Welcome back to "weird things people on the internet do", where we look through the strangest trends of the internet and explain why they often have absolutely no scientific backing whatsoever – or that actually they might just have some merit. This latest offering stems from a recent viral trend on TikTok and Instagram named earthing, grounding, or greenfooting.
What is grounding?
Simply put, it is the action of forgoing modern-day comforts and living life entirely barefoot, to "electrically reconnect" your body to the earth. Grounding relies on the premise that we, as humans, have become disconnected from the vast supply of electrons within the earth much like an electronic circuit, and shoes are forming a barrier that is resulting in a build-up of harmful substances. Once you connect your skin to the ground, you "ground" yourself and supposedly improve everything from your immune system, to your mental health. Apparently.
Now, that isn’t to say that every barefoot walker is doing so to charge themselves like a mobile phone. People like Yoshua Greenfoot, also known as @youenjoylife on social media, have gone viral recently for barefoot living, believing shoes are a "prison" for your feet. The confinement your feet may feel in shoes then supposedly has lasting impacts on your overall health, as your body must "compensate" for the lack of balance. Greenfoot believes walking barefoot widens your feet and releases the foot from its confinement, returning the extensive functionality we humans once had.
Grounding comes in many forms – some do it as a lifestyle choice, including walking around barefoot, while there are grounding "therapies" in which you use water or grounding equipment to increase contact with the ground but keep your shoes firmly on for trips to the supermarket.
Does grounding actually work?
Believe it or not, this practice has been around for a long time. Scientific research into grounding began in the early 2000s, but even 20 years later, still suffers from a distinct lack of reliable data. A few studies have been done on possible benefits of grounding therapies on inflammation, cardiovascular health, and mental health, but almost exclusively use self-reporting as a data collection method and often have extremely small sample sizes.
One study from 2015 observed an increase in platelet count and a reduction in muscle damage after performing strenuous exercise when grounded, while another suggested that grounding reduced the electrical charge of red blood cells and reduced blood viscosity, implying this could improve cardiovascular health. Both studies had extremely small sample sizes.
A review from 2015 found grounding may reduce pain and alter circulating white blood cell counts, and suggests uptake of electrons from the ground may be the cause, but the mechanism was never identified and the authors called on more research to be done in the area.
There is, therefore, some extremely limited science to suggest that in certain situations, grounding therapy could alter biomarkers in the body. However, it remains unclear whether a transfer of electrons is actually the cause, or something else entirely, such as the placebo effect. Walking barefoot has no evidence to suggest it works.
In the meantime, many internet personalities continue to push the idea of walking barefoot as a way to reconnect to the earth, and while they may feel better, it likely isn’t a good idea.
Research into walking barefoot versus with shoes is conflicted. Some suggests that walking barefoot for extended periods of time can lead to tendonitis, while other results show barefoot walking may reduce impact on the feet. However, once you include the chance of walking on glass or other sharp objects that may expose your feet to infection, it is simply a better choice to accept the foot prisons known as "shoes" if you are venturing beyond your front door.