There was an interesting and informative article recently on the MindBodyGreen website entitled 7 Health Benefits of Going Barefoot. It is always nice to see these sorts of articles.
A lot of it was rather mundane, with tips like: “It’s Free Foot Yoga” and “Get Back to What Matters”.
But there was one of them that was just ridiculous.
6. It’s Grounding. Literally.
Our bodies are made up of about 60 percent water, which is great for conducting electricity. The earth has a negative ionic charge. Going barefoot grounds our bodies to that charge. Negative Ions have been proven to detoxify, calm, reduce inflammation, synchronise your internal clocks, hormonal cycles and physiological rhythms. The best places to get some negative ions through your feet are by the water. Everyone knows how good it feels to be barefoot on the beach – now we know why!
That’s just a scientific-sounding word salad. It takes advantage of people’s ignorance of science to put together sciency words that make it sound as if there is something to it.
It’s as if your auto mechanic told you that “the points and plugs in your carburetor are inhibiting the timing sequence from discharging the cam shaft.” That might sound all car-ish, but if you know anything about cars, it’s just word salad.
The point in the article is a reference to a piece of quackery called “earthing”, which I am not even going to provide a link to. Earthing is the usual sort of pseudo-science that only gets published in “alternative” journals, because the “studies” they produce only have the veneer of science. They simply don’t know what they are doing, scientifically. They don’t know how to properly provide controls; they don’t know how to do the statistics properly; they do their “experiments” in ways that get the results they already believe in.
The claim of the earthing folks is that our bodies need to be grounded to the earth. In fact, they will sell you a special “device”. It’s a pad you put on your bed that you then ground to the earth.
The quote above cannot even tell the difference between electrons and ions. It conflates electricity and negative ions. The only things that might travel along the ground wire are electrons, not ions. Ions are not going to enter you through grounding, either by wire or by going barefoot. All that happens is that the few stray electrons on your body (and most are on your body surface, not inside) are going to redistribute. Some leave, some move elsewhere.
However, ions do make up almost all the chemistry of our body, and you just cannot “ground” that away (and that’s good, because otherwise you’d die). For instance, put a little salt in water, and the water becomes full of sodium and chlorine ions. Add a few stray elections—and nothing happens.
Heck, you can add huge amounts of electrons and nothing happens. (And in fact, electrically, “ground” is pretty arbitrary; an electric potential, just like a gravitational potential, only depends on a difference between two different potentials. There is no absolute potential.) These guys are not at ground.
Their bodies keeps working just fine. It’s not the voltage that hurts you, it’s the current. That’s why they carefully bring them up to the potential of the wires first. It’s no different than birds or squirrels that since on powered lines. It’s only if they provide an arc that there is any danger.
(Yes, there could also be long-range effects because the wires carry alternating current, not direct current. That produces all sorts of extraneous electromagnetic fields. However, that does not describe the extremely low, direct currents that regularly move about the body through your everyday motions.)
Let me hasten to add that I am not against real scientific advantages of going barefoot, the most obvious of which are the things I talk a lot about here: strengthening muscles, tendons, and ligaments; allowing the arch to develop; removing sources of corns, bunions, and athlete’s foot. I even feel good about more subtle effects from that fact that one simply feels better going barefoot. There is actual science that backs up how cortisol (the stress hormone) negatively impacts our health, so something as simple as going barefoot as a way to reduce stress will have positive health benefits. There is even a plausible mechanism about how the continual varied pressure on our soles might have a positive effect on our physiologies, upregulating various genes that could have multiple effects.
But just mouthing “ions” and “our bodies are 60 percent water” just doesn’t cut it.
So, as barefooters, should we care about this sort of misinformation? I mean, I don’t doubt there are many people who will read the article and they might decide to go barefoot more often. What do we care if people go barefoot because of the article.
I still don’t like it. For one thing, I really prefer truth.
But there is also another crowd that we need to convince, people like doctors and podiatrists. If we spend our time touting things that are obvious nonsense to anybody with a bit of real scientific training, they will end up deeply suspicious about all of our other claims about the benefits of going barefooted.
To me, converting that sort of person, with facts and not quackery, is much more important.