Hormesis, Oxidation, and Assorted Ramblings: The first of a series of barely coherent rambles

This article is just a sort of ramble on my part; I need to get some thoughts off the top of my head and out of the way so I can do some more science, but it would be best to not put these thoughts into the theoretical woodchipper like I do after non-compulsory courses that I successfully passed and thus conveniently ‘forget’ (Hello, introductory foreign affairs…)

I made this article in about 35 minutes or so, no editing. I know some people would like to hear me ramble, and the below is a rambling of what I truly believe. That being said, it may not be refined or even accurate. Quoting something I say below as ‘the truth’ rather than ‘some assorted points vaguely pointing to the truth’ is deserving of a kick in the nuts and or the female ‘punt’ equivalent.


Oxidation: Anti-oxidants, Pro-oxidants; neither bad, neither good

I don’t get why people have to give alignments to compounds. Nothing in the body is good and nothing is bad, or at least you need a ton of qualifiers thrown in there before you can authoritatively say its bad.


Anti-oxidants are good

Is a shitty and simplistic statement, too vague. However:

Anti-oxidant compounds (place names here) seem to be good for cardiovascular disease as they inhibit further glycation of haemoglobin and thus reduce the risk of artherosclerotic attacks and subsequent death.

Is much better. Something is good because of (mechanism) which prevents (something known as bad); death is pretty bad.

Why do I like those qualifiers? Because studies like these [1] [2] being worded in such a way that ‘oxidation is bad, exercise causes oxidation, thus anti-ing this oxidation is good!’ leads to results which, in all honesty, are contrary to our best interests. Yes, anti-oxidants before exercise reduce exercise-induced oxidation (duh…) but this isn’t a good thing some times. [3] [4] Anti-oxidants can reduce benefits gained from exercise, because oxidation mediates beneficial changes to exercise. I think this study, merely by the title, drives the point home for some. “The role of antioxidant vitamins and enzymes in the prevention of exercise-induced muscle damage.” Wait, don’t I want to damage muscles in order for them to recover.

Yup; that’s kinda the whole point of hypertrophy.

For those interested, the largest body of literature (that I know of) on this topic looks at ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) and Nitric Oxide (which is a potent oxidant, you know… oxide) and how they beneficially modulate blood pressure. The beneficial changes in blood pressure from exercise are abolished if you preload with anti-oxidants and prevent these oxidants from doing their job.

So how do I sum up this rambling?

By seguing into the next topic


Hormesis is a concept of toxicology, built upon the ‘dose is the poison’ and then applied a bit.

Every molecule, compound, or (more pertinent to readers of this blog) supplement will have the dose that helps you and the dose that kills you. This is just the way biochemistry works, its a scale of ‘too low of an effect to be noticeable’ up to ‘the effect is noticeable’ up to ‘shit, too much of an effect and now my body is screwed up in some way’.

Fish oil can either do nothing, reduce blood pressure via acting as an anti-thrombotic, or it can then later cause you to hemorrhage from too much anti-clotting. Vitamin K (or more demonstrability, Warfarin) have this same sort of spectrum, and are easy to use to show this relation.

Thing is, toxins are merely compounds that, in doses that are normally or historically consumed, are in that last stage. If you lower the dose of the toxin, the effect could very well be beneficial.

In toxicology, these relations are typically plotted on a Hormetic Curve, or a ‘J-Curve’. Kinda like J-Pop, but with more science and less pitch. (Below image courtesy of this study; Nrf2 is just a promoter that transcribes for many anti-oxidant defense enzymes; I think its the main control point for the codon’s Antioxidant Response Element (ARE) but don’t quote me on that)


That little blip above the line, for toxins, is ‘the small dose where it can exert an appreciable effect’. For supplements, the peak of that small blip is ‘the active dose of the compound’. Things near the zero point are just too underdosed to do anything, and regardless of the compound below the line is bad. (Note: By bad, I do not necessarily mean damaging. Many compounds damage, but the cumulative effect seen in the body is beneficial. Rhodiola Rosea may work this way, so does Alpha-Lipoic Acid. They induce a bit of damage and the body overreacts the anti-oxidant defense systems).

Trying to collect my thoughts into bullets

I guess my whole rambling can be summed up as:

  • Society and Media labeling alignments (good, bad) to compounds is probably the most retarded and backwards thing to ever hit nutritional biochemistry. The sooner one can drop this perspective, the better.
  • A lot of compounds you see on the market actually damage you, but due to Hormesis the overall effects are seen as beneficial. You know what else does this? Exercise and sorta kinda Vegetables.

And now for the controversial bullet point that this entire article is about, and that has been circling my head for the last while…

Drum Roll

  • Inflammation and Oxidation are the mediators of change. If you are healthy and want to change your body, embrace them and don’t purposefully use anti-oxidant supplements and anti-inflammatory supplements to prevent these reactions from occurring. If you don’t want to significantly change your body, feel free to disregard this advice.
  • Don’t take ‘a bit of knowledge’ about Hormesis and straight-line hemlock; that shit will kill you.


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  1. phrakture says:

    There’s an entire blog that focuses on the concept of hormesis – that stress response is everything http://gettingstronger.org/

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