Grounding Help for Premature Babies?A 2014 pilot study suggests that the health of premature infants may be enhanced by Earthing.
Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Hershey have reported immediate and significant improvements in measurements of autonomic nervous system
Their study, presented at a 2014 pediatric medical conference, is pending publication. (ANS) functioning critically important in the regulation of inflammatory and stress responses.
Specifically, grounding the babies, clinically stable and from five to sixty days of age, strongly increased measures of heart rate variability (HRV) that indicated improved vagus nerve transmission. The vagus nerve, extending from the brainstem into the abdomen, is the main nerve of the parasympathetic division of the ANS. Its offshoots supply and regulate key organs, including the lungs, heart, and intestines. HRV refers to beat-to-beat alterations in heart rate, and is influenced by the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the ANS.
This is the first Earthing study conducted with babies. A 2011 study demonstrated that grounding rapidly improves HRV among adults, and generates a shift from an overactive sympathetic mode, associated with acceleration and stress, into a parasympathetic, or normalizing and calming mode. If you improve your HRV you can reduce the likelihood of stress-related disorders.
Improved HRV occurred consistently among 20 babies in the new study when they were grounded during testing periods over 20 to 40 minutes. The improvement disappeared quickly when they were alternately disconnected from the Earth. Grounding was achieved by adhering a grounding patch on the skin of the babies, while in their incubators, and connecting the patch wire to the hospital’s grounding system.
Among the babies tested, “grounding raised parasympathetic tone within minutes,” says Charles Palmer, MB.ChB., a specialist in neonatology, and lead researcher in the grounding study. “We obviously need more research to further prove that grounding may enhance vagus nerve transmission and thereby improve stress and inflammatory regulatory mechanisms in preterm infants.”
Dr. Palmer and his research colleagues previously reported that decreased vagal tone – meaning diminished vagus nerve function − is an indicator of risk for necrotizing enterocolitis, a potentially fatal intestinal disorder affecting about 5-10 percent of premature infants.
It is interesting to note that during the last fifteen years research has discovered that the vagus nerve represents a major component of an anti-inflammatory process that helps regulate basic immune responses and inflammation during pathogen invasion and tissue injury. Among other things, vagus nerve activity helps to inhibit excessive production of pro-inflammatory chemicals.
To date, Earthing has been thought to reduce inflammation as a result of 1) electrons from the Earth neutralizing free radicals involved in chronic inflammation, and 2) normalizing the stress hormone cortisol that has a regulatory effect on inflammation. The fact that Earthing improves vagal tone in adults, and apparently also in infants, suggests a third mechanism for Earthing’s anti-inflammatory impact on the body.
The Penn State researchers also reported that grounding immediately and substantially reduced skin voltage induced on the babies from ambient electric fields radiating from surrounding medical and incubator equipment. Such voltage may have a stress effect on premature babies. In a 2005 study, Earthing has been shown to significantly reduce induced voltage on the body.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a half-million babies are born preterm annually, or 1 of every 8 infants. Preterm means a baby is born prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm-related causes of death account for about 35 percent of all infant deaths, and more than any other single cause, and is also a leading contributor to long-term neurological disabilities in children.
More research is obviously needed, however, before Earthing can be considered an adjunct treatment strategy for preterm babies by clinicians.
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