Posted by: Chris Maloney | May 26, 2012

Dr. Andrew Weil Recommends Poison, In Small Doses.

Illustration of an example hormetic dose response.

Illustration of an example hormetic dose response. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr. Andrew Weil: Can Poison Be Good For You? Understanding Hormesis.

Dr. Weil tackles the idea of hormesis, that low doses of toxic substances may be good for you.

If you’re searching for a word that sounds like hormesis, perhaps emesis would do.  Emesis is vomiting, which is also very good for the body when done in very small quantities.

But I like the parallel, because when you start talking about giving people nasty stuff to make them stronger, then some of them will vomit.  The idea that in our current polluted environment we might want to introduce into ourselves some more toxins is pretty wonky.

Dr. Weil tries to make some parallels with the rich colors of vegetables being toxic to insects and possibly mildly toxic to humans.  That sort of negative one-dimensional view of vegetables does no one any favors.  We need to eat food, and our bodies do some wonderful things with the colorful bioflavonoids in vegetables.  They may have begun as a mild toxin, but we’ve turned them into incredibly nurturing substances.

Then Dr. Weil makes the claim for pharmaceuticals, noting that drugs can be overdosed on when taken in too large a quantity.  So a lower dose medication is possibly a toxin in the body stimulating the body to grow stronger.  Given that most drugs have serious side effects in a portion of the population at the standard therapeutic dose, I’d say they are toxic enough.  But the drugs suppress a body response and rarely allow the body to strengthen itself.  Most drugs cause a rebound response if the patient stops them suddenly, but that is more life threatening than supportive of health.

If anything positive can be said for the idea of hormesis, it is that our bodies are resilient and can withstand a staggering amount of abuse before they fail.  But anyone thinking that this in any way justifies the abuse or makes the abuse positive in any way risks becoming an apologist for the polluters and industrial contaminators of the world.  Hormesis is a fact of life, but I’d like to see less of it rather than more.



  1. I understand working healthy or even damaged muscle tissue to improve blood flow and to stimulate a healing response. I also remember hearing that folks would expose themselves to small doses of rattlesnake venom to build up a tolerance. I suppose that’s useful if you handle rattlesnakes. I have also heard theories of bacterial and viral exposure can strengthen the immune system. So, I get why someone may go down that path. That being said, I spend a lot of time considering how to decrease my exposure to toxins. Their in my foods, my cleaners, my yard and my make-up. My body has enough toxic stress to deal with.

  2. We also have sublingual immunotherapy, which is the application of an allergic substance under the tongue in tiny doses to build up a gradual tolerance. So if you want to accomplish something (resolving allergies, having stronger muscles) then it makes sense to expose yourself to the possible damage.

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