Saturday, October 17, 2015


Merriam-Webster defines it as:
a theoretical phenomenon of dose-response relationships in which something (as a heavy metal or ionizing radiation) that produces harmful biological effects at moderate to high doses may produce beneficial effects at low doses
As a general theory, it might be lacking and can be especially dangerous if you're stupid about it. Even known-good hormetic phenomenon have significant caveats. I'll describe my protocols and if you decide they may apply to you, be smart, read up, consult a doctor, and most importantly, listen to your body. Don't overdo it. In addition, these protocols are significant stressors and performing more than one at a time might violate the "don't overdo it" principle.

The known types of hormetic stressors are: toxic chemicals, radiation exposure, physical stress, caloric restriction, hyperthermic exposure, and hypothermic exposure. I avoid toxic chemicals and radiation exposure since research has not provided enough dosage nor beneficial effects information.

Physical Stress

The simplest to understand and best understood hormetic phenomenon is physical stress -- or as we all know it, exercise! One paper has this to say:
Physical inactivity leads to increased incidence of a variety of diseases and it can be regarded as one of the end points of the exercise-associated hormesis curve. On the other hand, regular exercise, with moderate intensity and duration, has a wide range of beneficial effects on the body including the fact that it improves cardio-vascular function, partly by a nitric oxide-mediated adaptation, and may reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's disease by enhanced concentration of neurotrophins and by the modulation of redox homeostasis. Mechanical damage-mediated adaptation results in increased muscle mass and increased resistance to stressors. Physical inactivity or strenuous exercise bouts increase the risk of infection, while moderate exercise up-regulates the immune system. Single bouts of exercise increases, and regular exercise decreases the oxidative challenge to the body, whereas excessive exercise and overtraining lead to damaging oxidative stress and thus are an indication of the other end point of the hormetic response. Based upon the genetic setup, regular moderate physical exercise/activity provides systemic beneficial effects, including improved physiological function, decreased incidence of disease and a higher quality of life.
My personal protocol consists of regularly spaced extended medium intensity effort (endurance) and short bursts of high intensity effort (HIIT). I won't say much about how regular moderate intensity physical activity reduces the risk of developing many diseases as the subject is well-researched and accepted as common knowledge. Deeper investigation is left as an exercise for the reader. Wikipedia has this to say about HIIT:
High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training (SIT), is an enhanced form of interval training, an exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise. Usual HIIT sessions may vary from 4–30 minutes. These short, intense workouts provide improved athletic capacity and condition, improved glucose metabolism, and improved fat burning.[1][2][3] Compared with other regimens, HIIT may not be as effective for treating hyperlipidemia and obesity, or improving muscle and bone mass.[4] Researchers also note that HIIT requires "an extremely high level of subject motivation," and question whether the general population could safely or practically tolerate the extreme nature of the exercise regimen.[5]
In addition to endurance exercise and HIIT, I also perform regular (low-intensity) strength training, for, well, strength, as there is very little additional hormetic benefit to it. My strength training consists of weight lifting, core exercises and yoga.

Be careful, be informed, see a doctor before starting your own protocol.

Caloric restriction

The research on caloric restriction is also surprisingly detailed with many possible protocols that can be followed. I've already pulled together several points on this form of hormesis which you can read on Google Drive. The presentation is fairly easy reading so I won't rehash the points here. My personal protocol is a 3-day fast beginning after breakfast on the first Friday of each month.

Be careful, be informed, see a doctor before starting your own protocol.

Hyperthermic conditioning

Northern Europeans have known hyperthermic conditioning for centuries simply as "spending time in the sauna". My friend Dr. Rhonda Patrick (Ph.D. in molecular biology, not M.D.) has put together a fantastic video overview of the overwhelming health benefits of sauna use. For more details, including specific protocols and molecular basis of operation, please download her in-depth sauna report. I also won't rehash her points here. My personal protocol is a single 35 minute session four-times weekly in a sauna maintained at about 170-190 degrees F.

Be careful, be informed, see a doctor before starting your own protocol.

Hypothermic conditioning

I think it's safe to say that everyone hates the cold. That's too bad... it can provide many, many healthy benefits. The most well known is reduced pain and accelerated healing by simply applying a cold pack to sore/sprained muscles. Hypothermic hormesis has also been shown to improve immune response by reducing the number and size of tumors in mice. It also has been shown to improve general physical conditioning. Weight-loss and the reduction of metabolic syndrome can also be induced through prolonged, regular exposure to cold. My personal protocol is alternate 10 minutes in the hot tub with 10 minutes in the 60 degree F swimming pool at my gym.

Be careful, be informed, see a doctor before starting your own protocol.

Concluding comments

The research is in and putting our bodies regularly through certain types of stress can be very beneficial to us. No one likes the temporary discomfort that the physical effort, calorie restriction, hyperthermic exposure, and hypothermic exposure induces, but they each have different mechanisms by which they improve our bodies and we should include them as an integrated part of our overall physical conditioning regimens. And as I've said several times already: be smart, read up, consult a doctor, and listen to your body before starting your own protocol.