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In the Wall Street Journal, Sharon Begley writes about Edward Calabrese's work on the Hormesis Effect: Scientists Revisit Idea That a Little Poison Could Be Beneficial:

Edward Calabrese still has the peppermint plants that changed his life. Or at least he has the plants' descendants, propagated from cuttings over almost 40 years.

Working with their ancestor one day as a college student, he spritzed the plant with the common herbicide Phosfon, planning to measure how much the poison stunted the plant's growth. But instead of shriveling up, the Phosfon-treated plant grew some 40% taller and leafier than untreated plants.

The herbicide had been mistakenly overdiluted, and thanks to that accident, Ed Calabrese rediscovered a paradox of toxicology that had been in the doghouse since the 1930s: Low doses of a poison can be not merely harmless, but actually beneficial. . . .

To be sure, the benefits are in the range of only 20% to 60% better growth or fewer tumors or greater longevity. That makes hormetic effects hard to distinguish from chance.

Hormesis is winning converts, however, as scientists decipher the mechanisms that underlie it. Organisms respond to poisons by unleashing molecular repair crews. Exposed to a heavy metal such as mercury, for example, cells produce toxic-clean-up proteins called metallothioneins. Exposed to X-rays that tear DNA, cells produce enzymes that stitch it up.

Sometimes, the organism overcompensates. It churns out more clean-up proteins or more seamstress enzymes than needed to repair the immediate damage. That leaves cells with extra defense against the slings and arrows of everyday life, such as natural DNA breakage.

This research will come as welcome news to the chemical industry and other polluters. This is too fascilly framed. And I think the fascile message is what the WSJ's readers will take away from this.

While I'm willing to grant that some toxins may have a Hormesis effect associated with them, I also wonder how many of the toxicologists doing this sort of reseach would be willing to indulge themselves at this Japanese spa:

The Hormesis Effect and the benefits of Misasa hot springs.

Receiving a small amount of weak radiations such as radon stimulates the body's cells, revitalizing them and developing capillaries. This renewal improves immunological defenses and natural healing capacities. That's what is called the 'Hormesis Effect'.

Moreover, when you breath radon, it improves your anti-oxidation functions which was made clear by the results of an inquiry engaged in Misasaonsen. The anti-oxidation functions eliminate active oxygen , which is said to be the cause of aging and a lot of common everyday life diseases. Radon also activates the SOD anti-oxidation material work of oxygen elimination. For that reason, you can expect that prevents diseases and arteriosclerosis.

The radon inhalation process.

Radon is an element which appears when radium decays, in normal temperatures it takes the form of a gas. Once hot water has emerged from the ground, it evaporates and disperses in the air. It is inhalated and penetrates the lungs, from the lungs it goes to the blood and then into all the body's cells. Since radon radiation (rays) can barely pass the barrier of the skin, it penetrates into the body while breathing, goes from the lungs to the blood, and then stimulates all the body's cells.

Don't all jump in at once!

In any case, given the average person's body burden of toxins, I'm sure we've all had our minimum daily requirement -- and then some.