26 August 2008

Hormesis – ‘when a little poison is good for you’

Filed under: Homeopathy — homeopathy4health @ 1:44 pm
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New Scientist 6/8/08 When a little poison is good for you

For those of you with a New Scientist subscription, here is more information about Hormesis.

Update 30/8/08:

Dr Mercola expands on the topic: here

Here is a snippet:

Your body is a finely tuned instrument, and even seemingly insignificant changes can sometimes create major repercussions, for better or worse. Like a spider’s web, if you pluck one strand, the entire web vibrates. Pluck too hard and it breaks the strand, collapsing the intricate design of the whole.

Hormesis – To Impel Change

Hormesis — from the ancient Greek word hormáein, meaning “to set in motion, impel, urge on” — is the term for favorable biological responses resulting from low exposures to toxins and other stressors. A toxin showing hormesis thus has the opposite effect in small doses than in large doses.

Homeopathy could be considered as an example here, where even a highly toxic (natural) substance can be used to produce dramatic healing responses in your body because it is reduced to such a degree that only the energetic essence of it remains; there’s enough to impel a healing change, but not nearly enough to tip the scales too far to cause damage.

Hormesis then, is the biological phenomena where an otherwise adverse or detrimental influence is beneficial when applied at low levels – just enough to set something into motion.

The concept of biological hormesis is as important as that of homeostasis for the survival of an organism. Your body’s ability to resist and adapt appropriately to both internal and external stresses is essential for good health, and the hallmark of aging is your body’s inability to withstand stress, which starts to degrade it.



  1. And this is relevant to homeopathy, which dilutes beyond Avogadro, how?

    Comment by gimpy — 26 August 2008 @ 2:01 pm

  2. There is a world of difference between ‘a tiny bit’ and ‘nothing at all’. As Gimpy says, this has no relevance to the fundamental implausibility of homeopathy. And even if it did, that still would not compensate for homeopathy’s consistent failure to produce any repeatable positive results or for homeopaths’ persistent inability to provide one – remember, you only need one – documented case, with references, of homeopathy curing a non-self-limiting condition.

    This is like someone who claims he can fly – but is unable to demonstrate this ability – trying to support his argument by pointing to a new high jump world record.

    Comment by M Simpson — 26 August 2008 @ 4:26 pm

  3. As I remember the science of flight was unknown for several years after the development of flight.

    Comment by homeopathy4health — 26 August 2008 @ 4:37 pm

  4. Presumably you produced this little gem in support of homeopathy thinking that us naive sceptics would assume that because a pharmacologically active and non-lethal dose of a known poison produces beneficial physiological effects at a low concentration this lends credence to your claims that homeopathy must work.

    What on earth are you on H4H? The problem with the plausibility of homeopathy is not that it uses low doses of an active substance, it is that it uses no dose of an active substance.

    Comment by gimpy — 26 August 2008 @ 4:54 pm

  5. “As I remember the science of flight was unknown for several years after the development of flight.”

    You remember very badly. The science of flight was known long before practical heavier-than-air gliders were able to make anything except short hops. It was applying that understanding in a practical flying machine which took time.

    But even if you were right, that would merely support the sceptics’ argument that it doesn’t matter HOW something works as long as you can prove that it does.

    We really, really don’t care how homeopathy might work. Prove that it works – and then everyone can start thinking about a mechanism.

    Comment by M Simpson — 26 August 2008 @ 5:16 pm

  6. So the main problem for everyone is that there’s too much dilution, but when it comes to “like cures like” in material doses, there’s no problem with that? Because that is the main principle, potentisation is a sort of a bonus, but you can really go with material doses of poisons, if you wish. So, you’ll accept that the improvement in people might occur according to “like cures like” in material doses? All homeopathic Materia Medicas still apply in this case, actually. It’s just that preparations do not work that fast and can be toxic.
    (I will not write more even if there are comments, I just could not resist to point out this important issue).

    Comment by ez — 27 August 2008 @ 12:27 am

  7. Thanks ez, yes it’s in it’s infancy, as the article says ‘The question now is how to take advantage of hormesis to live longer and healthier lives.’ They’ll just be 200 years behind for now….

    Comment by homeopathy4health — 27 August 2008 @ 7:22 am

  8. ez & h4h, you seem to be confusing a trite aphorism with scientific observation. I suggest you read up on hormesis and dose response curves. Wikipedia is a quite reasonable on this subject.

    I can’t work out if you are ignorant, thick or just plain mendacious when it comes to science and homeopathy. The New Scientist acknowledges that this is a complex and controversial phenomena that is the subject of debate yet you latch on to the merest hint of support for homeopathy, even if you have no understanding of the science, and cite it as proof that there is something in homeopathy.

    PS ez, homeopathic dilution involves trying to dilute a single molecule after a while. This is impossible. The problem is not that there is too much dilution, it is that you have dilute it to the point no molecules of the original substance remain.

    Comment by gimpy — 27 August 2008 @ 8:01 am

  9. gimpy –

    “you have to dilute it to the point no molecules of the original substance remains” – no, you do not have to do this, who told you have to do this? This is a major misunderstanding on your part, as this assertion is simpy not true. If you object to this, then you do not object to homeopathy, but to your own erroneous ideas about it, and you should check your sources of information about homeopathy for reliability.

    You can leave as many molecules of your substance as you like, you can even use the crude solution. THat’s how Hahnemann started, actually. He only started to dilute substances in an attempt to reduce toxic action of crude substances, but he did not do it in the beginning, and was still able to produce the reactions in people that relieved their symptoms.

    And he still found that all the substances do exert their effects according to the principle “like cures like” even in material doses, as is evidenced by his records and records left by other homeopaths who only use very “low” dilutions, denoted as X, which means they are only diluted 10 times on each stage, so 3X would mean that the original substance was diluted (and shaken) only 1000 (3 multiplied by 10 in 3rd power) times, still enough molecules of the original substance left to be detectable by usual means. However, these remedies too work only when presicribed according to the “like cure like” principle, that is on the basis of rubrics in the repertory and indications found in Materia Medicas.

    I admit that I do not know much about hormesis, and I’m not able to read the whole article as I’m not the New Scientist subscriber, but I’ll try to read up, and in case I see anything that I would think supportive of homeopathy in a more straightforward way I’ll write. I only know that Hahnemann was well aware of what Paracelsus wrote and did, so it is definite that his ideas had been inspired by this phenomenon as well.

    As regards reponse curves – it is clear (that is, easily deducted from clinical observations of all sorts of medical people) that suppression (about which we talked in the previous thread) occurs more easily with crude doses of substances, so reaction will be seen even if the preparation is only superficially similar to the person’s symptoms, that is not the totality of symptoms is covered by the substance, but only a part of it. It is in this case when you will see more reaction with increased dose. But the long term result is the only way to see if the reaction was curative or suppressive.

    Comment by ez — 27 August 2008 @ 8:28 am

  10. Gimpy –

    “It is conjectured that a low dose challenge with a toxin may trigger certain repair mechanisms in the body, and these mechanisms, having been initiated, are efficient enough that they not only neutralize the toxin’s effect, but even repair other defects not caused by the toxin.” (from the Wikipedia) – basically that is what Hahnemann says about the action of a homeopathic remedy, and response curve shows what he (Hahnemann) described as “primary reaction” and “secondary reaction” to a substance – you’ve read the Organon, I think, did not you notice this?

    Comment by ez — 27 August 2008 @ 8:34 am

  11. Oh, Homeopathy4health, I have not noticed your comment!

    I do hope that they will try to “reinvent the bicycle” (as we say in Russia), that is homeopathy, if they remain honest enough to keep their eyes open to see what there is to see. Better late than never.

    Comment by ez — 27 August 2008 @ 8:38 am

  12. ez, I’m well aware that homeopaths use dilutions of lower than 12C (which I think is the commonly accepted dilution, by sceptics and homeopaths, in which no molecule of the original substance will remain) but they hold that as you dilute further the potency increases. Hormesis, as described on wikipedia, states that at high doses you have adverse effects, as the dose lowers beneficial effects increase then start to decline as the concentration of the active substance is reduced further. There are many plausible physiological mechanisms that could account for this. There is no need to invent mysterious undetectable energies to explain this phenomena.

    You are quoting Hahnemann like Christians quote the bible. Have you ever considered that Hahnemann is not inerrant, even the Pope admits the bible is more allegorical than literal!

    Comment by gimpy — 27 August 2008 @ 8:52 am

  13. gimpy,

    I did not quote Hahnemann, I referred to what he wrote, that is not the same thing, because this part is actually a wide-known phenomenon – have you heard about withdrawal symptoms? If you look attentively at them, you will notice that often they are very obviously and clearly opposite to the initial symptoms following the intake of the substance in question. Alcohol heats one as a primary action – and chills one as a secondary action, if you recall the typical hangover symptoms, to take one example. Hahnemann only argued that this known phenomenon can be successfully used to treat people who have a certain set of symptoms due to some unrelated (to the intake of the substance) reasons and reported results of his experiments verifying this phenomenon – is it not the typcal way scientific papers are written today? You have a summary, materials and methods, discussion and conclusion. Hahnemann in the Organon presents summary, partly materials and methods, and conclusion. But he also mentions the rest of materials and methods in his working journals and lesser writings which are available at some German Libraries, so I see no reason why one cannot actually quote him? Do you not quote other people’s results in your scientific papers?

    All that Hahnemann writes regarding factual matters can be readily verified – he added some of his ideas, of course, – but one can see that he has strived to minimise this part (and even condemned this sort of theorizing in the Introduction), because it is not quite relevant to the treatment of the sick people. When a student quotes his textbook on physics in his reports, hardly a teacher will accuse him of accepting the textbook as a Bible, don’t you think? It’s just one reference, there are many other independent texts speaking about the same thing, but in other words.

    And you do not answer the question – whether you have or do not have problems with the plausibility of a statement “like cures like”. It is really irrelevant – and simply was discovered as a matter of observation, – whether the action is somehow changed due to dilutions or any other manipulations, and yes, maybe there is not really much need to invent any concepts (invisible energies – are all other energies visible?). It’s just the constant human need to somehow rationalise – or rather find words for the ideas – in order to try to theorise later. I think I already wrote that you can regard the whole thing as a “black box”, this does not change the fact that it works, and inquisitive scientists will, no doubt, finally discover why (and a way to measure this), maybe some 200 years from now.

    So what about trying to take some quinine-based anti-malaria drug and see if it produces the symptoms of malaria when taken in large, or rather excessively repeated doses? This is an experiment you can probably do yourself, if you are not afraid to ruin your liver, so you’ll need to stop as soon as you start getting symptoms – and then record all your symptoms, and then check them against China’s Materia Medica to see if you really find them there. Forget about dilutions! Let’s start at the beginning! I know some people here (in this country where I live) who did it, they had some episodes of bad health after the experiments, but they cleared up sufficiently soon as they were careful not to take really too much, and they were very much amazed – and content – that they could indeed reproduce Hahnemann’s experiments and did not have to follow what he wrote in pure blind faith.

    Comment by ez — 27 August 2008 @ 10:40 am

  14. ez, I don’t want to get into an argument about the semantics of the word ‘quote’. I would just draw attention to your statement “Alcohol heats one as a primary action – and chills one as a secondary action, if you recall the typical hangover symptoms, to take one example.” to highlight your lack of medical knowledge.

    Alcohol causes a mean drop in body temperature by increasing blood flow to the extremities. This is one reason why you do not give alcohol to people with hypothermia to ‘warm them up’.

    I suspect biochemistry and physiology are not familiar subjects to you. Nor for that matter is the scientific method as you wouldn’t be drawing comparisons with modern scientific publications if it were. Ethics too are probably a strange concept or you wouldn’t be advocating toxic doses of quinine.

    Comment by gimpy — 27 August 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  15. gimpy,

    “Ethics too are probably a strange concept or you wouldn’t be advocating toxic doses of quinine.” You write as though I invented this drug, are you sure you got the right person to blame for ethics?

    Comment by ez — 27 August 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  16. ez, stop being ridiculous, you know I am referring to your recommendation to take excessive and harmful doses of quinine. I’m fed up with these childish attempts at debate and utter failure to engage at a constructive level.

    Comment by gimpy — 28 August 2008 @ 6:56 am

  17. Well, gimpy, you take everything so literally (or pretend to do so) that it really makes one uncomfortable. I should have got used to it already, but I still somehow assume that people are able to take things they read with a pinch of salt…

    I am not attempting to debate either, I think I’ll just stand by and wait for further news about true research from real researchers. I really wish hormesis was researched better, for example, I’d like the “time” dimension added to that Wikipeida article graph, so that they made it possible for everyone to notice the reality of the primary and secondary reactions to substances – in the same person, and over the range of doses.

    All the best.

    Comment by ez — 28 August 2008 @ 8:53 am

  18. Sorry ez, I forgot that homeopaths don’t really mean what they say.

    Now instead of making snide comments about the lack of research into hormesis you might wish to avail yourself of the current research, all 500+ publications.

    Comment by gimpy — 28 August 2008 @ 9:40 am

  19. gimpy,

    thanks, I’ll check the references. I read the wiki article and it sounded so vague, suggesting that so little is known, that I was wondering if this is the “state of the art” summary. Hopefully, it is not so. You see, I never was anywhere near “alternative” medicine in the past, so I’m not as well versed as you seem to be in things like Kirlian photography and hormesis. I guess I’ll have to catch up, though, when I have some spare time. I must admit that I’m mildly upset that something so effective and elegant in design (as a system, I mean) as homeopathy is treated the way you treat it though. If I were you I’d really be concerned about toxicity of “real treatments” like quinine drugs for malaria – of which it seems you are well aware, as you got so defensive when I only mentioned their name – “advocating toxic doses” – did I mention any dosing at all? Or my memory fails me?

    I meant all I said, though, that is, that Hahnemann did tests on himself, his family, his students did this as well, with a lot of crude substances (obviously, nobody has died) and I know of people who are now alive and well and repeated his tests with the same result – and you still fail to answer whether you would have any problem with plausibility of this sort of facts – reproducibility of provings made with crude substances, and old homeopaths’ results of successful application of thus obtained remedy pictures for prescribing low potency remedies to people with matching symptom pictures.

    But I’m tired of repeating myself, I cannot rival M Simpson or Andy Lewis here, so I will leave this productive mode of communication to them.

    Comment by ez — 28 August 2008 @ 1:58 pm

  20. Well, one of the recent articles from your list says:

    “Despite the fact that U-shaped dose-responses are widely and independently observed, little attempt has been made to assess this phenomenon in an integrative manner.” So, the wiki article has been providing one with a correct image as to the state of research, most articles simply mention the occurrence of the “U- shaped dose response” in some particular cinrcumstances, but very little systematic research has been done. And modern medical approach is based on assumption that dose-response curves are linear… – this is also from the wiki article. Something to think about the way they treat people. Anyway, there’s little point in any further discussion, as I see it. So that’s it.

    Comment by ez — 28 August 2008 @ 2:11 pm

  21. Cherry picking.

    Comment by gimpy — 28 August 2008 @ 6:21 pm

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