Grounding shoes entrepreneur Sharon Whiteley and the emerging science showing that human health, vitality, and wellness are dependent on connection with the energy of the earth.
Sharon Whiteley wants you to get grounded. No, this is not an invitation for spiritual healing. As a seasoned entrepreneur, Whiteley is on a practical mission to promote what may very well be one of the most important health discoveries of our times: it is essential for human health, vitality, and wellness to connect with the energy of the earth. And she has created special shoes for that.
For most of human history, the connection between people and planet—grounding, also called ‘earthing’—was a simple fact of life. Our ancestors walked barefoot or in shoes made from pure leather along dirt and stone surfaces. They slept on the ground. Since the 1960s, humans have increasingly separated from the surface of the earth. We are wearing mostly insulating rubber or plastic soled shoes. We live in high-rise buildings and our beds are elevated. In short: our bodies are mostly disconnected from the earth’s energy.
Proponents of grounding theorize that the this ‘disconnect’ causes stress and disease in our lives. The science of grounding is still limited. There are some two dozen studies with small samples. But from this initial research, a clear message seems to emerge: all body systems function better when we are grounded. Blood viscosity decreases and the flow increases, inflammation markers go down, people experience less pain, more energy, calmness, and deeper sleep. That is why one of the leading grounding researchers, biophysicist James Oschman, PhD. says: “Grounding is as important as the discovery of penicillin.”
Sharon Whiteley grew up in a family that immigrated from Eastern Europe. She worked in the family department store in Waterbury, Connecticut from age 13 having a first-hand experience of the entrepreneurial drive of her parents. “I never set out to create a company”, Whiteley says. But she discovered early on that if you want to solve problems, business is your best tool.
Creating solutions meant creating new businesses. Whiteley introduced the pushcart concept—a forerunner of today’s ‘pop-up stores’—at Boston’s Faneuil Hall and was instrumental in revitalizing this famous historic marketplace. She revitalized an early online platform, Third Age, to nurture human potential and launched Peacock Papers, a line of typographically designed positive messages. More recently, she started TRU47, a company that offers antimicrobial silver and copper products including face masks, and sanitizing products. Her latest venture is Harmony783 (after the energy frequency of the earth: 7.83 Hertz), the reimagined follow-up to her original footwear line, Pluggz, which were the first grounding shoes to hit the market a decade earlier. She and her partner set out to offer a diverse collection of shoes for women and men featuring a proprietary grounding technology, which enables one to get grounded when walking directly on the earth’s surface.
The idea for the grounding shoes came to her while she was attending a conference about ‘positive aging’. She attended a lecture by cardiologist Stephen Sinatra who spoke about heart disease as the leading cause of death of women in the western world. Sinatra argued that a “nature deficiency syndrome” was at the root of heart problems and he referred to the research of grounding pioneer Clint Ober who launched the first collection of indoor grounding solutions using the grounding port of your home’s electrical socket. Sinatra and Ober co-wrote the book Earthing: The Greatest Heath Discovery Ever!?
The next morning while walking around the booths of the conference floor, Whiteley had her ‘a ha’ moment: “Shoes! What better way to get grounded than through your feet!” Yes, we can all walk barefoot on the beach but few of us are fortunate to live close enough to the sea. Whiteley: “Let’s face it – it’s simply not practical to live barefoot as a way of life. You do not want to walk without shoes and risk exposing yourself to between unhealthy chemical fertilizers, animal droppings, or other unpleasant surprises.”
Whiteley says that grounding works like “filling your gas tank”. “You need to fill up 20 to 30 minutes a day.” That is not much. Nonetheless, that target is not easily achieved for many of us. Our multi-level homes are basically insulated. How many people have a garden where they can walk barefoot? Whiteley’s grounding shoes work on concrete—made from conductive sand, stone, and water—sidewalks. But walking on asphalt—made from non-conductive petroleum—does not provide grounding.
The growing research on grounding is driven by a fundamental question. “Our ancestors were killed by wild animals or by infectious diseases”, says Whiteley. They did not have diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or any of the other modern degenerative diseases. These diseases have all rapidly come up since World War II. “75 years ago, 95 percent of all shoes had leather soles which are somewhat conductive. Today, 95 percent of all shoes have plastic or rubber soles which are insulators”, writes James Oschman. Can there be a correlation between these two parallel developments?
Medical science is clear that most of the degenerative, ‘lifestyle’ diseases are caused by inflammation. A search for “inflammation” on PubMed, the online search engine for biomedical literature gives almost 800,000 results. The most significant finding in all these studies is the relationship between inflammation and virtually every chronic disease.
Inflammation in the body is caused by so-called ‘free radicals’. To understand this phenomenon, we need to go back to physics class when we learned to pair atoms with pluses and minuses. The body’s cells produce free radicals during normal metabolic processes—there is always some inflammation in the body. Normal stable molecules have pairs of electrons in their atoms. Free radicals have unpaired electrons. These molecules have a positive charge and want to become whole or stable again. The cells also produce ‘antioxidants’ with a negative charge that neutralize these free radicals. In a healthy body, there is a balance between antioxidants and free radicals. We can support a healthy metabolism eating fruit and vegetables that are full of antioxidants. People also take antioxidant supplements.
Inflammation happens when bacteria or other pathogens, environmental factors such as pollution or cell phones, or psychological or emotional challenges cause stress to our bodies.
This ‘oxidative stress’ occurs when too many oxygen molecules in the body split into single atoms with unpaired electrons. The result is an imbalance between too many free radicals and too few antioxidants. The free radicals want to become whole or stable again and try to ‘steal’ electrons from healthy cells. The immune system is constantly activated and eventually gets exhausted; the body experiences chronic inflammation.
In other words: the root cause of inflammation is a lack of electrons in the body. And what is the biggest natural source of electrons? Yes, the negatively charged surface of the earth. The planet provides a virtually limitless, and continuously renewed, supply of mobile electrons. The pioneers of grounding argue that reconnecting with the earth is the best way to bring the modern-day-afflictions back under control and restore health. Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra puts it simply, grounding is “like taking a handful of supplements. Instead, you get it through your feet.”
The reasoning follows a well-known principle of physics. When two conductive objects with different electrical potential touch each other, there is an almost instantaneous transfer of charge so that the two objects equilibrate to the same electrical potential. The human body is a conductor of electricity. In fact, all communication between cells follows electrical pathways. The soil of the earth is conductor too—except for very dry areas such as deserts. When a human body that is searching for more electrons touches the surface of the earth through grounding, according to physics, an immediate replenishment with electrons occurs.
This ongoing ‘regulation’ has been happening throughout human history until recently when humans started to ‘insulate’ themselves from the planet. “All systems of the body go to balance, to normal, when you are grounded”, says researcher Jim Oschman after measuring the effect in all organs.
In one study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health in 2012, 60 people with sleep issues were divided in two groups. Every person received a conductive mat to put under the sheets in their beds. Half of the mats were connected to a dedicated earth ground, half were not. The participants did not know whether their mat was grounded or not.
The results were impressive. Of the ‘connected” group, 85 percent fell asleep quicker, 93 percent reported improved quality of sleep, and 100 percent woke up feeling more rested. In addition, 82 percent reported less stiffness and pain and 74 percent reported an improvement of chronic pain. Most of the people in the control group did not experience any improvement.
Another study published in the Journal of Inflammation Research, 2015, describes the impact of grounding on a non-healing wound suffered by an 84-year-old diabetic woman. Photos show the open sore healed in two weeks after the woman started daily 30-minute grounding sessions.
Polish researchers published a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine analyzing the impact of grounding on the blood of 168 people. They found the practice had a positive effect on thyroid hormone production and blood glucose levels. The latter result could have a major impact on the control of blood sugar in diabetes, a disease that almost half a billion people worldwide have.
There is also research that shows that two hours of grounding reduces blood viscosity, effectively thinning the blood. This finding could lead to another major solution: millions of people are daily taking blood-thinning drugs—with dangerous side-effects. Grounding is also shown to decrease the rate of heart rate variability (HRV). HRV levels are a known predictor of heart disease.
In her book Barefoot Wisdom: Better Health through Grounding (co-authored with Dr. AnnMarie Chiasson), Sharon Whiteley further presents extensive anecdotal evidence about the health benefits of grounding. People suffering ailments from allergies, eczema, back pain to chronic fatigue, autoimmune disorders, Crohn’s disease, and diabetes, have all reported substantial improvements. The potential for better health is huge. Research shows that inflammation in the brain could be the cause of depression. There is also evidence that inflammation in early childhood is a risk factor for developing ADHD in children.
Could it be that a simple restoration of the flow of electrons in the body through grounding could solve all these health challenges? “We need a lot more research”, says Whiteley. She also makes the point that grounding offers a “very subtle energy” that many people will not immediately feel. “It is not like you step on the ground and you feel like a different person.” Nonetheless, most people feel refreshed and invigorated after a barefoot walk on the beach.
So far, mainstream medicine dismisses the grounding research as insignificant because the samples are statistically too small. That is a well-known challenge for non-pharmaceutical health innovation that does not offer interesting profits to the multinational drug industry. After all, grounding is free!
The results of the early grounding research are consistent. Grounding reduces inflammation. And inflammation is the root cause of all disease. With her Harmony783 grounding shoes, Sharon Whiteley is determined to continue making grounding more easily available to most of us who live in the modern world. “The treehuggers had it right,” she concludes.
Chevalier, Sinatra, Oschman and Delany: Earthing (grounding) the human body reduces blood viscosity—a major factor in cardiovascular disease, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2013.
Oschman, Chevalier and Brown: The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, Journal of Inflammation Research, 2015.
Chevalier, Sinatra, Oschman, Karol Sokal and Pawel Sokal: Earthing: health implications of reconnecting the human body to the earth’s surface electrons, Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2012
Oschman: Earthing: A new perspective on the cause and prevention of therapist burnout, Massage and Body Work Magazine, 2016