The Hormesis Effect (and the Benefits of Stress)
It is because of the hormesis effect that many health advisors now suggest to do high intensity exercise.
Beating Up Bone to Live Longer
If we were to run laboratory tests on someone who has just worked out intensely at the gym, the lab results would show that the person is in a dire physiological state: inflammatory markers would be elevated. If we didn’t know he had been working out, we would assume he is ill: oxidative stress would be evident; cortisol–the stress hormone–would be high. The muscles and bones would be suffering from extensive microtrauma.
The meaning of these reactions to the trauma our athlete has induced, is that they are a signal for his body to repair itself and come back stronger than before — something I like to call bounceability.
Bones particularly get stronger when episodic stress is applied to them. A professional tennis player or baseball pitcher can build 30% more bone on his playing arm. To build bone, you have to beat it up a bit. Bone is living tissue, and it responds to activity. Mechanical stress–the impact of your feet pounding pavement, the weight of a barbell at the gym, or the shock that travels up the arm when you whack or throw a baseball–all these events (stressors) create microscopic fractures. Your bone not only repairs the tiny fractures, but it also responds by building more bone on top of them: the growth factor of the hormesis effect.
In fact, exercise per se has no intrinsic health benefit. Exercise doesn’t make the body live either longer or healthier any more than using a computer for ten years makes it more efficient. It is, rather, the wear and tear that happens over time and use (to bodies, but not to computers) that confers the healing effect. The biological response to the damage caused by the stress of the exercise gives the beneficial effect of exercise. This damage causes a host of reactions to occur: chemicals are released; secretions are discharged; neurological pathways are activated; genes become alive. In short, things happen; intense things happen. The benefit of the vibration platform makes the point: the damage is actually the cure.
Being Hormetically Poisoned by Plants So that We Can Live Longer
Plants, like all living entities, have defense systems. They protect themselves from harm by emitting poisonous substances that their predators will then ingest.
Eating puts stress on the body because, like exercise, a host of biological activities rev into action to handle the digestion. We are used to thinking of eating vegetables in particular as producing benefits because of their vitamins and minerals. In fact, a main focus of the health movement has been centered around the concept of eating your daily requirements of vitamins through plants. Yet, there is a small body of research that presents a different reason for the health benefits of eating plants–and that the benefits of eating vegetables is solidly hormetic.
The poisons of plants will either harm the predator, or make the taste unpalatable so the predator is not likely to want to repeat the experience. When we humans, however, are the predators, we then similarly ingest these defensive poisons. But because we are often larger in size than plant, we ingesting a sufficiently small quantity of the poisonous chemicals that, rather than fatally poisoning us, we benefit hormetically (or homeopathically) from the low-dose poisoning the plants are giving us.
Starving Ourselves (Hormetically) So that We Can Live Longer
Dr. Mark Mattson has been studying the effect of intermittent fasting on the brain and describes the hormetic effect: “The cells of the brain are put under mild stress that is analogous to the effects of exercise on muscle cells. The overall effect is beneficial.”
Not eating–referred to as either intermittent fasting (IF) or calorie restriction (CR)–is also hormetic. Periodic and short fasts have been shown to promote optimal health, and, as well, to prevent and reverse disease processes in many chronic conditions including diabetes, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. As well, IF and CR are good for the brain and neurodegenerative brain disorders. Utilizing them is like exercising your brain muscles. Mattson’s research demonstrates that chemicals involved in the growth of brain cells are significantly boosted when food intake is dramatically reduced; memory and learning are seen to improve.
It’s only in the periods when you don’t have food that your body goes into a sort of repair mode, because most of the time it’s going flat out. Your body’s really only interested in procreating, growing cells, always going on and on. But when you go without food for 12 to 14 hours, your body starts to think, ‘Well, let’s do a little bit of repair now.’ Some of the proteins get denatured. New ones get created. Your mitochondria cells originate.
With the brain, the time when you need to be smart is not when you have food. Because if you’re in a cave and you’ve got food, you reach out and grab it. You don’t have to be clever. The time you have to be smart is when you don’t have food. Because then you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get out, you’ve got to plan, you’ve got to remember where you left the food before, or where you found the berries, and how to hunt. It’s actually being without food that makes you smarter.
Poisoning My Beautiful Daughter (To Cure Her)
When my daughter, Molly, was 6, and her fever went up to 105*, I poisoned her. I gave her Bella Donna, a known poison. But I gave it to her in homeopathic dose, and within 20 minutes her fever dropped 4*s. I was practicing hormesis when I gave Molly the Bella Donna.
Poisoning My Precious Dog (giving her just a tad bit of radiation) To Cure Her
This is Lilly. She’s 14 now. But when she was 7, she was dying. I was $3000 into vet bills, four vets (including a homeopathic vet) and no one knew what was wrong. But they all understood she was dying. She hadn’t eaten or drunk water in a week. I was keeping her alive by bringing her to have sub-cutaneous rehydration IVs every day.
Then one of my psychoanalytic patients saw how sick Lilly was and suggested I bring her to Donna. I called this person Donna immediately, and went up there that evening. I had two seminal discoveries that night. The first was the pulsed magnetic energy. Donna had a machine, and we gave Lilly a treatment. I put her on the floor, and she walked around the apartment, curious. This was fairly miraculous since she had not had the energy to walk in a week. Then Donna asked me if she wanted some hormesis water. I looked blankly at her. She put a bowl down, and it had a little stone in it. I asked what the stone was doing in the water. She said that it was radioactive. I did what all of you would do–I jumped back. And that began a rather long process of discovery, that led to my ultimately writing a book and making a documentary
film on radiation hormesis.
There are over 3000 studies documenting that low-level radiation makes us live healthier and longer. I am only going to tell you about two studies. The first has to do with Nagasaki and Hiroshima. There were a fair number of people who died from our dropping the bombs. The first fatalities were from people being fried from the heat. But of course, the next fatalities were from the radiation poisoning. There were some people who were close to the epicenter on the bombs who, indeed, died from ensuing cancers. But this is where it gets interesting. If you draw circles around the two towns, and compare mortality of ever-increasing larger circles out–the people who were close in and got SOME exposure have lived longer than the ones who were farther away from the epicenter and got NO exposure. I repeat: SOME exposure to radiation means longer life than NO exposure.
The other study was conducted by Bernie Cohen, professor emeritus from U of Pittsburg. He did the largest epidemiological study ever conducted in the US. He surveyed 90% of the counties. He took two maps: first cancer incidence, and then overlaid on top of that map prevalence of radon–the gas that seeps up from the bowels of the earth into basements, and that presumably causes lung cancer.About 30 years ago, states made it mandatory for houses being sold to be tested for radon, and thus, a multi-million dollar business was created: radon testing. Bernie expected, as I am sure all of you do, that where there was high levels of radon being emitted, there would be more cancer. Yet, he found the opposite: the more radon, the less cancer. He didn’t believe the results. He sliced up the data in a thousand different ways, controlling for every variable he could think of: same results. He even repeated the whole study five years later. Same results.
Bernie Cohen lived in the Reading Prong, which happens to be in one of the highest radon areas in the country. He went down to his basement and turned off the radon eliminator. If you’re lucky enough to live in a house with high radon readings, you might want to open a health spa down there.
Alternatively, take a vacation to one of the hot springs around the world, and soak in pleasure as your body absorbs all that friendly low-dose radiation. Or wear Jay’s stones. And put a water stone in your water and drink radiated water, as Lilly did.
This is the message I would like to leave you with: rather than protect, or over-protect, ourselves from possible trauma and re-trauma, we should envision the possibility of growth from the stress stimulus. Let’s coin a new term: Post-Traumatic Growth Syndrome.