Updated: Sep 23
Hello my dearest friend,
When we are sick or dealing with a disease dynamic, we tend to look at our body as weak and sometimes even fighting against us. I hear so often people say “my body hates me” or “my body is attacking itself and I’m broken”. However, those responses couldn’t be further from the truth. Our bodies are constantly reacting to our environment and the things it is being exposed to. This could be:
Stress - physical or emotional
And much more!
Far from being weak or vulnerable in the face of change, the human body is designed to continuously adapt to and thrive in a largely unpredictable environment. Our bodies are powerful, thoughtful and effective in it’s responses. This process is called hormesis; the physiological phenomenon whereby the body derives long-term benefits and strength from short, potent episodes of challenge or stress. Hormesis is a term that has evolved from toxicology. Scientists were surprised to learn that very small amounts of toxic exposure or ingestion actually support health where very small exposures actually support and boost antioxidant function. It is the higher levels and/or unremitting frequency of exposure that promotes disease because it overwhelms our ability to respond. Whether it’s fasting, or calorie deprivation, or exercise, or very low grade toxic exposure, or episodic stress – these are things that benefit us because they stimulate our appropriate response. If we don’t use our capabilities, we tend to lose them. But regular, manageable challenge builds strength and resiliency! The hormetic “zone” of activity varies by individual and expands as we build strength. Areas where our bodies build this strength and resiliency:
Exercise. We engage in aggressive physical activity – which is really a form of controlled, limited damage to the body – on purpose, to stimulate a protective and restorative mechanism that actually helps us to build more resilient health. We exercise. We do damage to our muscles. We secrete stress hormones. There’s some wear and tear. But that impetus stimulates healing mechanisms, anti-oxidant pathways and healing. In this way, the challenge on the body is rewarded with a stimulated healing and pro-resiliency response. But excessive exercise for a unique person stops being hormesis and potentially starts being harmful (e.g. self-medicating with adrenaline-surging activities in those with low cortisol levels). This is why choosing the appropriate workout for your unique body where you are RIGHT NOW is vitally important.
Fasting and caloric restriction. Short term, dietary deprivation actually stimulates vitality-promoting mechanisms in the body. Hormetic challenges such as extended overnight fasting or the Fast Mimicking Diet can activate stronger anti-inflammatory defenses, improve mitochondrial function, and stimulate innate immunity. They also promote a lean body type, provoke autophagy to eliminate older/damaged cells, and improve blood glucose handling. But excessive fasting for a unique person stops being hormesis and potentially starts being harmful (e.g. hypoglycemia in those with poor fatty acid oxidation). Also, if you are in a disease state like struggling with diabetes, this can be potentially dangerous. It's always important to work with a professional and listen to your body.
Hormetic nutrition. Diverse, copious intake of phytonutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, with components like berberine, luteolin and quercetin actually benefit us via hormetic effects. Many phytonutrients we think of as exogenous “antioxidants” are actually pro-oxidant in effect and stimulate our own endogenous capability in response. The same is true for bitters – alkaloids which are parts of the plant’s immune systems. These compounds exist in plants to provide protection from various oxidative stresses e.g. shielding from the sun’s radiation or defending against bugs and pests. They are basically toxins helping the plant survive. When we eat them, we experience some irritation and undergo immune- or antioxidant-stimulating hormetic effects. These compounds are essentially teaching our bodies how to defend themselves and be more resilient in the face of larger challenges. Some “adaptogenic” herbs also provide their long-acknowledged benefits via hormesis. But excessive intake for a unique person stops being hormetic and potentially starts being harmful (e.g. excessive cruciferous vegetable intake in someone with sulfur intolerance or excessive cultured foods intake for one with histamine intolerance).
Temperature manipulation. We are all familiar with the healing effects of a fever – creating a less hospitable environment for pathogens and recruiting immune power. Enter the hormetic effects of sauna and heat shock therapy. Think of them as artificial, short term fevers. At the opposite extreme, whole body cryotherapy and cold plunges can induce hormesis to lower inflammation, stimulate circulation, and increase metabolism. Cold exposure has also been shown to increase endogenous antioxidant production and boost immunity against cancer. But excessive stimulation for a unique person stops being hormesis and potentially starts being harmful (e.g. too much shock for someone with uncontrolled hypertension or elevated fibrinogen and other increased risk of immediate cardiovascular events).
Additional “out-of-the-box” hormesis promoters. Looking further afield, practices such as Wim Hof breathing, induced hypoxia, and hyperventilation are gaining more popularity (and scientific curiosity and scrutiny) as people look for novel ways to stimulate the body’s defenses. You may encounter clients who are curious about or experimenting with these hormesis-inducing activities.
Bottom Line: Hormetic stress consists of intermittent, low level exposure to small amounts of challenge that promote health by stimulating the body’s resiliency. So much of the strength and vitality and resiliency in the human body must be stimulated by the ongoing demand for it. But balance is key! Our opportunity is to promote eustress and hormesis while avoiding excessive (for your unique body), prolonged stress. We must customize our approach if we expect our body to experience resilient, positive results. Appropriate exercise is hormetic, while excessive exercise may be destructive. Intermittent fasting can be helpful in some circumstances (typically not with hypoglycemia or hypocortisolemia), while long-term calorie deprivation induces catabolism and can cause malnourishment and hypothyroid function. 20 minutes in the sun can boost vitamin D and stimulate the skin’s defense mechanisms, while a bad sunburn can flood the body with oxidative stress and promote carcinogenesis. We’re so well set up to not only survive but to thrive with a little infectious challenge, a little toxic challenge, a little stress challenge, a little oxidation challenge, a little nutrient deficiency challenge, a little relationship or work challenge. If you are sick and tired of being SICK AND TIRED in your body and want to be free to have HEALTH + VITALITY, hit reply and I'd love to see how I can serve you. Or if you know someone who suffers from a chronic disease, long haul covid, gut issues and more, please feel free to forward this link to them and spread the love!
May you go out into this world blessing it with the gifts you have to offer!
If you would like to get help on putting the puzzle pieces together and addressing the root cause of your health issues, I would be honored to work with you so you can find relief and healing in your body.
Just visit my website to contact me and set up a free Discovery Call!
Look forward to hearing from you!
May you live your life with purpose, passion, and joy!
Have Courage, my Friends!
In Health & Wellness,