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Barefoot in Sedona:
Bogus Claims About Grounding Your Feet to Earth Promote Medical Pseudoscience

Barefoot ( by Tim RT ( is licensed under [CC BY-ND 2.0] (

Barefoot by Tim RT is licensed under [CC BY-ND 2.0].

There is a website that reveals “The world’s most dangerous invention.” Care to speculate what that invention might be? I might have guessed nuclear weapons. Others have incriminated guns, cigarettes, genetic engineering, religion, The Web, The Large Hadron Collider, and automobiles. But this website was not talking about any of those, but about a far more destructive invention. Would you believe…shoes?

Watch out for those malicious moccasins, horrific high heels, fiendish flip-flops, beastly boots, and sinister slippers! They’re all out to get you. Not just shoes. Anything that comes between us and the bare earth: houses, clothes, tent floors, pavements, doormats, cars, skis, and so on.

It’s called “grounding” or “earthing”— the idea that maintaining health requires direct contact with the earth. Shoes are the most destructive invention ever, we are told, because they allegedly cause inflammation and autoimmune diseases, circadian rhythm disruptions, hormonal disorders, cortisol disorders, heart rate variability problems, arthritis, herpes, hepatitis, insomnia, chronic pain, exhaustion, stress, anxiety, premature aging…pretty much anything that might ail you. A one-cause-of-all-disease explanation invokes inflammation as the culprit. Grounding is supposedly the best defense against inflammation and aging; it represents a whole new treatment paradigm. Among many other benefits, grounding also “promotes calmness in the body by cooling down the nervous system,” thins the blood, eliminates jet lag, and protects the body against potentially health-disturbing environmental electromagnetic fields.

A book expounds these concepts: “Earthing: The most important health discovery ever!” by Clinton Ober, Stephen Sinatra MD, and Martin Zucker, with a foreword by James Oschman Ph.D. Who are these people? Ober, the inventor of earthing, is a layman from the cable TV industry. Of course. Dr. Sinatra is a cardiologist who encouraged Ober, who specializes in so-called “integrative medicine” (which integrates superstition with science) and is a “certified bioenergetic psychotherapist.” Naturally. Zucker is a writer. Oschman is a notorious proponent of energy medicine who believes there is a scientific basis for it; most reputable scientists disagree.

The book starts with Ober’s story. He had a midlife crisis, gave up his material possessions, and travelled around looking for a new mission in life. His quest reached fruition in Sedona, AZ, a notorious mecca for New Age woo. There he had an intuitive epiphany while sitting on a park bench, watching tourists. He noticed that they were all wearing shoes! It occurred to him that they had lost contact with the ground and needed to be grounded. He grounded himself, slept better, tried it on friends, and then tried to do research. He couldn’t get scientists to cooperate, so he got volunteers from beauty salons to try his grounded bed pads. He did some experiments (mostly uncontrolled and unpublished), persuaded Dr. Sinatra and others to jump on his bandwagon, and sparked a whole movement and an industry of grounding products.

The book goes on to explain how shoes cause inflammation and autoimmune diseases and are the most destructive invention in human history. Shoes block you from receiving a constant supply of the free electrons that shield and nourish the entire earth. Grounding protects you from electromagnetic fields (EMF). Walking barefoot or jumping into the ocean will remove the static buildup and immerse you in electrons. You can also ground yourself with grounding wires: your own EMF will be dispersed and free electrons will come up the wire, thereby giving you free antioxidants. Effects occur in minutes; chronic pain resolves in hours. 20 volts of electricity from electronic devices is reduced to near zero. The Earth is the biggest electron generator and static sink ever. None of the book’s authors is a physicist— it shows.

On a “groundology” website, Dr. Stephen Sinatra explains:

  1. The Earth is a reservoir of free electrons. Without a connection to this reservoir, our cells are unable to balance harmful positive charges. He includes pictures from live cell microscopy to illustrate how positive charge makes blood cells clump.
  2. We are bombarded by electromagnetic radiation from modern technology, inducing voltages that disrupt subtle electrical communications in our body. Grounding reduces these induced voltages.
  3. It may be that our connection with the earth carries information, helping align us with the greater network of intelligence of our planet.

What’s wrong with this? Almost everything. Our cells don’t need an infusion of electrons. Live cell microscopy is a bogus test: his pictures can’t show that there are positive charges, and the blood cell clumping is only an artifact. Anyway, clumping blood cells have nothing to do with the alleged health effects. There is no evidence that EMF disrupts communications in our body or that grounding protects us from any hypothetical ill effects of using cell phones and other technology. And the third point about aligning with an intelligence network is wild imagination not supported by anything in science or reality.

Arguments in support of earthing are either demonstrably false or so vague as to be meaningless and untestable

Some quotations in praise of Earthing serve to highlight its unscientific approach:

  • “People have lost touch with the Earth. From a biblical perspective, people who lose touch with the Earth lose touch with God. Earthing reconnects us to the plan, to other, and, in a sense, to God.”
  • “Earthing connects us to Nature and Nature is the ultimate source of health and healing.”
  • “The feedback from patients is now so strong that I know predictably, as a doctor, this will change a person’s life.”
  • “Earthing is a return to the healing power of Nature. Scientifically based and intuitively correct, here’s a simple but powerful way to restore your health on all levels.”

Several negative reviews of the book have commented that it sounds like an infomercial, consists of anecdotes, and contains no science except for some junk science. But of course there are plenty of positive reviews comparing it to the greatest discovery since penicillin, proclaiming “it worked for me.”

Earthing proponents offer a mixture of speculation, superstition, pseudoscience and testimonials. Their explanations are confused: they tell you talking on your cell phone outdoors and standing on grass will dissipate the static charge, hopelessly confusing static electricity with electromagnetic fields. On the one hand, they say ground contact will remove your static electricity, and on the other hand they say you will absorb electricity from the Earth. (So which is it? Is electricity going in or out?) They also have some “real scientific studies” to bolster their beliefs, but these are unconvincing.

The studies were not published in mainstream journals. They involved small numbers of subjects and usually failed to use any controls; almost all were funded by people with a vested interest in selling grounding products, and the same few names (Chevalier, Sokal, Sinatra, Ochsman) keep recurring in the published literature: it’s all the work of a few inbred true believers.

An article in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health reviewed the health implications of earthing. It was written by the researchers themselves. It carries this disclosure: “Chevalier, S. T. Sinatra, and J. L. Oschman are independent contractors for Earth L. Inc., the company sponsoring earthing research, and own a small percentage of shares in the company.”

Dr. Steven Novella, a prominent skeptic of alternative medicine claims, notes: “The studies are typical of the kind of worthless studies designed to generate false positives—the kind of ‘in house’ studies that companies sometimes use so that they can claim their products are ‘clinically proven.’ Reading through the individual studies you can see that they are all small pilot or preliminary studies with atrocious methodology. They are little more than documenting placebo effects, subjective findings, and anomaly hunting.”

The antioxidant/inflammation connection is unconvincing. Do free radicals cause inflammation? No, it’s probably more accurate to say inflammation causes free radicals. And to neutralize free radicals you need antioxidant molecules, not free electrons.

Of course, going barefoot can be dangerous and uncomfortable (cold feet, stepping on broken glass, becoming infected with hookworms, etc.). So instead you can buy their specially designed products: earthing sheets, earthing recovery bags, grounding mats, personal grounding kits, grounding patches, accessories, grounded shoes, an earthing bed, even products for pets. Herein lies the business end of the alternative medical claims.

Arguments in support of earthing are either demonstrably false or so vague as to be meaningless and untestable:

  • The primordial nature energy emanating from the Earth is the ultimate anti-inflammatory and the ultimate antiaging medicine.
  • The Earth’s surface is alive with subtly pulsating frequencies.
  • Earth’s electrical energy maintains the order of our own bodily frequencies just as a conductor controls the coherence and cadence of an orchestra.
  • There are comparisons to a light-bulb with a loose connection that flickers, to Qi and prana.
  • The Greeks knew about it: Antaeus was invincible as long as his feet remained in contact with the Earth, and Hercules defeated him by lifting him off the ground.
  • Native Americans honored the connection to the Earth.
  • Electrons are like a nutrient: Vitamin G for ground.
  • Wild animals never get sick.
Skeptic magazine 17.4 (Alternative Cancer Cures)

This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 17.4 (2012)
Buy the print edition
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They warn “any individual taking medication to thin the blood, regulate blood sugar, control blood pressure, or to supplement thyroid activity should consult with their doctor before beginning to ground themselves, and then monitor the medication once they start grounding. An adjustment in medication may be necessary.”

Failures are easily explained away. If you don’t feel any difference from sleeping grounded, it’s because you’re not sick; but you still need to do it for prevention and anti-aging. If you slept better for a while but the effect faded, it’s because “Sleep is so subjective, and the quality is often related to life’s stresses. No matter how grounded somebody is, stressful situations can readily impact sleep. Drinking a lot of caffeine or alcohol in the evening could also interfere with sleep.”

This is all just too silly! Shoes are not dangerous. We don’t need more electrons; we need more critical thinking. END

About the Author

Dr. Harriet Hall, MD, the SkepDoc, is a retired family physician and Air Force Colonel living in Puyallup, WA. She writes about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, quackery, and critical thinking. She is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, an advisor to the Quackwatch website, and an editor of, where she writes an article every Tuesday. She is author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon. Her website is

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Barefoot Ben
June 30, 2016 9:26 am
July 5, 2016 6:52 pm
Reply to  Barefoot Ben

This article was already referenced above:

“An article in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health reviewed the health implications of earthing. It was written by the researchers themselves. It carries this disclosure: ‘Chevalier, S. T. Sinatra, and J. L. Oschman are independent contractors for Earth L. Inc., the company sponsoring earthing research, and own a small percentage of shares in the company.'”

June 29, 2016 8:03 pm

Well… I can’t (and don’t like) to walk in shoes (torture instruments). But I like to live BAREFOOT. This is the key of my happiness !
I discovered this pleasure (hobby) at 3 years old (in 1962), in a village…

June 25, 2016 7:45 pm

There is an *excellent* source of free electrons – indeed, you can get a lifetime’s supply (or more!) in a millisecond.

With my patented copper “Electron Capture Pole(tm)” you can now gather copious free electrons directly from 50,000 foot cumulonimbus clouds! Gather the purest free electrons from high in the upper atmosphere!

It’s everything you need to create the perfect connection between you, the sky, and the earth. You’ll be more grounded than you could ever imagine possible. It’s like literally touching the sky! Call today, and we’ll include a list of special weather instructions to ensure you achieve the pinnacle of perfect grounding.

June 25, 2016 1:49 pm

Just today, someone in my Facebook group, Born to Be Barefoot,, made an interesting comment during a discussion of “grounding/earthing,”
“Sometimes I think people feel they need a license to go barefoot, and that grounding gives it to them.”

Yes, I guess some people do need a “license” or a good reason to fall back on, as they think they must always have some excuse or justification for their choice to go barefoot. And I can totally understand that. The problem with using “grounding” or “earthing” as their reason is that it sends the message to others that barefooters must be a bunch of new age kooks, not people who have made an informed intelligent choice based on actual facts and accepted knowledge.

June 25, 2016 12:34 pm

All I know is this: when I moved from WI to CA, my “barefoot ways” suddenly came to an end when I rec’d blisters (perhaps 2nd degree burns) from walking barefoot in mid-summer on the pavement of Concord, CA . I quickly learned to wear sandals or flip-flops! Feet from upper Midwest are simply not adapted to such burning heat! Freedom from Disease, etc. notwithstanding (unless of course the flesh wounds stemming from asphalt burns stave off disease). I anticipate the rebuttal will be that we are not “meant” to walk on stuff of our own making. My response to that is “whaaaat?”

June 25, 2016 1:29 pm
Reply to  kristi

“I anticipate the rebuttal will be that we are not ‘meant’ to walk on stuff of our own making.”

No such rebuttal, Kristi. Serious barefooters don’t go in for that kind of nonsense either. Sure, pavement can get hot in the summer, especially asphalt. There are ways to deal with it, anywhere from staying in the shade of parked cars, to walking on the painted lines, to temporarily putting on flip-flops or something similar. I’ve done all those things. Luckily, for most of us, hot pavement is only a temporary inconvenience, as we go from one place to another.

Matthew Medina
June 25, 2016 6:03 am

As the president of the Barefoot Alliance, and a barefooter for over 20 years, I would like to thank the author for poking at the “scientific” concepts behind “earthing”. There are plenty of good reasons to go barefoot which require no metaphysics, and the risks most people would associate with going barefoot are, at least for urban or suburban areas in the developed world, grossly overblown. As a skeptic myself, one of the most frustrating aspects of living barefoot many of us have to overcome is the widely accepted belief that shoes protect us from a highly dangerous environment.

The first thing you learn to do when you live barefoot is train yourself to look down more – and although this does make you aware of things that you would rather not step in/on, it also makes it obvious just how much less glass/needles/spit/poo etc. there is than many believe. What risks there are, for most of us who’ve chosen to be barefoot in our daily life, are outweighed by other mental, physiological and emotional benefits derived from keeping our feet free, in both senses of the word.

I always like to tell people that if I’m making money advocating for people to go barefoot more, then I’m doing something wrong. :-)

June 25, 2016 11:48 am
Reply to  Matthew Medina

“What risks there are, for most of us who’ve chosen to be barefoot in our daily life, are outweighed by other mental, physiological and emotional benefits derived from keeping our feet free”

Or alternatively, going barefoot allays your psychological fear that you aren’t doing enough to be one with nature, which then provides said benefits. Now, I am just kidding (slightly), but if you feel going (and remaining) barefoot is important to maintain your well-being, then I do think you need more than personal testimony to convince me, as your rhetoric is much the same as the “grounders’ “. But then again, what does it matter what I think, to you?

Simon Mundy
June 24, 2016 4:22 pm

Could we think of this as the sole problem? Please? :-)

June 23, 2016 5:45 pm

“There’s one born every minute”. I wonder, do these “grounding” products come with a money-back guarantee? But I do know this: when I walk barefoot, I do feel better. Getting relaxed and feeling at home invariably requires throwing off ones shoes, and it’s what I’ll bet everyone does almost immediately upon coming home from a hard day’s work. Maybe they are on to something. But as for curing all these diseases… gimme a break. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The most one can expect from going shoeless is a feeling of relaxation and that can’t be bad. But that’s all there is to it… until someone actually proves otherwise.

June 23, 2016 5:55 pm
Reply to  Martin

Just had a great idea! I know that I am generally very relaxed the moment I strip naked. I assume this to be true for most people. Try it! See if I’m right. Am I right?? Yeah! Ok, now just send me “only $29.95” for the idea. Its my idea so don’t argue. Shouldn’t I be paid for my ideas? I mean, this can be big business. And look at all the risk I took. $29.95 is very reasonable to feel better, don’t you agree? My new business: Get Naked Now, Inc. (GNN) and I am now offering franchise opportunities.

“I got Naked Now and it cured my hemorrhoids. It’s a miracle!” – Mrs. E. Edwards, Kansas City, MO

Get in on the ground floor right now. What are you waiting for?

Business is taking off! And it’s barely started.

Bruce Stafford, DO
June 23, 2016 2:52 pm

I heard a famous American once say “stupid is a stupid does.” I think his name was Forrest Gump. Earth shoes would be great in a thunderstorm. Would connect us with all those free electrons floating around just looking for a place to make it to ground.
Damn, I love this game called the human condition and I dearly love Dr. Hall’s column in Skeptic mag. Keep it up Harriet. Some of us really are skeptics.
Oh bye the way my theory of everything is that we begin to die as soon as the umbilicus gets cut. What we need is to all be issued a portable placenta.
Hugh? Take that theory and run with it.

Anthony Humphrey
June 23, 2016 1:51 pm

Spittle laden sidewalk : yes. I said there are hazards. Dogs using pavements as a toilet is becoming increasingly socially unacceptable. Barefoot in snow is not good (tried it as a teenager!) But feet are waterproof and can be washed!

June 23, 2016 1:26 pm

I completely agree with Anthony Humphrey’s comment (#24).

As a full-time 24/7 barefooter for the last 14 years, I can tell you that being barefoot feels good because it is natural and healthy, and helps prevent all of the various maladies directly caused by a lifetime of shoe wearing. These benefits have nothing to do with electrons flowing back and forth or any of that other “earthing/grounding” nonsense.

Ken Chapman
June 23, 2016 11:51 am

Walking barefoot on spittle laden sidewalks sounds a little gross.

Fred Cunningham
June 23, 2016 10:26 am

Maybe for this to work, one has to be 6 feet under. I have not encountered a stupid idea that will be at least believed by at least somebody.

June 23, 2016 6:29 am

How will the poor folks up there on the ISS manage?

June 22, 2016 8:34 pm

Ober thinks he invented this? I remember neo-hippy chicks kicking off their Birkenstocks, walking in the grass instead of on the sidewalk, and wearing “Shoes hurt the Earth” t-shirts at the university of Kansas back in 1985.

June 22, 2016 7:16 pm

Well honestly a pair of high heels on the end of a pair of long legs can be pretty fucking dangerous just saying

Daniel A. Gautreau
June 22, 2016 6:39 pm

“Wild animals never get sick.” On which planet?

Anthony Humphrey
June 22, 2016 3:08 pm

Whilst “grounding” is obviously complete twaddle there are benefits to going barefoot. I accept that there are hazards as mentioned in the article (hookworm is not particularly prevelant in the UK). Even I sometimes feel an existential connectedness when I walk barefoot but I put this down to psychology rather than pseudoscience. We have evolved without shoes and their regular use is a recent phenomenon even in the developed world (my own father didn’t have a pair of shoes until he was five years old in pre-war Sunderland).
The bottom line is though that many disorders of feet that we frequently see in orthopædic clinics (bunions, lesser toe deformities etc) are less common in those communities that habitually don’t wear shoes. (Yes I am a surgeon)

Philip Henderson
June 23, 2016 5:43 am The old ones are the best ;-)

Dr. Sidethink Hp.D
June 22, 2016 2:26 pm

Grounding is the best idea that has ever been invented to
control the Mental Dizzease of PopFad Pseudoscience !!!

The one requirement that it needs is that the
Practicer of this wonderful idea must NOT get ungrounded for ten years.

Sink Transit..

DR. Latero Sidethink Hp.D

Justin Case
June 22, 2016 1:26 pm

You people who are blaspheming Slowdona don’t know what you are talking about. There is SOOOO MUUUUUCH there that is so much farther out than this, this is quite pale in comparison. We in Flagstaff don’t call them ‘Sedonuts’ for nothing. But a testimonial – after buying and trying their grounding techniques, it dawned on me how stupid this is – so see? It WORKS!

June 22, 2016 10:25 am

In order to test the process of grounding, I stepped into the woods to take a wee. I instantly felt relief as the earths free electrons were able to move up stream and into my anatomy. Relief. Unfortunately, I was distracted by a bee and turned, finding a metal wire full of excess electrons which all joined the stream at the same time. Apparently, Too much of a good thing as the wire was part of an electric fence.

June 22, 2016 9:51 am

Who among us does not secretly wish for a magic pill or potion or product that would cure whatever ails us? That’s the part of us that pseudoscience can all too easily hook into, especially if we have illnesses for which traditional medical treatments don’t provide the cure or relief we want. And so we turn to the witch doctors barking their promises at the edge of reason.

Kristin from Norway
June 22, 2016 9:28 am

And here was I thinking that my super elegant high heels – crimson patent leather, if you please – hurt my feet because they are designed for a kind of foot no human has ever had in the whole history of mankind!
Oh, and what are free electrons? Are they electrons that have slipped the leash? And if we evolved to go barefoot, how come we now need all these products to earth or ground or whatever?
Was Elvis in fact relating a subtly concealed message about all this when he sang “Blue Suede Shoes”?
So difficult to interpret all this when one is scientifically uneducated (sigh)!

Dr. Sidethink Hp.D
June 22, 2016 3:15 pm

It anagrams into
“Obese suede lush”

Bad Boy Scientist
June 22, 2016 9:18 am

I am so happy to see articles like these published by the Skeptic. There are always new crackpot ideas that need to be analyzed and evaluated and skeptics should be keeping up with them. More importantly, these products will be marketed to people who may not know enough science to make an informed decision, so circulating articles like these is a public good.

BTW: I have long felt that we skeptics need to apply skepticism to other places that people should make informed decisions – and foster skepticism in less ‘woo’ topics. ( Do I buy that extended warranty or not? Should I buy organic? WTF is organic? What is the best way to lose weight? ) The primary reason for doing this is to demonstrate that the principle of applying evidence-based reasoning to significant life decisions is wise. Face it: skepticism has a bad rap – for too long we’ve looked like the kill joy who spoils movies or magic acts. But we’re just trying to make good decisions based on limited evidence… and everyone must do that.

They don’t call it skepticism when consumer advocacy groups evaluate the efficacy of consumer products. We’re doing the same thing as they are but they avoid the negative image.

Dr. Sidethink Hp.D
June 22, 2016 3:04 pm

“A skeptic is a killjoy who hates fun ideas .
Truth is whatever my sense tells me it is.
There are no good or bad skeptics, only grouches, Killjoys
and morons”

Dr. Snortimer Merde
Dept of Hipology
Sedony College of Mystic Knowledge.

June 22, 2016 9:09 am

I just perused their nice-looking website ( My-oh-my. Their “Earthing Starter Kit” has a pad of sorts plus a scary-looking metal rod. And lots of other products, too, all artfully designed, and convincingly presented, in what appears to be a quite successful attempt to separate you from your money, judging by all of those favorable reviews.

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