Kitty Geoghan, Section Editor - The Reporter

Amid all the “revolutionary” theories about health and healing swirling around the Internet, there’s a new one that’s more than a little bizarre. You might have seen pictures across social media of a woman’s bare feet on grass, sand, or rocks, possibly rocking some fun hemp jewelry to really complete the hippie look. This new trend, the idea of walking barefoot in nature as a healing practice, is known as Earthing.

Walk Barefoot to Cure What Ails You

The basic premise of Earthing is that our shoes, floors, and other “non-conductive” materials keep us isolated from the Earth, our source of energy. Supposedly, the Earth carries electrons that can be absorbed into our bodies to balance out the free radicals in our systems. In order to utilize this “Vitamin G,” we need to “ground” ourselves by connecting directly with the Earth’s surface – namely, by walking barefoot on the ground. In doing so, we become reconnected with the Earth’s energy, a process which can heal anything from jet lag to chronic pain.

So what’s wrong with that?

Scientifically, well, everything. The idea that we are lacking electrons and can “borrow” them from the Earth is ridiculous, and goes against every known principle of chemistry and atomic bonds. And to make matters worse, even if we could adopt an electrical charge from the Earth, we wouldn’t need to go barefoot to do it. Your body already connects with the Earth’s electrical charge simply by standing on something that isn’t insulated. That’s why you need a special mat to use a Van de Graff generator – otherwise, the electricity would just go right through you, and you wouldn’t get that cool hair-standing-up effect. You’re no more connected to the Earth on an electrical level when you’re standing barefoot in the woods than when you have socks on in your third-floor apartment. As long as the surface you’re on isn’t perfectly insulated – and most surfaces aren’t – there’s no significant difference in terms of electricity conduction.

Bad Premise, Bad Research

To their credit, the folks behind the Earthing trend have attempted to evaluate the practice using empirical trials; however, the methods used have been questionable at best. Many of the studies prevent significant confounds – we already know that spending time outside and yoga have significant health benefits, and the studies presented offer no control groups that indicate a specific benefit to Earthing while doing these things. Additionally, most of the studies were published in open-access journals, which are notorious for poor quality standards and little to no peer review process. Considering the many, many problems with the basic philosophy of Earthing, this research is unimpressive. As Carl Sagan puts it, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and this evidence is far from extraordinary.

Another Money-Grabbing Pseudoscience

Of course, it’s not enough to spread this idea of “connecting with the Earth” as a cure-all for nonspecific health problems. No, there’s money to be made here! If walking around barefoot isn’t doing it for you, then you can buy all manner of fancy products that connect to the ground plug in an electrical outlet to give you even more beneficial electrons. If you’re just too busy to go outside, well, here’s a product you can buy that will give the same effect in the comfort of your own home! I’m no Earthing expert, but this seems counter to the whole “natural healing” philosophy they’re working on.

Conclusion: Don’t waste your money (or hurt your feet)

When it comes to Earthing as a concept, the science just isn’t there. And when you add in unnecessarily expensive products that are only minutely related to the initial premise, you end up with a recipe for wasted money and no tangible results. Even “natural” Earthing by walking barefoot carries enough risks – bee stings, cuts, and serious itching caused by grass allergies, to name a few – that unless its benefits are actually proven, I’d suggest keeping your shoes on. Walking around outside in sneakers is probably good enough. If you want to do yoga out on the grass, then go for it – but don’t expect any big changes when you decide not to use a mat.