Hormesis, a wildly contentious matter

Posted: July 17, 2012 by tchannon in cosmic rays, Energy, government, Incompetence, media, Nuclear power, Politics

This post is by the co-moderator and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tallbloke nor any other.

Image courtesy Wikipedia, one of a variety of shapes in an under researched subject,

“Definition of HORMESIS
: a theoretical phenomenon of dose-response relationships in which something (as a heavy metal or ionizing radiation) that produces harmful biological effects at moderate to high doses may produce beneficial effects at low doses”

— Merriam-webster dictionary. That is a poor definition and a political definition. It omits to mention the effect is common and in benign situations.

The effect is also one of the roots of homoeopathy where opposite effects are claimed at low doses, however this is taken into fairy land by the idiot faction, through to zero dose.

I’ve also come across a similar inverse effect mentioned in herbalism.

A nice instance of crazy opposite effects, in this case it seems individual related is Ritilin, a stimulant. “Ritalin tablets contain the active ingredient methylphenidate hydrochloride, which is a type of medicine called a stimulant. It is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.” — netdoctor

That is a crazy statement! It omits to mention the intent is for adults but is also used for the opposite effect mainly in children.

This is also in a way related to immunisation where exposure brings a protecting reaction. Keep in mind early explorers wiping out societies with infections where the explorers had immunity to their own bugs.

Dosage is an interesting subject and ought to be a highly and thoroughly researched subject. A lot of it is not, I go further, a lot of it pointedly not researched.

This is common with plenty of other fields.

A number of times on the Talkshop the subject of nuclear power has come up, including in articles and safety gets mentioned yet skated around. One of the hot issues is Hormesis, put bluntly many claim there is a linear effect between dosage of something and human illness or death.

I first started work in the nuclear research industry, which gives me an interest and perhaps more knowledge than Joe Public. Within the industry like so many area there is questionable “everyone knows”.

Personally I think the fear of ionising radiation is overblown but a fear from contamination does need caution… the media tend to be ignorant of the distinction as do the public.

So far as I know the actual evidence of harm from ionising radiation at low doses is at best very bad, strongly suggesting we evolved with radiation, which we did, and we tolerate it.

I am now going to point at a “dodgy” source of information where I would be very interested in opinions on whether what it says is accurate, because if so this is of great importance and would be damning.


Image from the pdf


Please keep comments polite and don’t go over the top or you will be snipped without warning.

Repeat, posted by the co-moderator.

  1. John Andrews says:

    See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2477708/ about the Co-60 contaminated apartments in Taiwan. Apparently significant exposure to gamma radiation improved the overall health of the occupants.

  2. Tim,
    Thanks for the post. One of my favorite subjects. Typo in the heading:
    Hormesis not Homesis!

  3. w.w.wygart says:

    That’s it? I was hoping for something more. As ‘Joe public’ myself, you haven’t gone any further with the subject than what I’ve picked up elsewhere. I see you’ve managed to attract Clotida Jamcracker to the Talkshop though [interesting lady, mother of several]. I had her visit my blog a few days ago. Something’s up with that.


  4. Eric Fithian says:

    My favorite example comes from two maps I saw over 20 years ago.
    One was a map which showed some sort of average prevalence of Radon by US state. Iowa was the highest.
    Another showed the rate of lung cancer deaths by state. Iowa was lowest….
    Radon, which is produced by radioactive decay, also decays. The hazard is that it will decay from a gas to a solid whilst in the lungs, thus depositing radioactive particles in the victim.
    The old claim, based on those linear-hazard models, was that Radon caused 50,000 excess deaths in the US from lung cancer. I don’t think they have ever found those excess deaths…!

  5. Tim, thanks. Very interesting.

    Spelling: HORMESIS has an “R”.

    A curious misspelling, because it signalled “homeopathy” to me when I read it, and then it became clear that this (under-researched) phenomenon does indeed have some resemblance to the principle of homeopathy. I won’t go into that again here. Swimming upstream to “scientific consensus” needs well-researched answers at my fingertips to all the common objections: (a) the reported presence of an energetic effect in the absence of any molecular trace of the substance; (b) refutation of the Nature and the (decade later) BBC reports on the work of Prof Benveniste; (c) study of the work of Prof Madeleine Ennis; (d) evidence from vets; (e) “follow the money” (f) studies from “within” homeopathy; (g) etc.

    I have my work cut out with Graeff for the mo.

  6. tchannon says:

    Typo. Blind leading the cited.

    nmrmirnmm which causes a lot of grief given poor fonts and graphics drivers.

  7. Tenuc says:

    Interesting research on high level radiation effects amongst survivors of the Chernobyl disaster…

    At Issue: Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders in Persons Exposed to Ionizing Radiation as a Result of the Chernobyl Accident

    The problem of schizophrenia spectrum disorders in individuals exposed to ionizing radiation is under discussion. The data obtained relating an increase of schizophrenia incidence in the Chernobyl EZ personnel support our hypothesis that ionizing radiation is an environmental
    trigger that can actualize a predisposition to schizophrenia or indeed cause symptomatic schizophrenia.

    The development of schizophrenia spectrum disorders in over-irradiated Chernobyl survivors may be the consequence of the radiation-induced left frontotemporal limbic dysfunction, which may be the neurophysiological basis of schizophrenia-like symptoms in individuals exposed to ionizing radiation in doses more than 0.30 Sv or 30 rem, including ARS patients. Thus, those exposed to 0.30 Sv (30 rem) or more are at higher risk of schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

    Prenatally irradiated children in the Chernobyl accident, especially those exposed at the second trimester of gestation, are at higher risk for schizophrenia too (Loganovskaja and Loganovsky 1997, 1998; Nyagu et al.). An integration of international efforts to discuss and organize collaborative studies in this field is of great importance for both clinical medicine and neuroscience.

    Full paper available free here…

    Click to access 751.full.pdf

  8. tchannon says:

    I don’t accept the paper, was going to do a fairly comprehensive take apart but what is the point.

  9. Brian H says:

    Another typo lurks:
    “One of the hot issues is Homesis”
    If you have a sis at home, then keep an eye on her?.

    [ grrr… thanks, had to go over and over, still couldn’t see it. ]
    An interesting observation (no cite, sorry) is that the classic fastidious plastic covered furniture, spotless and disinfected everything housekeepers are subject to far more illnesses and infections (proving to themselves just how dangerous and dirty the world is, no doubt!)

    Immune system education in early life: infants and tots in families with dogs get far fewer colds and infections.

    A medical suggestion related to the above: infants should consume about a teaspoon of dirt per day.

  10. Curious George says:

    There is a research program, see http://lowdose.energy.gov

  11. kuhnkat says:

    I don’t have the time right now, but, these two articles should have enough information to find a study germ free effects.



    Here is another study on mice and gut biota in the same vein:


    Makes you wonder if the procedure of keeping new born babies in a hospital nursery for a few days may not be an issue.

  12. Brian H says:

    A blog post here: http://bravenewclimate.com/is-the-olympic-dam-mine-a-special-case
    concerns a proposed uranium open pit mine, and fears of its dust. I suggested tweaking people with an announcement that the Hormesis Hypothesis had been confirmed, and as it had been found Australians were irradiation-deficient, tailings dust from the mine was to be air-dropped every 6 mo. or so over all cities, towns, and ranches.

  13. Michael Hart says:

    It’s not really true to say that dosage/dosimetry isn’t a highly researched subject: Pharma does it all the time, and it is required by the regulators of course.

    Non-linear dose-response curves are ubiquitous in biochemistry and conferences are organized on the subject. Bell-shaped, “S-shaped”, linear-threshold, etc., crop up all the time. In many cell-based assays you have to make an educated guess at the beginning of the assay in order to capture the doses that will give you the interesting [and physiologically relevant] part of the curve.
    But if you don’t know what shape the curve is….

    Then we arrive at the old problem of extrapolating beyond the range of the experimental data, and the eternal debate about whether it is valid to extrapolate linearly down to zero concentration when it is effectively impossible to ever verify experimentally, and other phenomena become dominant in the observed results.

    The statistical solution requires ever larger numbers of subjects [cells, mice, humans, whatever] to measure an [apparently] ever diminishing effect. This is one reason why some ‘new’ side effects may not be observed in a new drug until it actually reaches the general population: it was simply not feasible to have a large enough clinical trial. Add in different genetic and environmental responses and the problems only increase….

    Immunology has long known that different doses of the same allergen/immunogen can produce paradoxical responses depending not only on the dosage, but also the method of administration. At the molecular level, a T-cell can respond to only a few molecules of it’s cognate antigen. Some authors claim as low as one molecule. Those cells may become activated and then multiply until their number is large enough to produce the various, possibly conflicting, effects. “Low dose tolerance” is used in the treatment of some allergies, and may yet provide effective treatments for autoimmune diseases such as MS. [In fact my Ph.D. thesis was mainly based on designing and synthesizing protein/peptide-mimetics with a view towards that goal].

    But there is still a lot of trial and error in the production of vaccines because of the complexity of the immune system, and it’s a painfully slow process. The heaviest book I ever bought [circa. year 2000] was an ‘Immunologists Bible’. At the beginning, the introduction by a famous immunologist started with the sentence: “It used to be said that Immunologists knew everything, and understood nothing…”