Many healthspan extension strategies are based on the concept of hormesis. Given its importance, we thought it would be useful to better understand the concept:
What is it?
Hormesis is a biological term to describe the type of response elicited in an organism by exposure to stressors or toxins. Typically, a hormetic response will be beneficial at low levels of exposure and turn negative and potentially lethal at higher doses. This is summarized as low dose stimulation and high dose inhibition.
Image by: P. D. Mangan Rogue Health & Fitness
Hormesis and Longevity:
The strategy consists of triggering mild stress-induced stimulation of protective mechanisms inside cells that result in long-term beneficial effects. Examples include fasting, heat and cold exposure, or very intense interval training. These are all stressors that trigger a stress response which in turn sets in motion a cascade of cellular maintenance and repair mechanisms. While the immediate hormetic response to exposure to a stressor may be moderate, the downstream effects tend to be amplified leading to a strengthening of the immune system, higher metabolic flexibility, and better stress tolerance.
Making sense of different longevity protocols:
By better understanding the longevity-promoting cellular mechanisms that get triggered through exposure to different stressors we can better understand the reasons to try many practices that on the surface seem like Instagram fads such as intermittent fasting, ice baths, or sauna therapy. We also find that visualizing the effects can work as a motivator to trying these things!
Hormesis gives a new dimension to the old saying “that which does not kill us makes us stronger, live longer!” Go deeper: Stress-Response Hormesis and Aging