On the Collective Insights podcast, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Dr. Dan Pardi, Daniel Schmachtenberger, and Dr. Dan Stickler share their insights on the difference between beneficial and damaging stress. We answer "What is hormesis?" and "How can we effectively manage stress?" Read on to understand how certain kinds of stress actually benefit the body.
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Aubrey de Grey, PhD
What Hormesis Really Is
"Hormesis is a word people often use too broadly, so I want to make sure that what it really is is well understood. Hormesis is all about the perpetuation of a defense, a homeostatic defense, beyond the period when it is actually needed.
For example, there's one very well understood phenomenon which I think should be included under the banner of hormesis that it normally isn't, and that is the adaptive immune system. When we get an infection, of course we have this vast proliferation of T-cells and B-cells to cognate for the infection, and they overwhelmingly eliminate it. Then after that, most of those cells die, but some of them are retained in memory cells, so that we can respond more rapidly to the same infection if we get it again. To my mind that adaptation is really a type of hormesis.
It's kind of the same thing with, let's say, temperature. Supposing one has heat shock. The defenses come up, chaperone protein that are involved in maintaining other proteins in the correct three-dimensional shape, so that they don't misfold and aggregate, and stop doing their jobs, and so on. Heat stroke proteins often continue to be expressed at a high level after the temperature shock, or whatever shock it was that stimulated them, has gone away. So that's what hormesis is really about." -Aubrey de Grey, PhD on the Collective Insights podcast (Episode releases 3/25/20)
Hormesis is all about the perpetuation of a defense, a homeostatic defense, beyond the period when it is actually needed.
Dan Pardi, PhD - Deeper Sleep Hacking II
Sleep and Hormetic Stress
"We don’t have a specific sleep number that is infungible, like I get 8 hours exactly every night, but our body is always processing stress, whether it’s psychological or physiological. Sometimes we need more sleep and sometimes less, depending on where we are in that moment. If you think about very, very healthy people, take for example young athletes, and particularly the work with Stanford athletes conducted by Cheri D. Mah, and you see that those people don’t need less sleep. They need more.
Part of being healthy is enduring light stressors that, like we see with cold exposure, heat exposure, and even xenohormetic compounds from food. These are things that actually will up-regulate your endogenous detoxification systems by eating them. We tend to think, “Oh, the vegetables are really good for us. They provide vitamins, minerals.” It’s actually these other vital nutrients that cause a little bit of stress to the body, which then keeps it stronger. It’s like getting a suntan, a little bit of exposure will stimulate the production of vitamin D, but too much exposure will burn you. Being healthy is not avoiding stress, but it’s actually getting the right amount of stress on a regular basis across a variety of different domains that your body then recovers from adequately.
People that are getting a lot of physical activity actually perform much better with additional sleep. Whether it’s shooting accuracy, sprint speed, reaction time, or their mood. When someone feels like they are getting a great amount of sleep(say 8 hours), and they're told to get more(say 9 hours), then they perform better. That’s the trend of the data right now." -Dan Pardi, PhD on the Collective Insights podcast
Being healthy is not avoiding stress, but it’s actually getting the right amount of stress on a regular basis.
Daniel Schmachtenberger - Deeper Sleep Hacking II
Hormesis Examples & Definition
"Understanding hormesis is a critical topic. Hormesis in any adaptive system that has an ability to adapt to certain kinds of stresses that it actually requires stressing that adaptive capacity to maintain it. If you stress it more in the right ways, the adaptive capacity can increase. If I lift a weight that’s heavier than I can easily lift, the muscle will grow in response. If I’m exposed to a little bit more cold than I can normally process, my body will get used to more cold. If I go to way too much cold, then I just get frostbite or hypothermia. If I lift way too much weight, I just rip a tendon. If I hold a weight and don’t ever put it down for a long time, then I’m also going to get damaged.
The questions are, “How much stress?”, “What kinds of stress?”, “What duration?”, and then “How much rest and repair to actually up-regulate the system, as opposed to the kind of stress that just damages the system?” I think it’s both a factor of how much stress relative to the current capacity, which is like in yoga, you go to the point in the stretch where you feel a stretch. If you aren’t there yet, you’re not working, but if you push too hard, you just rip a hamstring.
There is a range that is actually hormetic, and then if you stay in that stretch for four hours, you’re going to be damaged. You need to do the right amount of it, and then you need the right amount of chill and repair time. So if we’re exposed to a pathogen, like kids getting to play in dirt, or being exposed to microbiome, it’s actually hormetic for us and producing antibodies. If we’re exposed to a pathogen that our body actually can’t process; for example, we don’t want to expose ourselves to a little bit of HIV or Hep C, or Ebola. Even if we’re exposed to a pathogen chronically, like mold in our house, or dysbiosis in our gut, so we have a continuous exposure or subclinical parasitic infection or a bacterial infection, which is actually much more common than traditional medicine that only looked at acute infection and taught, this is obviously not hormetic because the body is not recovering.
If someone’s had a low-grade infection for 20 years, it doesn’t mean that it stressed the system and it responded. It just means it overwhelmed the system and the system just resettled to having an infection. I think that’s a really key thing for people to understand the difference of, “Is this a kind of stress I want to expose myself to in the right pulsed doses or is this something I actually want to get rid of my exposure to?”" -Daniel Schmachtenberger on the Collective Insights Podcast
Hormesis in any adaptive system that has an ability to adapt to certain kinds of stresses that it actually requires stressing that adaptive capacity to maintain it.
Dan Stickler, MD - What are Peptides? Their Role in Health & Aging
Utilizing Stress to Boost Health
"Stress is a requirement for healthy longevity. You can quote me on that. You have to be challenging the system constantly for it to adapt in a very positive way. We know that living systems in a non-stress environment have a short life. They have higher reproductivity and a short longevity. A human system or a living system that’s exposed to low grade stressors will have prolonged longevity and somewhat diminished reproductive capabilities.
We have to look at our cells as communities. We are interacting. We have the organism, which is the--it’s like looking at the world population and then we have these different continents, different communities within that, and then even micro-communities within that. We need to start considering that our bodies are very similar to that kind of approach. The idea is you want to create a system-wide health, rather than an isolated community that is healthy and neglecting the rest." -Dan Stickler, MD on the Collective Insights podcast
You have to be challenging the system constantly for it to adapt in a very positive way.
Resources for Managing Stress:
Blog: How to Biohack Your Way to Less Stress
Blog: 12 Science-Backed Ways to Manage Stress
Podcast: Stress Reduction, Psychedelics, and Breathwork with Dr. Andrew Weil
Blog: Box Breathing: A Breathing Technique to Focus the Mind
Blog: Hormetic Ingredients and Dosing Range