Author Topic: Hormesis vs damage  (Read 2132 times)

Offline shadowfoot

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Hormesis vs damage
« on: December 07, 2011, 03:19:43 AM »
A friend recently brought up an interesting point with regards to adaptation. She commented because I was able to bring very hot rolls straight out of the oven to the table, rolls that were so hot she had trouble taking out of the oven. Basically, I was able to tolerate the heat for 10-20 times longer than she was. It is something I am able to do because I don't like using pot holders to take baked potatoes out of the oven and for about a year now have been having them several times a week. So, naturally, my ability to tolerate hot things has increased. Good example of hormesis, I thought. Her comment was this: you shouldn't damage yourself to the point where you can't feel anything. Now, I have no inadequacy of feeling in my hands and do not worry about that happening. But it did bring up an interesting point that I have been mulling over since: when is something hormetic and when does is simply cause damage? For example, too much loud noise can permanently damage hearing.

I think the duration and intensity of the stimulus are very important here. Todd has written about how too strong of a stimulus can have the opposite of the desired effect. When I take rolls or potatoes out of the oven, I never carry them for longer than I am comfortable. When it gets uncomfortable, I put them down. However, I can see how if you held them for longer you could burn yourself or possibly damage the sensation in the hand. But, depending on the stimulus, how possible is it to cause damage over the long term? For example, smoking is generally really bad in the very long term.

Here are some other things that people have commented on me having a high tolerance for: hot liquid such as soup or tea (both my mother and grandfather on her side do this even more so than me), salt (I think this is related to my poor sense of smell -- when I really work on that, I tend to put less salt on. This may also be related to childhood salt levels (getting used to it certain amounts) and genetics (my mother has low blood pressure and has been told by her doctor to eat more salt. Perhaps I am similar and my body is telling me something?)), cold (I have cultivated this over the years by not having warm enough coats and by taking cold showers), and hot weather (running in 90 degree heat, maybe?).

Like the issue with hot rolls, I do tend to have what seem like poorer senses. I often don't notice the temperature in the room, that something is too hot or cold, or that I put too much salt in something for someone else's preferences. To me, these things are generally good things. It means I can go though life without as much worry and pain as other people. But where is the line between strength against adversity and numbness to it? What do you think?

-shadowfoot

P.S. Sorry for the insane use of parentheses in paragraph three and the overall length.

Offline Anima

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Re: Hormesis vs damage
« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2011, 09:31:06 AM »
Very interesting post.  Perhaps the definition of "damage" depends on your goals.  For example, someone who does a lot of abrasive work with his or her hands certainly appreciates calluses because they prevent blisters, while a knitter like me would consider the calluses damage because they would dull my appreciation of my crafts.  I once worked in a noisy environment where humans had to wear hearing protection.  There were a bunch of feral cats who lived there, and they were all deaf.  Their hearing was certainly damaged, but it allowed them to live comfortably in their environment, so it could be characterized as an adaptation.

I think I would call any irreversible adaptation damage, but, then again, there are some adaptations that no sane person would want to reverse.  I'm thinking of the Buddhists monks who change their neurology by meditating in isolation for so long that they no longer experience boredom or suffering in the absence of pleasurable sensations or experiences.  The changes to their brains are likely irreversible, but I doubt that they see any downside to this.  Likewise, your ability to remain comfortable at a wide range of temperatures doesn't seem to have a downside.  I'm very sensitive to cold, and the only advantage that it imparts is that I seem to tolerate heat better than other people.  I would love to be insensitive to both.  (I'm working on that by keeping myself always slightly uncomfortable this winter.)

Offline shadowfoot

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Re: Hormesis vs damage
« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2011, 12:09:40 AM »
I was thinking along similar lines. Basically that, what I was referring to as "damage" is actually a kind of accommodation, albeit a difficult or impossible to reverse one. I guess then each adaption must be viewed individually and the question must become, "Do I want this?" I could train myself to be resistant to loud noises, but that might damage my ability to hear quieter noises in the future, and outcome that is not appealing to me. However, someone who can't go into the city because it is too loud and hurts their ears, might consider trying to increase their tolerance.

I suppose it comes down to a balance between sensitivity and numbness. One does not want to be too sensitive, as such a condition would make life difficult, but one also does not want to be too numb to sensation, lest they miss out on what life has to offer.

A clarification; I think this only applies to sense related adaptations. Depending on the person, there certainly could be downsides to too much of a stimulus such as weight training, but the terms sensitivity and numbness don't really apply there.