Aspen Untucked: To earth or not to earth?
February 22, 2018
In the dead of winter, it's sometimes hard to remember that everything around us was once bursting with life and will be again soon.
I thought about that over the weekend, when I was down in Denver with some family. It was a beautiful weekend, filled with sunny skies and warm temperatures. But, we were still in a city in the winter time. The grass was a yellow-brown tint, the leaves had long fallen off all of the trees and most signs of green plants or lush flowers were lost to the frost.
Sunday morning, in need of something to explore, we decided to go to the Denver Botanic Gardens. For those who haven't been, the gardens on York Street rest on 24 acres in an otherwise relatively urban part of Denver. Though the gardens really are at their best in the summer, when everything is blossoming, there's still art installations and picturesque grounds to see outside in the winter. But, perhaps the most lush experience, particularly in February, is the tropical collection of plants in the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory. In this beautiful, dome-shaped building lies 11,000 square feet worth of tropical and subtropical plants from around the world. The second we walked into this huge conservatory, I breathed with a sigh of relief. All around us were hundreds of lush, colorful plants. Being immersed in thriving nature refreshed everyone in our group. It was like going to a spa or a yoga class and feeling like an entirely different person afterward.
This experience got me to thinking of an article I read a couple of weeks ago in a magazine about a health trend that is making waves. It's called earthing (also known as grounding), and it's essentially the practice of walking barefoot on the earth — in the grass, sand or dirt. Some believe that doing this helps us connect directly with the electromagnetic charge of our planet. Now, stay with me here — when we connect to that charge, we're neutralizing free radicals in our body, which can cause health problems such as anxiety, inflammation, digestive problems and even heart disease.
If you're still here, let me explain a bit more. Free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species, are generated normally in the body and can help get rid of bad bacteria. However, too many of these existing in our body can be a bad thing, causing inflammation, pain in the muscles and joints and possibly even exacerbating problems like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A way to neutralize these free radicals is to give them electrons. Apparently, this can be done by connecting with the Earth, which allows the negatively charged particles to flow into the body. Essentially, our body has a positive charge and earthing brings in a negative charge to balance us out.
This breakdown comes from Dr. John Briffa, who gave earthing a try a few years back and wrote a post on his website about his experience. He had ankle problems that apparently disappeared after two days of planting his feet into the ground for 20 to 30 minutes. However, he's not entirely convinced that this wasn't due to a placebo. But, he did explain in his post that there's some science behind this earthing concept, and there have also been academic studies done that show that earthing is legit.
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A 2015 study in the Journal of Inflammatory Research showed that earthing can produce effects which relate to inflammation, immune responses, wound healing and the prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Another study conducted in 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine said that earthing increases the surface charge of red blood cells, which reduces blood thickness and clumping.
On the other side of this earthing debate are the critics, who bring up many solid points on why this movement may be a bunch of baloney. First off, many of the academic studies that have been done thus far on earthing are small or preliminary. Critics say that there isn't any "real science" proving that connecting to the ground sans shoes has health benefits. As far as the practice of earthing goes, if we do need a negative charge in our body and we can get it from the Earth (two decently sized ifs), how will simply coming into contact with the Earth successfully transfer that energy? There's also the Earthing.com online shop from the founders of the movement. It has items you can buy to help you Earth better. Everything from an Earthing Throw for $159.99 to an Earthing Body Band Kit for $39.99. Now, don't get me wrong, I understand that we all have to get paid, but monetizing something to this extent seems suspicious.
Looking at both sides of this argument, I'm still not entirely sure where I stand on the earthing phenomenon. When the ground doesn't have so much snow on it, I'll give it a try and see what happens. However, I do believe in the power of nature and how that can help heal us in many different ways.
I felt it just last weekend as I breathed in the fresh oxygen from the tropical plants around me in the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory at the Denver Botanical Gardens. I went in there that morning feeling groggy, tired and just all around out of it. I left in an entirely rejuvenated state, feeling fresh, clean and happy. Granted, I wasn't barefoot, but I did touch a lot of plants.
I think all of us who live in the mountains and love being here have to believe in the healing powers of nature to some extent. Whether it's going to solve every last one of our health woes is a different story altogether that involves much more research … and possibly an overpriced throw.
Barbara Platts is quite certain that walking barefoot in fresh grass is one of the best feelings there is. Whether that will solve all of her potential health problems is still up for debate. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.