Nurturing the Nervous System

Perhaps one of the most overlooked grounding dividends – and so beneficial in these stressful times – is the rapid calming within the autonomic nervous system (ANS) that regulates functions like heart and respiration rates, digestion, perspiration, urination, and even sexual arousal.

The effect begins pretty much instantly when you connect with the Earth. The ANS shifts from a typically overactive sympathetic mode, associated with stress, into a parasympathetic, calming mode.

A 2011 grounding study on heart rate variability (HRV) published in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal sheds light on this effect.

You may not be familiar with HRV, so here’s a quick synopsis, courtesy of cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, co-author of the study:

“A balanced ANS supports good HRV and is an indicator of better heart health. Conversely, the presence of disturbed ANS and HRV means increased risk of arrhythmias, coronary artery spasm, and sudden cardiac death. HRV has become a reliable clinical tool for measuring survival potential after a heart attack. HRV is not the same thing as heart rate. Your heart beats faster when you exert yourself or become stressed, and it slows down when you relax — but that’s not HRV. HRV refers to the minute variations in the heart’s beat-to-beat interval that result from the basic breathing process. You can’t feel the difference, but when you breathe in, your heart rate increases just ever so slightly. When you breathe out, it decreases ever so slightly. We see these fluctuations on an electrocardiogram, and we’ve learned even more from sophisticated computer analyses of beat-to-beat intervals.

“Have you ever had an electrocardiogram exercise stress test on a treadmill? If so, you may recall that you remain hooked up for a bit of time after the test. The reason is that your doctor wants to see what your heart rate is doing after exertion on the treadmill.  Your rate may rise to 150 beats a minute during the test. Afterward, it should drop into a de-accelerated zone of say 100 beats or less in about six minutes. If not, and it stays higher, you have a classic indicator of disturbed HRV, and increased likelihood of cardiovascular trouble. You may, for instance, have a beat rate of 112. That’s not good enough. I remember as a young cardiologist years ago waiting even a half-hour or so for some patients’ heart rates to drop down sufficiently.”

In our stressful lives, anything that can improve ANS and HRV function is of great benefit. Exercise, tai chi, yoga, and meditation are examples of activities that improve ANS and HRV. You become more relaxed and you sleep better. This effect is precisely what many people report after they start Earthing.

The grounding study involved monitoring test subjects before, during, and after 40-minute grounding sessions while seated comfortably in a recliner chair. It confirmed a balancing effect on sympathetic and parasympathetic function and a restoration of normal tone that reduces the stress response. These improvements go beyond basic relaxation and may explain in part the repeated feedback from people experiencing lower blood pressure and improved arrhythmias after they start Earthing.

HRV is a superb indicator of your ability to cope with both internal and external changes. It is, in fact, “the most accurate predictor of sudden death and the most accurate reflector of stress,” says Paul Rosch, M.D., president of the American Institute of Stress in New York City. “If you can alter your HRV, that is, increase it, you can reduce the likelihood of stress-related disorders, including cardiovascular disease.”

Dr. Sinatra says this about stress: “As a cardiologist, I have repeatedly treated the human wreckage that stress — acute or chronic sympathetic overdrive — can exact. In trying to rebuild and restore the wreckage, I have applied the best tools that both conventional and alternative medicine has to offer. Reconnecting the body to the Earth offers perhaps the most natural tool available anywhere. I’ve seen this simple remedy do some amazing things.”

The HRV study showed an instant change in HRV that kept improving all the way to the end of the 40-minute period of grounding, suggesting a greater benefit with time. We believe that the ANS may be one of the first, and possibly the first, of the major body systems that react to Earthing.

For individuals who experience anxiety, emotional stress, panic, fear, and/or symptoms of involuntary muscle contractions and spasms, including headaches, cardiac palpitations, and dizziness, Earthing appears to represent a genuinely promising strategy. Such individuals often see positive changes within 20 to 40 minutes.  Over time, you see significant changes, such as these reported by Dr. Sinatra:

● After 10 weeks of sleeping grounded, a 73-year-old woman reported that her blood pressure went down by 10 points and she sleeps much better.

● A couple started sleeping grounded. Her snoring stopped and he sleeps better. Her blood pressure went down from 150/90 to 120/80 after one night!

● One woman was experiencing benign but distressing PVCs (premature ventricular contraction), a form of arrhythmia characterized by racing of the heart or extra or skipped beats).  Sleeping grounded eliminated them.  Not only that, her husband’s atrial fibrillation episodes also stopped. He had been taking Coumadin for his condition and, in conjunction with his doctor, was able to reduce the dosage. (Coumadin is a popular blood thinner medication. Earthing also has a blood thinning effect. Anyone on blood thinning medication who wants to start Earthing should consult with his/her physician and keep close track of their INR, a widely-used measurement of the blood’s clotting tendency).

The HRV study offers additional proof that connecting to the Earth creates a calmer nervous system and increases its efficiency.

More research

An article published in the journal Medical Hypotheses by a neurosurgeon and cardiologist in Poland suggests that grounding likely plays a primary role as a neuromodulative factor enabling the nervous system to better adapt to the demands of the organism and the environment.  The following studies also demonstrate a calming effect on the nervous system:

Electrical Grounding Improves Vagal Tone in Preterm Infants

Changes in Pulse Rate, Respiratory Rate, Blood Oxygenation, Perfusion Index, Skin Conductance, and Their Variability Induced During and After Grounding Human Subjects

The Effect Of Earthing On Human Physiology

The Biologic Effects of Grounding the Human Body During Sleep as Measured by Cortisol Levels and Subjective Reporting of Sleep, Pain, and Stress

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