I went to high school in LA with a girl—let’s call her Brianna—who never wore shoes. We’re talking at school, at parties, you name it—she was always barefoot. It’s the sort of thing you could only get away with in California (can you imagine what would happen to you if you always went barefoot in New York or Chicago? Shudder.) And she seemed like a really happy, free person.So when I read about earthing—the belief that going barefoot puts you in direct physical contact with the earth’s magnetic field, which in turn, helps improve your health—I wondered if Brianna was onto something all along.Proponents of earthing, also known as grounding, claim that exposure to the earth’s electrons neutralizes harmful free radicals that trigger inflammation and carries health benefits that range from reduced stress to less pain and a better night’s sleep.QUIZ: Are You Overly Stressed?Right about now you’re probably either rolling your eyes or thinking, “Huh?” It does sound “out there,” so I checked in with James Nicolai, M.D., YouBeauty Integrative Health Expert and Medical Director at Miraval Integrative Wellness Center in Tucson, to find out if there are any real benefits to connecting with the earth’s magnetic field. According to Dr. Nicolai, there might be.Grounded in Science?“Connecting to and resonating with the electromagnetic field of the earth seems to be a logical way to promote harmony and balance,” says Nicolai. “When we balance our own reactions and responses, our health improves. It seems intuitively right that the earth’s magnetic field can help us do that. Looking at the studies, all of which are small, grounding appears to provide some general health benefits, such as better sleep, less pain, reduced stress and tension, and better immune function compared to study participants who weren’t grounded.”MORE: Is Kava Safe for Relieving Stress?A small 2013 study in the Journal of Alternative Medicine found that earthing reduces blood viscosity (or thickness) and clumping. Researchers concluded that the practice appears to be “one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk.” Another small study from the same journal in 2004 found a link between grounding and significantly lower cortisol levels during sleep, particularly in women. High levels of the hormone can interfere with shut-eye.Stepping Out in Earthing ShoesThe challenge with earthing is that, unlike Brianna, most of us can’t go barefoot all of the time, and synthetically-made shoes supposedly leave us disconnected from the earth’s magnetic field. So some companies have developed earthing shoes, which supposedly keep your body connected to the earth through your feet.
I tested out Pluggz earthing shoes—both the flip-flops and the ballet flats. Along with a bonus antimicrobial lining, the shoes have a “plug” made of carbon and rubber inside the sole of the shoes. The plug is placed so it hits the most sensitive “conductive point” in the foot—the metatarsal area or K-1 point (the ball of your foot). I felt it the most when trying the flip-flops, which made them a bit uncomfortable to wear. They were fine for sitting at my desk and walking short distances in the office, but I had to rule out wearing them on my walk to work, which basically defeats the whole purpose of earthing shoes since they need to be worn on the ground—and my office is on the seventh floor. The plug was more subtle in the ballet flats, which were cushioned, fairly comfortable for walking on the ground, and stylish.QUIZ: Discover if Your Activity Level Is SufficientBottom line: While I can’t say that I noticed a difference in my post-workout aches and pains, I did feel a little more relaxed and calm—even a bit tingly, as strange as that sounds—wearing the Pluggz ballet flats. One interesting thing to note: The plug hits a major acupressure point that, according to some sources, leads to calm, better sleep and, yes, grounding a person’s energy. (And apparently makes oral sex amazing.) So maybe the earth’s magnetic field is working its magic or the shoes are hitting that fabulous acupressure point, but either way, if slipping on a pair of ballet flats helps ease even some stress, then why not?Searching for a Stronger FoundationAlthough Nicolai says that earthing appears to be beneficial, he notes that more research is needed and is suspicious of the substantial commercial aspect (aka products) of the practice, which includes earthing beds and sheets. In other words, you don’t need these products to get the supposed health benefits of grounding.“Going barefoot and connecting to your electromagnetic field and the earth’s through outside meditation is one thing,” notes Nicolai. “Buying an earthing bed is a completely different animal. If you want to connect with the earth through simple methods like our ancestors did, I am all for that. As a matter of fact, I think it is important—even essential—for optimal health. We need to be connected with nature and sync with its healing power. But I’d probably wait to see how larger studies and future research confirms and expands on what limited information we have so far before I spend a whole lot of money on earthing products.”MORE: The Basics of Meditation