I recently had a conversation with a retired X-Ray specialist physicist who claimed that radiation in low doses was actually good for you, citing the phenomena called “hormesis”. Incredulous, I looked up hormesis in Google and sure enough, there are thousands of studies showing that all sorts of toxins at low doses, including radiation, produce a beneficial effect biologically.
Toxicologist Edward Calabrese of the University of Massachusettes at Amherst describes hormesis as an adaptive response to stress. From Discover article Is Radiation Good For You?:
The general principle behind hormesis, Calabrese believes, is homeostasis: the tendency of an organism to keep itself on an even keel. We respond to a rise in temperature by sweating. We respond to invading microbes by cranking up the immune system. Hormesis occurs when our bodies overcompensate, reaching a new and healthier equilibrium. When the immune system “remembers” foreign proteins, for instance, it can gear up quicker to cope with similar challenges, and the organism becomes more resistant to disease. Friedrich Nietzsche wasn’t far off the mark, hormesis researchers say: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Some would even cite weightlifting, running, and character-building experiences as examples of stresses that produce hormesis.
The determining factor is dose. At a low dose, toxins can be beneficial, and a high dose, detrimental. The trick is identifying the point at which something ceases to be detrimental and becomes beneficial.
As an avid follower of natural, holistic health trends, I’m not too surprised I haven’t heard about hormesis until now. No one wants to admit that the pollutants we’ve been fighting for years may actually be good for us, albeit in small doses. We are afraid that accepting this may open the door for more polluting by chemical companies and a relaxation of hard fought-and-won environmental regulations. Also there is contradictory data showing that certain toxins mimic hormones and that low doses of these toxins disrupt the endocrine system. See Scientific American article Nietzche’s Toxicology: Whatever doesn’t kill you might make you stronger.
For years I’ve been resisting all non-critical X-rays and make a stink at the dentist’s office whenever they recommend one. Perhaps I’ve been worrying over nothing all along.