Hormesis

Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses. The philosophy of Hormetism, advocated in this blog, is based upon harnessing this biological phenomenon in a deliberate and systematic way in order to increase strength and resilience.

The  plot below illustrates how hormetic compounds exhibit a characteristic biphasic or “inverted U” dose response curve, rather than an inhibitory effect which decreases linearly or at least continuously, but still remains inhibitory, as the dose becomes more dilute.  A linear dose response, the so-called LNT or “linear no-threshold” model is assumed in conventional toxicology.  But it turns out that much of the time, hormesis is better model than LNT.  Take a close look at the plot: at a low dose, the response of the “toxic” or inhibitory agent actually becomes stimulatory or beneficial to the organism. Can this really be — can something that is harmful at a high dose be good for you at a low dose?  The answer, surprisingly, is yes, and not just in an isolated few cases, but across a broad range of chemicals, energy sources, and other stressful agents.  Let’s look at the evidence.

Hormesis dose response.

Chemicals. Hormesis was first reported in a 1943 issue of Phytopathology by C. Southam and J. Ehrlich, who described an oak bark compound that promoted fungal growth at low doses but strongly inhibited growth at higher doses. The term derives from the Greek word “hormo”, meaning to excite or stimulate. Hormesis should not be confused with homeopathy, which purports to treat illnesses using levels of dilution so extreme that not even one molecule of the substance may be present, while positing that the absent homeopathic substance leaves a “memory trace” that somehow triggers a positive response in the organism.  By contrast, hormesis has been subjected to extensive empirical confirmation.

Since Southam and Erlich’s paper, thousands of other examples of compounds exhibiting hormetic effects have been documented. Some of these are well-recognized components of our diet–including trace metals, alcohol and caffeine–recognized to be essential or healthful at low doses, but detrimental or toxic at high doses.  Edward Calabrese, a toxicologist in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has probably done more than anyone to document the hormetic effects of chemicals of many classes (reactive oxygen species, pro-oxidants, antagonists, mutagens) in a wide range of microbes, plants and animals.

Radiation. Moving beyond chemical hormesis, we enter more controversial waters. While it has long been known that high or moderate levels of ionizing or nuclear radiation are damaging or deadly, it would surprise many people to learn that exposure to low levels of radiation–for example background radiation levels seen at higher altitudes– may actually have beneficial effects. And yet, that is what the evidence increasingly shows. This includes studies documenting reduced rates of  cancer and death for (a) industrial workers who handle low-level radioactive materials; (b) residents of high altitude regions such as Colorado; (c) people exposed to higher levels of natural radon gas; and (d) survivors of atomic blasts a who lived outside of the immediate blast areas.

Sunlight. Exposure to low or moderate doses of other lower-energy forms of radiation, including gamma-rays and UV-radiation, has been tied to health benefits. The documented connection between UV radiation and skin cancer has led to a general tendency in society to shun unprotected tanning and cover up with sunscreen when heading to the beach or ski slopes.  However, there are strong indications that exposure to the sun, in low or moderate doses, has several benefits. Well-known is the fact that sunlight is one of the most effective ways to generate natural Vitamin D in the body; less well-known is that fact that sunlight can actually reduce the incidence of cancer, as reported in the Feb. 2, 2005 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Dioxin. Studies have even shown that one of the most infamous environmental toxins, dioxin, is beneficial at very low doses.  Dioxin is a related to the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange and is a known carcinogen.  Dioxin contamination found in residential areas led to several highly publicized evacuations entire neighborhoods in Love Canal, New York and Times Beach, Missouri.  According to the EPA, there is no “safe” level of dioxin.  And yet in rats, low doses of dioxin have been shown to greatly reduce the incidence of tumors.  Analysis of data from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health surprisingly reveals that plant workers exposed to low or moderate levels of dioxin had reduced incidence of many types of cancer. And molecular studies of how dioxin binds to DNA suggest that it can both induce and inhibit carcinogenesis, depending on the dose and the type of tissue involved.  So the story does not appear to be as cut and dried as the EPA would have it.

Other stresses. Beyond chemicals and radiation, other biological stresses have been shown to have hormetic effects. Some of the more interesting of these hormetic stresses include: calorie restriction, cold temperature, heat shock, and hypergravity.

A common mechanism? Is there a common thread that explains how such a diverse range of biological insults–chemicals, radiation, temperature, gravity, and calorie restriction–can strengthen organisms, and explains why this phenomenon occurs across the world of microbes, plants and animals? The hormetic effect also appears to involve several seemingly independent physiological systems, including the endocrine and immune systems, tissue repair and growth mechanisms, and neural plasticity.

Homeostasis. What these systems have in common is that they are all adaptive “homeostatic” systems which help restore the organism to optimal functioning after “perturbations” by external stressors. The principle of homeostasis was first articulated over a hundred years ago by the physiologist Claude Bernard, and it has since been well documented in a broad range of biological systems. What is remarkable with hormesis, however, is that similar adaptations can occur to so many different stressors, and the adaptations can be significant and in many cases permanent or long-lasting. While well documented, we are just beginning to understand the common mechanisms underlying hormesis.

Anti-stress genes. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have proposed that hormetic stresses work by inducing cellular adaptations brought on by activation of an “anti-stress” gene regulatory network.  In their article  “Hormesis and Adaptive Cellular Control Systems” in the journal Dose-Response, Melvin Anderson and others present evidence that hormetic stressors are first detected by molecular sensors, which activate “transcription factors” and upregulate the expression of a suite of anti-stress gene networks. These genes in turn activate a cascade of “homeostatic pathways”, i.e.,  adaptive responses which protect cells from stressful environments. One example is the activation of so-called “heat shock proteins” expressed by cells from bacteria to mammals as an adaptive response to heat stress, allowing the cell to resist heat denaturation of cellular proteins. These metabolic adaptations protect against toxicity to cells or organs, but require a significant increase in energy expenditure by the organism. Depending on the concentration and duration of exposure, the cell can shift from a normal functioning state, to an adaptive and stressed state at mild to intermediate exposures, or ultimately to an overt state of toxicity in the presence of an overwhelming concentration of stressors. If this model is correct, an accurate classification of the cell state could be directly used in risk assessments of various biological stresses.

Immunotherapy. It can be argued that the immune system is a hormetic system, in which the stressor is an antigen. Proliferation of immune cells in response to antigen exposure represents a hormetic adaptation. As with other hormetic phenomena, the dose of the antigen is critical, as described in a review by Calabresi. ( “Hormetic Dose-Response Relationships in Immunology”). This understanding underlies the principle of vaccination, which results in increased tolerance to foreign agents such as infectious viral agents. What is increasingly evident, and exciting, is that the principle of immune “tolerization” can be extended to stressors beyond infectious agents, to address conditions such as autoimmune conditions, allergies and asthma.  Allergen immunotherapy works by introducing very low doses of an allergen and gradually increasing the dosage to build up tolerance.  According to Dr. Linda Cox, chair of the Immunotherapy and Diagnostics Committee of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology  (ACAAI), studies in Germany and the U.S. showed significantly improved cost effectiveness of allergen immunotherapy compared with conventional anti-allergy drugs in treating  allergic rhinitis and asthma.  I’ve posted a fuller discussion about the scientific basis for allergen immunotherapy in my article on Allergies and hormesis.

Progressive hormesis. In the literature, there is an implicit assumption that the threshold dose between the beneficial range and the detrimental range is fixed. So the research on hormesis attempts to characterize the threshold dose for each particular compound being studied relative to a class of organisms. The threshold dose is assumed to be constant–not only for a population but for an individual.  But it is likely to vary among individuals within a population. And what if it is in fact not a static threshold, but a dynamic one? In that case, individuals could be trained to adapt to higher and higher levels of a stressor over time?

Certainly, this has already been explicitly acknowledged in one case described above, allergen immunotherapy, where tolerization results from progressively increasing the dose of the allergen. Another well-established example of progressive hormesis is weight-training.  So long as one does not overtrain, it is generally expected that muscular strength can be significantly increased by progressively increasing the magnitude of the weights being lifted, allowing for adequate intervals of rest to allow adequate tissue repair and growth of muscle tissue.

Hormetism puts forward the thesis that progressive hormesis is a general phenomenon that applies to virtually any stressor. Following the principles of intensity, constraint, oscillation, and gradualism outlined on the first page of this website, it should be possible to increase strength and tolerance with respect to a wide, virtually unlimited range of challenges and stressors. It will be interesting to explore the diverse applications of this approach to strengthening.

31 Comments

  1. Torben

    I think what is novel in your hypothesis here is the idea that the threshold level of hormesis can be changed, i.e., increased, if this is what you mean by “progressive” hormesis. Most of the studies that have been conducted on hormesis by Calabrese and others assume that there is a somewhat fixed optimum level of stress for any given toxic agent (stressor) and species or class or organism. The idea that this threshold can be manipulated by using progressively increasing doses has not (to my knowlege) been studied. Although I think it is plausible. For example, the increase in musculature from weight lifting could be considered an example of hormesis, and it certainly seems to be a “progressive” phenomenon. I think this is worth studying.

    Reply
  2. Hormesis is really the basis for all athletic and psychological improvement. Super-compensation is just another way of saying hormesis.

    Athletes know that in order to make progress, they have to challenge their current best in order to achieve a new best.

    Endurance athletes really should read more about hormesis. They tend to get stuck in a very slow training plan that stops improvement.

    The brain is my favorite example of hormesis at work because it responds so quickly. Even after a few tries of something new like standing on one leg or writing with the opposite hand, you already make small adaptions.

    Thanks for your work on a topic that we all use, but very few understand.

    -Armi

    Reply
  3. I am blown away by this idea. It seems like everything you mention in this post is about using hormesis to become physically stronger or more able to tolerate stressors. Do you think hormesis principles can be applied to pyschological stressors, such as fear of failure? I ask because I write a blog for people taking the bar exam and lots of my posts deal with how to reduce stress and anxiety related to the test.

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Todd

      Matt,

      I definitely believe that one of the most potent applications of hormesis is psychological strengthening. Several of my posts and interviews address this directly. You might be especially interested in the following:

      Start with my 3-part web interview with Julien Smith
      > Part 1: Hormetism, Stoicism, cold showers, the opponent-process theory of emotion
      > Part 2: Facing challenges, intermittent fasting, taking risks and facing fears, psychological training, hormesis & health
      > Part 3: How to systematically build willpower

      For more meat, see these articles from my blog:
      - Stoicism
      - Voluntary stress
      - Psychology
      - Stress management and toughness training

      Enjoy!

      Reply
      • Todd,

        A spoke with Julien a few weeks back and he directed me here after I had expressed some interest in his book and the concepts behind it. I am loving the information here. Extremely valuable. I’ll be diving into those videos and plan on me shooting a few questions. I’m a bit of a knowledge junkie and really geek out on this stuff.

        Applying the concepts psychologically really interests me as I believe if strength can be built within us this way it translates elsewhere.

        Reply
  4. The magic phrase, “so long as one does not overtrain” I used your definition of hormesis in my latest post. Let me know what you think. http://mfwblog.com/2011/11/03/why-does-my-personal-trainer-tell-me-to-exercise-less/

    Reply
    • Todd

      Bobby, I think your article on the pitfalls of overtraining hit the nail on the head. Very nice. — Todd

      Reply
  5. I have been intentionally exposing myself to harmless low levels of nuclear radiation from pieces of ore and uranium glass. I started 1.5 years ago and my health has improved dramatically … you can read about it on the website …

    http://radiation-hormesis.com

    Feedback from others shows the same thing …. an inability to get colds and flu.

    Uranium, thorium and especially radon are my friends.

    Ian Soutar
    Vancouver Island

    Reply
    • Todd

      Ian,

      I’m very interested by radiation hormesis. The evidence is very strong that it works, including some good studies by Luckey, Calabrese and Japanese researchers. But as you know, it is a controversial topic. The question I always get is: how do we determine what is the “right” level of exposure? Is the therapeutic range wide — or narrow — and does it vary from one individual on the basis of genetics or health status?

      How do you know how much uranium, thorium and radon to expose yourself to? I’m very interested to learn more.

      Todd

      Reply
  6. F.S.L

    Just want to say Thank You Todd, already i ahve achieved great results and i have only been adopting some of your principles for 2weeks, i dont know if their is a synergy happening but, i have been on a Cyclical Ketogenic diet(now just Ketogenic) and noticed everytime i was in ketosis i would wake after 4-5hrs sleep feeling. refreshed, invigorated and energized. I was doing H.I.T 3-4 a week.

    Then i added Cold Showers to the mix and that has cause a massive change in my persoanlity. The once reserved and social anxious cant shut up, feel confident, motivated and at times almost wired. Honestly i have had to try and control some of this energy. Im waking early, doing all the housework, researching on the net and going to the gym(6times a week now) all before 7.am. Feel great all until about 10-11 when i start tio feel tired. I have now added intermittent fasting and extended meal schedules. The person who could only go a few hrs without eating or i would feel low and weak has managed a 18hr fast so far. Im not craving foods as much and when i eat im enjoying it more than before.

    I can now pick up a box of choclates and eat one and put it away without craving it (even my favourite Baileys Chocolate hmmmm) Im losing weight and im feeling great doing it, people have said to me that i will regain the weight once i stop this diet. My reply is what diet, this is a lifestyle change, why would i stop doing this when im feeling so great. For those those who are sceptical or apprehensive. It Works, dont jump in all at once cause you are most likely to fail and return to your bad habits. Try and take it a step at a time and if you have a similar reaction/evolution to me, believe me you will be shouting from the rooftops. Your Body is capable of unimanagble feats, if you harness it correctly.

    Todd Becker once again i thank you once again for changing my life.

    Reply
    • Todd

      F.S.L.

      It is great to hear that you are finding synergistic benefits using multiple hormetic modalities — especially cold showers and cyclic ketosis! You might even find that some intermittent physical exertion provides additional benefits. You’ve also been quite wise in approaching this in a stepwise, gradual fashion — allowing your body and psyche to adapt.

      And the best is that this is having such a dramatic benefit on your mood and energy levels, not to mention your appetite.

      Would love to hear more. Keep in touch!

      Todd

      Reply
  7. john sanderson

    I love this site and came across the below, in case you havent heard of this, you may find interesting
    regards

    john

    Arsenic Eaters of Styria

    Spring 2006 Group 11

    The consumption of arsenic in its� various forms was quite common in the 1800s. It is known to have been prescribed across Europe for a myriad of diseases, as a beauty product, and as an aphrodisiac(1). The Arsenic Eaters of Styria were rumored to have eaten several times the lethal dose (300-400mg) of the metal, in the form of arsenic trioxide (2). A tolerance was built over time starting at around 30-40mg every couple days and ending up at 400mg. Accounts from the arsenic eaters themselves give several beneficial reasons for consuming the poisonous metal including an increase in the ability to breathe easily, a spike in courage, a boost in sexual potency, and as a prophylactic against infections diseases(1). It was also reported that the Styrians gave the same chemical to their horses to increase their stamina(1).

    Many scientists were quick to dismiss these claims, saying that there was no way to prove what these people ate was actually arsenic trioxide, or that they ate as much as was claimed(2). In 1860 an analysis was done to prove that the chemical eaten by the peasants was actually arsenic trioxide. Professor Roscoe showed two peasants who ate 300mg and 400mg respectively of arsenic trioxide to an audience and tested their urine for the presence of the chemical via the Marsh Test(1). This essentially proves the capability of humans to build up a tolerance to lethal doses of arsenic, and provides a biological basis for the existence of the arsenic eaters of Styria. However, though this evidence supports the theory of Arsenic eaters, there is no hard evidence proving their existence.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Very nice find, John. I love it!

      When you think about it, it’s not too surprising that the body would have developed mechanisms for detoxifying increasing strengths of arsenic. After all, arsenic is a naturally occurring mineral, ubiquitous in nature. If it were toxic even at the lowest levels, what would that mean? There would always be an evolutionary advantage to organisms–living in proximity to arsenic in the soil–to find a way to handle it. And this includes the ability to become tolerant to increased levels that might naturally occur.

      Most hormetic responses are more generalized than handling just the specific “irritant” (or stimulant, depending on how you look at it). So our xenobiotic response element (XRE) turns on a set of generalized antioxidant enzymes (the Phase II detoxification enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase) in response to many specific types of oxidative stress. It would not surprise me that exposure to arsenic would activate a more generalize response – which apparently benefits breathing, stamina and even sexual potency!

      Are you planning to try it?

      Regards,

      Todd

      Reply
  8. john sanderson

    HaHa God No!!

    Cold showers and scottish sea swimming with some concept 2 rowing trainings my limit :)

    john

    Reply
  9. haig

    Serendipitously found this site while I was reading Nassim Taleb’s latest book ‘Antifragile’. Hormesis plays a big part in the book and in his ideas, and so does Stoicism. I wonder if you’ve given any thought to how hormesis plays out in socioeconomic systems, would love to hear your thoughts. Great site!

    Reply
    • Todd

      I read Antifragile and loved it. Taleb acknowledges hormesis as a kind of “proto-antifragility”, but I don’t think he fully understands what it is, because he skims over its biological basis. But his idea of “antifragile” as something beyond mere robustness, something that actually benefits from stress, is a wonderful and very productive idea.

      I do think that hormesis applies to socioeconomic systems, and even before reading Taleb, I’ve thought a lot about economic analogues of hormesis. Taleb explains couches “economic homesis” evolutionary terms, e.g. the improvement of restaurants due to intense competitive pressures. But he overlooks what I think is best example of economic hormesis, namely economic growth by means of import substitution. This has been deeply explored by Jane Jacobs, in her books The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and especially in Cities and the Wealth of Nations. Another favorite of mine in this regard is on my “Books” page: Erik Reinert’s “How Rich Countries Got Rich…and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor”.

      I may write a post on this topic at some point.

      Todd

      Reply
      • haig

        Taleb actually does touch on import substitution, but in an indirect way, through the criticism of Ricardoian comparative advantage and specialization. He shows how such specialization and monocultures increase fragility. He also mentions Jane Jacobs in his book, though not in reference to import replacement/substitution. A related theme that I’ve seen talked about in sustainability circles is ‘glocalization’, a different take on globalization where critical industry/infrastructure is localized while non-critical industries globalize.

        I’ll have to take a look at Erik Reinert’s book, have not read it, but I’m aware of the thesis he puts forth. Cory Doctorow, a science fiction author and copyright activist, has talked about how America was a ‘pirate’ nation early on which led to its rapid economic growth. He also talks about how the movie and entertainment industries moved to Hollywood on the west coast to escape the intellectual property restrictions of Edison and others on the east coast, which led to the growth and flourishing of those markets.

        Reply
      • Hello Todd,

        I too came across your site while re-reading Taleb’s latest book, Antifragile. Please do share your thoughts about using ‘import-substitution’ to increase economic strength. This seems to fly in the face of one of the few robust areas of economic thinking i.e. Ricardo’s comparative advantage and gains of trade.

        I’m a ‘recovering academic’ (!) and would love to have my years of staid, non-practising learning challenged!

        Chris
        PS Much thanks for your work on this site. Besides being very well researched it is beautifully written – a welcome and added bonus.

        Reply
        • Todd

          Chris,

          Thanks for your kind words. I’m a big fan of Taleb and I enjoyed Antifragile. I’m planning to write a blog post about it, particularly the discussion of hormesis.

          Because this blog focuses on health, psychology and philosophy I haven’t (yet) ventured into economics or political philosophy. I tend to be of a free market, libertarian bent — but not strictly so. While I think that classical “Ricardian” economics and the concept of comparative advantage have a lot of validity for mature, “near-equilibrium” economies, I think they fail to adequately analyze or explain how economies develop, and why some countries, regions or cities prosper, while others languish in poverty. I’m interested in how economies, particularly local or regional economies become stronger and more robust or resilient in the face of challenge and competition. I find more satisfactory analysis in works like Jane Jacobs, “Cities and the Wealth of Nations”, and Erik Reinert’s “How Rich Countries Got Rich, and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor”. Jacobs, like me, has a free market orientation and is averse to top-down government. But she has some good ideas on how currency and regulation can be used to foster economic development without central control.

          In my mind, “Comparative advantage” describes relatively short term moves to a more “Pareto optimal” situation through exchange, based on what already exists. But it doesn’t describe how an economy develops and why some economies are stronger than others. It is only a piece of the answer and doesn’t provide the best solution for economies that are resource rich but poor in human capital or technology. Ironically, resource-poor economies, like Japan, Singapore, or Korea, sometimes become strong because they were resource poor. Resources can be a crutch that precludes development, just as eyeglasses can weaken eyesight.

          I think that Antifragile represents a nice contribution, in the same vein as Jacobs, to the literature on how things get stronger — including individuals, organizations and entire economies.

          Todd

          Reply
  10. dalp

    i was curious if hormesis could be applied to marijuana or sleep and water deprivation

    Reply
    • Todd

      I think it depends on what your objective is, and how you go about it. I’ve written about the use of controlled sleep deprivation to normalize sleeping patterns to overcome insomnia:
      http://gettingstronger.org/2011/06/a-cure-for-insomnia/

      Water deprivation sounds dicey and I wouldn’t generally recommend it, because dehydration can rapidly progress to unconsciousness and death. But as with any “stressor”, the body probably can adapt going without water for periods of time.

      Not sure what the idea would be with marijuana. There is one thread on the Discussion Forum that raises this question:
      http://forum.gettingstronger.org/index.php/topic,83.0.html

      Smoking marijuana will increase tolerance to…marijuana. And like moderate alcohol use, it may improve certain detoxification pathways. But I’ve not seen any conclusive studies on this.

      Reply
  11. Hi Todd-
    Looking forward to your presentation on hormesis June 19th via HealthActivator.com!

    Reply
    • Todd

      So am I Tracy. Is there anything in particular you would like to see me cover in my presentation?

      Reply
      • I am curious about hormesis for individuals with autoimmune disorders, is it recommended, and specifically what hormesis methods for these individuals. Thanks!

        Reply
  12. KING OF THE MONKEY BARS

    I’ve given hormesis and hormetic response a great deal of thought since I discovered your site. The practice of cold showers and intermittent fasting have now become routine in my day to day, and I am gratified with the results to my health and well being.

    There is something I question, though. The stress produced through cold showering and fasting in the culture of plenty we all share is completely voluntary. I can always turn the faucet to warm or readily find food. I wonder how the stress response differs between what I choose to experience and what primitive man, or even someone scraping out an existence in the Sudan of today feels, or does it even matter? I know I can stop my stressors at any time I choose. How about if I had no control over their severity or duration? Do you think a person’s frame of mind would reflect greatly on their biological response?

    Reply
    • Todd

      You raise a good question. I attempted to provide one answer in my post on Voluntary stress. Take a look and let me know if you agree.

      Reply
  13. KING OF THE MONKEY BARS

    Having been born and raised in the Los Angeles area, where I still reside, I remember the many first stage smog alerts and the semi-permanent brown haze that prevented us from having recess. Nevertheless we still played, breathing in the pollutants. Now that I’m over sixty I wonder if, in the scheme of things, it was such a bad thing? When in a person’s life do the physical stressors become a benefit or a detriment? Did those smoggy days actually help strengthen my immune response to environmental pollutants. I also smoked for a number of years, and I wonder if that actually was a positive thing ( see George Burns). As you often say, we are all different, and we will respond differently to our daily and lifelong stresses. I’m probably not going to start smoking again to test the theory.

    Reply
    • Todd

      One doesn’t have to be in favor of tobacco smoking to honestly acknowledge that it can have real benefits, at least at certain doses. Despite undeniable links to lung cancer and heart disease, it would be surprising if tobacco use had no benefits at any level. The dose makes the poison, and hormetic benefits often show up at low levels.

      Here are some interesting studies showing positive benefits, including suppression of celiac disease, dementia, and other inflammatory conditions. I caution that some of these studies show associations, we can’t be sure there are causal connections here:
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12923372
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12436427
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_benefits_of_smoking

      There has also been some provocative debate as to whether the negative health effects of smoking tobacco are due to the tobacco itself or the additives common in “commercial” cigarettes, including sugars and certain outright toxic chemicals:
      http://www.care2.com/greenliving/the-shocking-ingredients-in-cigarettes.html
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296517/

      This has led to a suggestion that there is a “Paleo” or ethnobotanical case for smoking unprocessed tobacco, that is less carcinogenic than the processed form of tobacco involved in the majority of epidemiological studies of the health effects of smoking. Others have fired back that inhaling any particulate smoke formed by burning organic matter — no matter how “pure” — leads to cancer, emphysema and other conditions.

      I think what is missing in the debate is a reasoned analysis of the effects of dose, frequency, and the health background of the population being studied.

      That said, I’m happy being a non-smoker. Even if benefits can be found for smoking tobacco, I’m reasonably confident that it something we can do without!

      Todd

      Reply
  14. dapperdude7

    thank you for the intriging website todd. i have been taking cold showers on and off for the last few months in the middle of the midwest polar vortex! my friends think im nuts but i have not been sick this winter and i notice my tolerance for the cold has increased. what i noticed once i began getting used to the showers was i stopped responding in a mental way which also stop my responding in a physical way (I notice when you are responding to cold water/air, there is a tendency for the muscles to contract which in my experience is a voluntary response that can be controlled through awareness)

    i also do an 18 hour fast everyday (which i recommend to everyone who does not have a physically laborious job). i eat only from noon to 8 pm. and once a month i do a 36 hour fast. giving your digestive system a rest is amazingly important as it frees up your body to begin maintenance work on other areas. this of course is so hard to do in the us, where food and all the reminders of food are EVERYWHERE.

    somebody mentioned cannabis. let me take it one step beyond. psychedelic drug use, when done properly, is absolutely hormesis, as i can attest to. just one experience 25 years ago threw open my young mind to ideas i never considered or could consider. it made me question everything and i begin seeking knowledge as a lifelong pursuit. i have few beliefs and it has served me well to say that faith is no greater than doubt as a way to strengthen one. cannabis would be a more mild, daily version of this, in my experience.

    my question to all is: is routine hormesis and when does routine (as opposed to mixing things up) become negative?

    fascinating stuff! one of talebs main points is via negativa, how removing something is often way more beneficial than adding something. capitalism of course, hates this idea. is via negativa hormesis too>

    keep the ideas coming people. i think we are on to something.

    dan

    Reply
    • Todd

      dan,

      I’m with you 100% on your thoughts about cold showers and daily IF.

      Not sure I see the connection between psychedelic drugs and hormesis. Two key characteristics of hormesis seem to be missing: (1) hormesis involves a stressor; (2) hormetic stress builds an adaptive capacity that makes one more tolerant or resistant to negative effects of the stressor.

      You ask a good question about whether hormesis is more effective when applied routinely or in a more varied manner. I tend to side with Art DeVany in his advocacy for avoiding too much routine, using “fractal” patterning and mixing things up to avoid over-adpatation. But I think one can go too far in the direction of randomness. There is probably some point on the continuum between strict routine and randomness that works best. If someone has studied this, I would be interested to see the results.

      Taleb’s Via negativa is one aspect of his hormetic “antifragility” that I particularly like, as discussed here:

      http://gettingstronger.org/2013/07/antifragile/

      Todd

      Reply
      • dan

        todd, i think most people who try etheogens, particularly first timers, experience some fear, anxiety and yes, stress(ors) from the anticipation of these powerful substances. and even on repeated uses, this remains a presence due to the unpredictable nature of psychedelics.but just to contradict myself, as for the second point, i would argue that the negative effects of the stressor over time become less real and i personally have applied the lessons i learned from these experiences into other areas of my life which have made me stronger. cross hormesis if you will. : )

        its an abstract form of what you are getting at in this site, but from the physical to the very subtle, i think hormesis can work as a model.

        great site! very informative

        Reply

31 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How Stoicism Helped Me Overcome Life’s Obstacles | Love and Life.net 12 01 11
  2. Why Movnat Matters 24 02 11
  3. Labels Suck « Label Free Life 04 08 11
  4. Is er leven na de voortplanting? « dr Erwin J.O. Kompanje 14 09 11
  5. The Beginning of the End of Stress as an Obstacle « Breakthrough Running 04 10 11
  6. Todd Becker on Getting Stronger With Hormesis (Episode 441) 29 10 11
  7. Why does my personal trainer tell me to exercise less? « A Movers Blog 03 11 11
  8. Paleo in Ohio – Adventures in Inflammation | Critical MAS 14 12 11
  9. Can't wrap my heat around metabolism and skipping meals | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page 2 06 01 12
  10. 22 Jan 12 - Crossfit Silver Spring 22 01 12
  11. The Fitness Experiment of a Lifetime 29 02 12
  12. PALEO THAT LASTS: Successful Habits of the Primal Elite | Being Primal 10 03 12
  13. Why I Practice Hormetism « Coffee Theory 15 03 12
  14. How to Leverage Stress to Max Out in Life | Physical Living 02 04 12
  15. Hormesis 25 10 12
  16. The Peatarian Diet For Those Of Us With Average IQs | Critical MAS 25 11 12
  17. Hormesis: Benefits of Low Dose Stressors 14 12 12
  18. Using Hormesis to Build Up Stress Tolerance - Bar Exam Mind 16 12 12
  19. Deprenyl: understudied, little-known anti-aging drug | Josh Mitteldorf 17 03 13
  20. h+ Magazine | Covering technological, scientific, and cultural trends that are changing human beings in fundamental ways. 25 03 13
  21. Spending time on the things that matter most | Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind 26 05 13
  22. Reading journal | Clear Times 24 08 13
  23. After TBI – Stress is not the enemy | Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind 30 08 13
  24. 3 Unexpected Limitations of Convenience | Divergent Nature 08 09 13
  25. The First Step to a New Life | HeroChart 08 10 13
  26. Limitless Motivation: The Stance | HeroChart 09 10 13
  27. Complexity, Weak Links, and Kicking over Pedestals - Wellrounded Athlete 24 10 13
  28. Adaptogens: Restoring Homeostasis • Paleo Movement Magazine 28 02 14
  29. Resistant Starches - Page 109 | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page 109 09 03 14
  30. Reference Points and Heroes | Divergent Nature 07 05 14
  31. Why You Should Take Cold Showers 01 08 14

Add Your Comment

You must be logged in to post a
video comment.