So today I wanted to have a quick ramble about a thing called Hormesis. Hormesis revolves around the concept that certain systems of the body will adapt to, and even thrive from different types of shock, volatility and stressors. Hormesis is responsible for the adaption you experience after things like exercise, intermittent fasting, vaccinations, and homeopathic remedies. All of these contain various ‘stressors’ which challenge the body and in turn strengthen its’ adaptive response.
This particularly holds for our immune systems, which need to be challenged continuously in order to ‘strengthen’ and improve our resistance to things like allergens, viruses and infections- this is for most part the reason that we advise to let young children (within reason) eat dirt, get muddy, put leaves and flowers next to their skin, and why some of the latest research is showing that the ‘third world’ Hunter Gatherer populations of the world have some of the best immune systems we have charted- purely because of the diversity in their food and environments, and lack of modern hygiene (as we know it).
When our immune system is not challenged enough- maybe due to a lack of variety in the diet, the overkill of sterilization, or the lack of contact with environmental stimuli, its’ activity can be misdirected and can turn on itself.
What I find fascinating, is the growing bodies of research which are pretty much suggesting what anyone could tell you if they took a big step back and viewed the whole picture; That humans evolved to be a part of their environment, and not to live separately or control it.
What do I mean by this? Well.. to put it simply, we have evolved over many thousands of years to co-exist with the bugs in and around us. The generation of ‘germ theory’ is slowing being locked up as another silly part of our Medical history, and the proverbial pendulum is swinging so far back the other way that we are now in a time where fecal transplants and parasitic worms are being inoculated into the chronically sick, with results varying but looking very promising in terms of ‘recovery’ from things like Chron’s and Celiac diseases.
Interestingly, the entire Naturopathic philosophy was built around the principles of Hormesis with some of the original treatments included Nutrition (which largely included fermented/probiotic foods), Hot and Cold Therapy (to stimulate the immune response), Water treatment, Detoxification and Homeopathy. So it stands to reason that perhaps we Naturopaths may have had it right all along? Perhaps the human body really can grow stronger and ‘heal’ itself if stimulated in the correct manner?
The next decade or so is going to be a fascinating time for the areas of Health and Medicine, but I stand fast that my motto in clinic “If in doubt, take it back to the way nature intended” will shine brighter than ever before, as the research continues to remind us that it’s the fundamentals of diet and lifestyle which matter the most to our overall health.