business and a retreat center in the northern Dutch province of Friesland, but closed his office, scaled back his involvement at the center and works promoting earthing and importing Ober’s products from the U.S. He’s considering devoting himself to earthing full time.
Van Stiphout suspects earthing could help mitigate bodily stress caused by electromagnetic radiation from cell phones, computers and microwave ovens. Science hasn’t established whether the rays cause permanent harm, but some people believe they’re linked to fatigue, headaches and dizziness, and government bodies around the world are investigating their health effects.
Anyone in the vicinity of an electrical appliance or live wire has an alternating current of between 500 and 2,000 millivolts running through his or her body, Van Stiphout explains. He regularly measures his own voltage with an oscilloscope, an instrument that makes electrical signals visible, while letting go of his earthing mat and then grasping it again. It always drops to between 20 and 50 millivolts. “That means a large portion of the alternating current in the body is gone,” Van Stiphout says. “It’s the same principle as in the grounding of electrical equipment.
“It hasn’t been shown that earthing protects you from that charge,” he adds. “But what I think is that that electromagnetic radiation is also a kind of stress, because it’s an unfamiliar and unnatural charge for your body.” Van Stiphout and Ober have noticed that people become flushed after using an earthing mat or sheet, as if they’ve been for a long walk in the woods.
The idea that Mother Earth is good for us is hardly outlandish. The holistic health guru Andrew Weil says on his website, “I’m all for going barefoot whenever possible, outdoors or in. It stimulates the feet and can be very relaxing.” As for earthing, he adds, “Let’s wait and see if future research confirms and expands on the very little we know now.” But ultimately, Ober says, it’s partly a spiritual thing. “When you touch the Earth, all things alive are connected.”
Elleke Bal is keeping her shoes on in the office at her colleagues’ request.
Clint Ober’s event, In Touch With the Earth, is on 26 February 2014. Click HERE for more information.


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