(Recorded at the NYC Hilton, September 2014)
The Hormesis Effect (and the Benefits of Stress), Part 1
I want to reclaim the rep for stress. In modern medicine, stress has been assigned the role of the villain -- the cause of all manner of difficulties, from lethal cancer to stomach ulcers, to plain old anxiety.
The modern idea of stress began on a rooftop in Canada, with a handful of rats freezing in the winter wind. This was 1936 and by that point the owner of the rats, an endocrinologist named Hans Selye, had become expert at making rats suffer for science.
Selye would subject them to extreme temperatures, make them go hungry for long periods, or make them exercise a lot. Then he would kill the rats and look at their organs. What was interesting to Selye was that no matter how different the tortures he devised for the rats were - from icy winds to painful injections - when he cut them open to examine their guts it appeared that the physical effects of his different tortures were always the same. There would be changes particularly in the adrenal gland. So Selye began to suggest that subjecting an animal to prolonged stress led to tissue changes and physiological changes with the release of certain hormones, that would then cause disease and ultimately the death of the animal. And so the idea of stress-and its potential costs to the body-was born.
Selye was an incredible man. He went all over the world promoting the gospel of stress. He wrote over 1,500 books and articles. He slept 4 - 5 hours a night. It is hard to overrate Selye's influence as one of the major scientists of the 20th Century. He was nominated ten times for the Nobel Prize.
In 1950, two American cardiologists - Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman - did further investigation into this, the concept of stress, and created the idea of the Type A personality. They argued that there existed in America an entire class of people who lived lives so full of stress and pressure that their bodies were especially prone to disease, particularly heart attack. The doctors published a study that claimed the coronary disease rate for men with Type A personality was twice as high as other men. The idea took hold.
Friedman and Rosenman also developed the Type B personality. You'd rather be Type B than A -- you'll live longer and happier.
This kind of research became popular, and shortly after, another group of researchers got interested in developing a cancer profile, and invented the Type C personality. In the '70's, I began a specialty in treating cancer patients psychoanalytically, and I myself touted the Type C personality.
For instance, I reported in my book, Psychotherapeutic Treatment of Cancer Patients, one study by Caroline Thomas conducted in 1946 found that there were striking similarities between people who developed cancer and those who committed suicide.
For more details about the traits of Type A, B and C personalities, please click HERE.
This is all interesting stuff. Everyone likes to know about themselves. But, there are two problems with all this interesting stuff. One is that after the initial 1950 study of Friedman and Rosenman, hardy any other researchers have been able to validate their findings. And secondly, what's never been appreciated is that the tobacco industry was a major funder of research on stress -- both Selye's work as well as the Type A personality. In other words, the concept of stress causing disease is to a large extent a construct of the tobacco industry. They were interested in promoting the concept of stress because it allowed them to argue that it was stress - not cigarettes - that was to blame for heart disease and cancer.
Since Selye, research on stress has exploded. We now know that stress can damage, but we also know that stress can, and often does, benefit people -- in terms of health, fertility, anti-aging and longevity.
And this brings me to hormesis. The hormesis effect is essentially a non-lethal stressor. It's a stressor that creates health and longevity, but what makes the concept specific is the notion that DOSAGE counts. Hormesis is a stressor that has beneficial effects at low dosage, and at a higher dosage, it would be injurious, even lethal.
I am practicing hormesis when I drink water. Or when I eat. Or when I don't eat. Or when I exercise. All these - in larger does than we typically use - will make us sick. In smaller doses, they are life sustaining, life restorative.
As a for instance, my left foot is stronger than my right, and my left arm has greater mobility than my right. There's a simple explanation. But it may surprise you. I broke my left foot about 3 years ago, and my left shoulder about 8 years ago. In other words, I have better functionality now in the limbs that were broken. This demonstrates the hormesis effect.
THE HORMESIS EFFECT
*Confers recoverability and resiliency
*Creates more strength
*Creates better health
*Gives more fertility
*Gives longer life
So, again, hormesis is the application of a stressor that results in recoverability, and creates more strength, better health, more fertility, and longer life. It's a sophisticated scientific concept that has a plethora of research behind it, whose basic meaning is: If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger (in the immortal words of Nietzsche). We all know it.
It is the theory behind the effectiveness of immunizations, vaccinations and homeopathy.
But, we tend to not think about DELIBERATELY creating a stress effect IN ORDER to make us stronger. In other words, we don't USE the effect consciously and intentionally to get stronger, healthier, make more babies, and live longer.
But we can.
How can we use the hormesis effect in the deliberate application of stressing agents to create better health?
DELIBERATE APPLICATIONS OF THE HORMESIS EFFECT:
*Not eating plants
(in fact, not eating anything at all - also known as fasting)
THE REMAINDER OF JANE'S SPEECH:
How to Use Deliberate Application of the Hormesis Effect
WILL BE SENT AS THE NEXT MUSINGS.