Hormesis- Not a term you hear every day, unless you happen to live with a biostatistician who specializes in toxicology. Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given in higher doses. So, in other words, a little bit of something bad may actually be good for you.

Here’s a scientific example: one group of rats in a lab was allowed to eat whenever they wanted. Another group of rats was allowed to eat whenever they wanted but were given small doses of some sort of toxic substance. The second group of rats was deemed healthier by every measure than the rats in the first group. Why? It is possible that the first group ate so much they became obese and, therefore, had an increase in blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. But the second group of rats were much healthier because their appetites were somewhat suppressed by the toxic substance, preventing them from becoming overweight.

The concept of Hormesis can help explain increased incidences of asthma in children. Extreme parental hygiene practices: no dirt, no dander, no germs in the home may prevent some kids from developing robust immune systems. Ironically, children’s future health may depend upon exposure to some dirt and germs.

But what does this have to do with sixty somethings? I contend that our decades of experience surviving loss, sorrow, disappointment, regret and failure provided the “toxic” stressors to develop our resilience, confidence and courage. We’ve been knocked down by life but, we’re still here. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” If that isn’t Hormesis, I don’t know what is.

“I’m Still Here” – Steven Sondheim

Good times and bum times, I’ve seen ’em all, and, my dear,
I’m still here.
Plush velvet sometimes, sometimes just pretzels and beer,
but I’m here.
I’ve run the gamut, A to Z;
three cheers and, dammit, c’est la vie.
I got through all of last year,
and I’m here.
Lord knows, at least I’ve been there, and I’m here.
Look who’s here.
I’m still here.

(Last verse)





Categories: wisdom

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