Hormesis

By Dr. Jason Slagel | June 6th, 2022

    Today we are talking about hormesis.  This concept of hormesis is something that most people don’t know the technical term for but they’re very familiar with the concept itself.  I’m just going to walk you through it and put some flesh and bones on it so you can understand it.  It’s actually a very important concept for your health. 

    The concept of hormesis is this: too little of something is bad, too much of something is bad and the appropriate amount is good.  So, it seems like, yeah, of course, but let’s put it in context with a few things with health. 

    Let’s start with water.  Too little water is dehydration, that’s bad for you, obviously.  Too much water is called hyponatremia.  Hypo- meaning too little or disproportionately small amount. And -natremia is nutrients.  So, you’re diluting your body down.  I don’t know if you’ve heard of college hazing where they drink water instead of alcohol and people can die from that.  So too little water, dehydration, too much water, hyponatremia, the appropriate amount of water, you’re hydrated, everything works right. 

    Let’s talk about sunlight because this concept of hormesis applies to this as well.  Too little sunlight and you have what’s called Rickets.  Rickets is where your body doesn’t have enough vitamin D and the bones become soft and they bend easily.  It’s not good. Typically, with Rickets we think of a kid who spends all day inside. This used to be a lot more common back in the day.  Too much sunlight you get sunburns, skin cancer, stuff like that. So too little, bad.  Too much, bad.  There’s this middle ground though where you get the appropriate amount of sunlight.  You feel good, you’ve got the vitamin D going on, you get a nice tan, everybody’s happy. 

    We can also look at it in the more mental health type of ways.  Hormesis can apply to a lot of different areas, not just physical health.  With mental health let’s look at the concept of stress.  If you don’t have enough stress in your life that’s bad.  That creates boredom.  If you have too much stress in your life, that’s bad because that creates anxiety.  But if you have the appropriate amount of stress in your life that can increase productivity.  So, the middle ground is where you want to be.  Too little or too much is bad. 

    This is the concept of hormesis.  The appropriate amount is good for you, but there is such a thing as too little or too much. 

    Let’s talk about obesity vs anorexia.  Two extremes of weight versus being the appropriate weight.  In this case we’re talking about food.  Food is not a problem and food is not virtuous.  Food is just food.  It’s neutral.  But what we do with food, whether we eat too much or eat too little matters.  We want to eat the appropriate amount. 

    We can look at this in all kinds of ways.  We can look at money.  You can be an extreme tightwad, or you can be completely frivolous.  Versus the middle ground which is more responsible. 

    We talk about this concept in my office off and on because people ask about x-ray exposure. Some people are worried about x-ray exposure.  Well, just like everything else that’s natural on earth, there is a hormesis that needs to be considered.  And there’s a healthy range of x-ray exposure that has health benefits.  Too little x-ray exposure is hard to measure because there is background exposure on Earth, so everybody is always being exposed to x-rays, and that’s just the way it is, and it’s fine.  Too much x-ray exposure we’ve linked to all kinds of diseases that I’m sure you’re familiar with, like cancer and different types of leukemia.  Well, what we’ve found recently is that there is this radiation hormesis or x-ray hormesis where if you have an appropriate amount of x-ray exposure, it creates a healthy response in the body.  It’s kind of like if you work out and your muscles are sore, but then there’s a healthy response to that.  So, you can get health benefits from the appropriate amount of x-ray exposure.  It’s really cool to think about!

    Let’s talk about the x-ray unit that we have in our office.  Now, we do structural chiropractic, NUCCA specifically, and our x-ray machine is highly specialized for what we do.  Our x-ray machine needs much less exposure than the average x-ray machine for several different reasons that I’m not going to go into right now.  Basically, the bottom line is, that for our x-ray unit you would need to take over 1,000 x-rays to reach the lowest level of minimal risk for any diseases.  We don’t take anywhere near 1,000 x-rays on anybody ever and so the risk is essentially zero.  This concept of hormesis is important because when we’re taking the few x-rays that we do take there can actually be health benefits to that. 

    There’s this book called Hormogeddon: How Too Much of a Good Thing Leads To Disaster, written by Bill Bonner, if you’re interested in the concept of hormesis. He goes into all kinds of interesting things.  I read that book and it just made this really clear to me. 

    So, this concept called hormesis can be useful to you because you can start looking at things and think, “Oh!  So, this thing is neutral.  What I do with it is what matters.  And if I do something too little or too much that’s a problem.  What is this healthy range for me to be in?”  Somethings have a narrow range, and some things have a big broad range.  Some things have a high range, and some things have a low range.  It’s up to you to look at these things in your life and find a good balance or find that hormesis where whatever it is that you’re looking at can be more beneficial in your life.  And when you start to be more purposeful with that, you start to see great results with your health.

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