A new study carried out at Penn State Children’s Hospital has found that earthing may help to lower the risk of disease and improve outcomes for premature babies.

It is a well-known fact that premature babies are at higher risk of health complications than those born full term. Babies born at 37 weeks or earlier have underdeveloped organs and can easily develop serious diseases which may hinder their ability to survive. Premature babies are at an especially high risk of developing necrotizing enterocolitis. This is a potentially fatal disease in which the tissues of the intestines begin to die.

Earthing, also known as grounding, is the practice of bringing the body into conductive contact with the earth. This has a number of benefits including reducing stress and positively influencing the autonomic nervous system.

This study explored the benefits of earthing for premature babies, looking specifically at the effects of earthing on vagal tone. This is a measurement of activity in the nervous system and an indicator of both emotional stress and overall health.

Why Vagal Tone is an Important Indicator of Health

Vagal tone is a term used to describe the effect on heart rate when under the control of the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for all of our involuntary actions including breathing and heart rate. It has two branches, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic ANS.

The sympathetic ANS is responsible for our “fight or flight” response to stress. It causes the blood vessels to dilate and the heart rate to increase. Meanwhile, it suppresses all non-urgent functions such as digestion and the immune system.

Being under constant stress can lead to sympathetic overdrive and result in a number of chronic health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, lowered immunity and low-grade systemic inflammation.

The parasympathetic ANS is responsible for rest and recuperation. Under the control of the vagus nerve, it governs our metabolism, digestion and innate immunity. When we are relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system becomes dominant, causing our heart rates to slow down. This is what is known as vagal tone.

The vagus nerve also plays a role in mediating inflammation. Recent research has found evidence linking the inflammatory response to metabolism and innate immunity – both under the control of the parasympathetic ANS. Inflammation has been linked to an increased risk of many serious conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes.

So having good vagal tone not only means that your body is relaxed and able to carry out all of its vital functions, but also that you are being protected against developing chronic diseases in the future.

Study Method – How Vagal Tone Was Measured

The study measured vagal tone in a total of 26 premature infants aged between 6 and 60 days old.

Vagal tone was measured using two methods; skin voltage and heart rate variability (HRV). Skin voltage refers to the voltage measured between the subject’s skin and the electrical ground. HRV measures the difference in time between heartbeats, a good indicator of vagal tone.

20 of the infants had their vagal tone measured by both skin voltage and heart rate variability (HRV). The remaining 6 had skin voltage alone measured. This was done before, during and after earthing. Earthing was achieved using a patch electrode connected from the baby’s incubator to an earthed outlet via a wire.

The researchers found that during earthing, the babies’ skin voltage decreased by 95% and vagal tone improved by 67%. These results indicate reduced stress and increased activity in the parasympathetic branch of the ANS. C. Palmer, one of the authors of the study states:

“What we can conclude is that a baby’s autonomic nervous system is able to sense the electrical environment and it seems as though a baby is more relaxed when grounded,”

 “When tied to our previous work, which found that vagal tone was an important risk factor for necrotizing enterocolitis, this new finding may offer an opportunity to protect babies even further.”

Our Electrical Environment

Premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are often exposed to low-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs). These are given off by electrical equipment, including some of the life-saving machines in the NICU.

It is thought that these EMFs can cause the infants stress and interfere with their autonomic nervous system function.

Previous research on the effects of earthing have shown that it can reduce exposure to EMFs from household electrical equipment an average of 58 fold.

This information helps us to understand how earthing reduces stress from EMF exposure in premature babies’ and can help to improve their vagal tone.

Can Earthing Influence Long-Term Good Health?

The results of this study, and those of previous research on earthing for vagal tone in adults, are promising.

The 2011 study Emotional Stress, Heart Rate Variability, Grounding, and Improved Autonomic Tone: Clinical Applications found that earthing had a beneficial effect on HRV and vagal tone. This could have a wide range of implications for long-term health including reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks.

The evidence suggests that earthing has a number of positive influences on the human body. It may improve vagal tone, reduce emotional stress, improve metabolism and immunity and reduce inflammation along with all of its associated risks.

An additional benefit of earthing is that it is both safe and natural. It does not cause unpleasant side effects as many conventional medications can. This, coupled with its positive effects on the body means that earthing could offer a valuable tool in maintaining long-term good health for all; premature babies, children and adults alike.