Antioxidants – we all know that they are good for us.
We even know we can get them via fresh fruit and veggies (berries, broccoli) or supplements like Vitamin C, Zinc, Vitamin E, Grape Seed Extract and more.
Few of us know how antioxidants work or why they help us fight disease.
Even less people know that the biggest antioxidant is right under our feet – the planet earth.
This article explains with simple, everyday terms and pictures how antioxidants work and how we can top up on antioxidants for free courtesy of mother earth.
What are antioxidants?
Let’s step back in time to those chemistry classes at school. All matter in the universe is made up of atoms. Here’s a cute atom.
An atom is made up of three tiny subatomic parts. In the very centre is the nucleus, which is made up of neutrons (with a neutral charge) and protons (with a positive charge). Circling around the nucleus are electrons (with a negative charge).
The balance between negative and positive is important.
When atoms join together to form molecules, the total amount of negative charge (electrons) versus the total positive charge (protons), determines whether the molecule is stable or unstable and reactive.
A free radical is a classic example of an unstable or reactive molecule. It has an overall positive charge.
Quite simply, free radicals are unstable because they are missing an electron.
You may already know of free radicals in relation to:
- Ageing – we get more free radicals as we get older. That’s because free radicals are produced via our metabolism and we accumulate more over the years.
- Toxins in our environment. Pollution, stress, cigarette smoke etc all create free radicals in our body.
- Disease. Free radicals are produced by our body as part of an immune response. Their job is to fight off viruses, bacteria and get rid of damaged cells. For good health we need the right amount of free radicals where and when they are needed. Sometimes our immune system goes overboard and produces too many free radicals. This is linked to chronic inflammation, which is now thought to be behind most modern diseases.
Here is a free radical protecting us by fighting off undesirable bacteria.
We need free radicals to do their work of killing off bacteria and clearing away dead or damaged cells (so new ones can replace them).
In an ideal world, free radicals would stay where we need them – at the site of injury or contamination. And they’d disappear once their job is done.
When we have too many free radicals they can spill out and move away from the injury site and damage healthy cells. They do this by stealing a free electron from the atoms that make up our healthy cells.
When our immune system is functioning well, our body produces enough antioxidants by itself to keep the numbers of free radicals in balance and quarantined to specific areas where they are needed.
Unfortunately as we age, many more free radicals accumulate in our bodies. This makes us more prone to illness when we’re in our 70s and 80s. Our immune system starts to struggle with excess free radicals, which can damage the immune cells (T-cells, natural killer cells), disrupt the communication between immune cells (cytokine pathways), and upset free radical/antioxidant balance of macrophages (an important type of immune cell).
Antioxidants have lots of extra electrons. By giving an extra electron to a free radical, they neutralise the free radical.
This is how antioxidants like Vitamin C work.
Your body also produces its own antioxidants to wind down inflammation, like Bilirubin (more on this later).
Earthing is also an effective antioxidant that aids your body to get rid of excess free radicals.
Earthing as an Antioxidant
The earth’s surface is a very rich source of free electrons. These electrons are not attached to or orbiting an atom. They are roaming free.
Lightning strikes and atmospheric pressure combine to give the earth a constant negative charge and its plentiful supply of free electrons.
When our body comes in contact with the earth (either by touching it or via a conductive indoor earthing product), those free electrons enter our body and act like antioxidants by pairing up with free radicals.
Here’s a free radical receiving a missing electron from a swarm of free electrons.
Free electrons can neutralise excessive free radicals in our body and wind down inflammation faster.
A pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine on earthing for delayed onset muscle soreness found that subjects in a double-blind trial who used earthing for recovery from excessive muscle exertion had significantly less inflammation compared to those who were sham-earthing.
You can see this in the chart below measuring white blood cells (an indicator of inflammation).
The sham-earthed subjects (red line) experienced more inflammation (had a greater number of white blood cells) and pain compared to those who were earthing overnight (blue line).
There were also significant differences in the levels of bilirubin, an antioxidant produced by the body.
Antioxidant (Bilirubin) levels went down dramatically in the group that had sham earthing. But only dipped slightly for those who were earthing. Researchers think that, in the case of the earthed subjects, free electrons from the earth were being used to wind down inflammation instead of their body’s own naturally produced antioxidant Bilirubin being depleted.
Our ancestors walked barefoot or wore leather shoes that conducted free electrons. They slept on the earth, ate around the campfire, and lived in constant contact with the earth. It is only in modern times that we have become disconnected. These days we live and work in high-rise building and wear rubber-soled shoes that insulate us from the earth’s free electrons. When we don’t spend enough time out in the garden or at the beach to balance to our body and stock up on free electrons, we miss out on this natural supply of antioxidants which are easily assimilated by our body.
How to start Earthing
Take a 30minute barefoot walk outside on green grass or moist beach sand. Pay attention to how your body feels before, after and during. You may find that your inflammatory pain reduces or you feel more energised thanks to those antioxidant-like free electrons.
An easy and convenient way to top-up on free electrons is to put an earthing undersheet on your bed. The body does the bulk of its repairing, healing and renewing overnight while we sleep. What better time to bring some antioxidant-like free electrons to wherever you body needs them. Health benefits can include better circulation, improved sleep, and reduced inflammation.
Brown, Dick et al, ‘Pilot Study on the Effect of Grounding on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’ Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Vol 16, 3, 2010: 265-73.