Can aging, thyroid health, weight gain, athletic performance, blood sugar and hormones all benefit from just a little toxicity?
Maybe, but first let us define toxicity. Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can damage an organism. The only way you could benefit from toxicity is if the toxic agent has hormetic properties, derived from the word hormesis, which is a word used in Biology to describe the beneficial health effects of low level exposure to an agent that would be toxic or injurious at a higher dose. The beneficial effects are due to our ability to adapt to the exposure and build stronger defenses against the toxin.
In previous posts I wrote about the health benefits of fasting, however those benefits are seen when fasting is done in “doses” that cause the body to emit a stress response, which is then reversed when we start feeding again. This can be done intermittently with great benefit to our hormone system, our blood sugar, brain function, cardiovascular health, physical and mental performance. If we only fasted, we would eventually succumb to the “toxic” effects of fasting and probably die of starvation. Conversely, if we are only in a feeding state, like the standard American way of eating three major and several minor meals per day, we will expose ourselves to the major causes of unnecessary death that stem from excess eating, like cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Many of our patients come to us with questions about thyroid health. Well the thyroid gland developed over millions of years as a mechanism to thermoregulate, or to help our bodies maintain a steady core temperature in the face of a changing environment. If one of the functions of the thyroid is to adjust cell metabolism to meet the needs of the environment, then a great way to give the thyroid gland a workout is to find yourself in changing environments that would provide a little hormetic stimulus.
If standing in subzero temperatures for excessive periods of time is “toxic” because it would cause frostbite and death, then short term exposure to cold temperatures can result in an adaptation response that increases the effectiveness of the thyroid hormone. An example of this would be cold showers or baths, standing barefoot in the snow with shorts and no shirt, or perhaps dunking your face in a pan of ice water. Conversely, saunas can provide the same type of adaptation with heat.
Think about it, with technology being what it is, our homes, schools, automobiles, public transportation, workplaces are perpetually 72 degrees. No matter if it’s day, night, winter, summer, January or August, in an ideal scenario, we’re never in an environment which is uncomfortable for us. The consequence of this, however, is that these environments do not stimulate our natural software (DNA and genes) perfectly suited for adaptation. They don’t train and harden these systems, because how can they if they are never used? Those genes and cellular processes are never sufficiently activated in our modern comfortable world and leaves us wondering why our thyroids don’t work, why the muscles in our veins don’t contract to push blood back to the heart, and why we have such a hard time adapting when we are put into uncomfortable situations.
Exercise is the most obvious example of hormesis that we all use or have used. Place stress on a muscle and watch it get stronger. There are some more controversial ones too, like low level radiation that can reduce incidence of cancer, free radicals in our cells (reactive oxygen species, ROS) can slow down aging, miniscule exposures to deadly allergens like peanuts can eliminate the allergy (Sub Lingual Immunotherapy, SLIT).
Exercise at altitude or restricted breathing using a mask to mimic the effects of altitude, is hormesis in action.Exercise is an example of hormesis. Place stress on a muscle and watch it get stronger. Click To Tweet
Sun exposure. The idea that the sun is a cancer causing demon that needs to be avoided at all costs is an insane idea that can only be believed by dermatologists. The sun provides us with a wide array of visible and mostly invisible frequencies of solar radiation that has been an integral part of our evolution as a species on this planet. If it were bad for us, we’d have adapted as a nocturnal species and that did not happen.
Cold, hot, fasting, feeding, sun, exercise, certain foods and sublingual immunotherapy are just some examples of hormesis. How creative can you be in introducing these and other hormetic principles when improving health and performance? Hormesis in its many forms have been able to help people overcome many different chronic diseases and breakthrough many athletic barriers. I’d recommend that all of you reading try to apply at least some hormesis treatments into your lifestyles. Try taking a cold shower the next time you do, it might be a little uncomfortable for you in the morning, but not only do they wake you up, but cold showers have been proven to have long lasting future health benefits.
It can be beneficial to have your blood checked for key markers that can change significantly with a program of lifestyle and or diet changes that challenge and stress several body systems, while having your coach/doctor guide you safely. It’s important to stay informed and to stay safe, make sure before starting any seminal changes into your lifestyle that you consult a healthcare professional first!
And as always, I am available if you have any questions.
Stay happy, and stay healthy.
Thanks for reading,