There has been a buzz around dietary restriction, intermittent fasting, and use of heat and cold therapies in the nutrition world. Have you been listening to people go crazy over using cryotherapy, cold showers, and steam rooms to help when they are training for big athletic competitions?  What is the basis of these people doing this seemingly crazy things? It is based on Hormesis. 

The theory of hormesis was found 130 years ago by Hugo Shultz. You may know the name from the world of Homeopathy. He used the hermetic effect as the basis of his theory for Homeopathy. Though the theory of hormesis is widely accepted by science, Homeopathy has always been a bit less accepted in the mainstream scientific community and because of this, research on hormesis was halted for many years. Recently, interest in hormesis has resurfaced.  

Hormesis is the theory that a certain level of cell stress is important to help our cells function at their best. Hormesis began to be understood in early research on radiation for X ray and chemotherapy technology. It was found that if you remove all radiation from a cell’s environment, the cells do not function as well as if there is a very mild baseline amount of radiation. It is thought this is because our cells have evolved in an environment where that mild radiation is present. 

Some forms of stress are important. If your cells are fat and happy all the time and they have food and all the things they need, they never feel like they need to go into repair mode. It is thought that since we were hunter gatherers, we evolved to have times of famine and stress, and our bodies learned to use some of that environmental stress in productive ways. 

So if you are stressed you may want to consider adding a little more stress. An ice bath, a cold shower, or a little fasting is thought to wake up your cells and tell them to get back to work. Of course, always check with your doctor first to be sure these things are okay for you.

In the summer I take my boys out to the kiddie pool, fill it with cold hose water and we go sit in the pool and chant Hormesis! Hormesis! I love the exhilaration as the blood warms my body back to temperature and there is a feeling of relaxation that I always gain after a challenge like that. If you prefer a more private experience you can always do an ice bath, or go to your local steam room or sauna. If you are lucky enough to have a hot tub you can use that in the winter and jump from snowbank to hot tub for double the fun. Cold exposure has also been shown to help produce brown fat in the body that will help your body burn more calories. They find brown fat in large amounts on people and animals who live in cold environments. Infants are born with a high concentration of this brown fat as well. If you are not bold enough to submerge in a full ice bath you can try an icepack between your shoulder blades a few times a week. That is one of the areas where our brown fat is most dense. 

I am a person who knows a lot of stress in my life and I like to think about hormesis when times get trying. Though we always want to balance out our stress, and find the time to relax and recover, I find comfort in the idea that even my stress can help me find strength and regeneration. I always tell my kids “if you want big muscles you have to work to tear the muscle tissue so it grows back larger.”