Author Topic: Reverse hormesis: a clue?  (Read 2626 times)

Offline Torvald

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Reverse hormesis: a clue?
« on: September 24, 2013, 11:10:11 AM »
My copy of Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker hasn't arrived yet, but I just read some of it on Google Books, and it's got me thinking.

A couple years ago, working a crazy grad-student schedule, I went to White Castle at 3:00 a.m. It's one of the few restaurants in town open that late, and I didn't feel up to cooking. And then I went back. A number of times. I noticed that when I felt especially "brain-scrambled", it seemed that White Castle might soothe it. In reality, the food might have calmed me down slightly, for maybe half an hour, but never much and never for very long.

I did some googling about food and calm, and came across an alternative-medicine web site that said that in many cases, the thing that relieves your symptoms is actually the cause of your symptoms. In other words, you tend to crave the thing that's making you miserable.

That sounds weird, but it immediately rang true. In fact, the main word in White Castle's slogan was "crave". I don't know if they put something in the food to trigger cravings, but I've never been back. I still have "brain-scramble", but at least my craving for White Castle disappeared in a couple weeks.

This sounds like opponent processes at work. I wonder, though, if this same idea might have wide applicability in diagnosing problems: Look at what you repeatedly go to for relief from a problem—that's probably the cause of the problem.

Some possible examples:
  • An old joke: Alcohol is both the cause and solution to all of life's problems.

  • Whitaker suggests that psychiatric medications actually cause psychiatric illnesses.

  • People with "personality disorders" or in "dysfunctional relationships" might be in a similar kind of loop. An old school of psychiatry called Transactional Analysis said that often a person playing "victim" seeks relief from a "rescuer" and then switches to "perpetrator" and back and forth, over and over. (Transactional Analysis might be very compatible with Hormetism, in that its main cure is a sort of "constraint": stop playing your role in a "game" and thereby end the game.)

  • Carbohydrate binges bring relief from low blood sugar—and trigger an insulin rush that will lower the blood sugar.
In each case, the first time the problem happened, the source of immediate relief didn't cause it. But the source of relief worked by a mechanism that reinforced the problem.

What's got me fired up are two possibilities:
  • That it might be possible to cure a lot of chronic problems by just stopping your method of relief.

  • That the problem->relief->problem loop might actually be a clue to the way things work when they're working normally.
If living things are anything, they're self-stabilizing. These "reverse hormesis" loops might just be a perverse form of stability.

Any thoughts?

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Reverse hormesis: a clue?
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2013, 12:08:31 PM »
I did some googling about food and calm, and came across an alternative-medicine web site that said that in many cases, the thing that relieves your symptoms is actually the cause of your symptoms. In other words, you tend to crave the thing that's making you miserable.

Along these lines, it is commonly pointed out that people have food allergies precisely to what they crave, e.g. gluten or dairy allergies:
http://www.beyondhealthnews.com/wpnews/index.php/2012/01/the-biochemistry-of-food-cravings-part-i-food-allergies-and-food-addictions/

People with "personality disorders" or in "dysfunctional relationships" might be in a similar kind of loop. An old school of psychiatry called Transactional Analysis said that often a person playing "victim" seeks relief from a "rescuer" and then switches to "perpetrator" and back and forth, over and over. (Transactional Analysis might be very compatible with Hormetism, in that its main cure is a sort of "constraint": stop playing your role in a "game" and thereby end the game.)

Similarly, there are a number of therapies that utilize the concept of paradox -- actively pursuing or trying to maintain the very symptom you have been trying to avoid.  Paradoxical interventions are a central theme of the work of Paul Watzlawick, Gregory Bateson and others like Adler and Frankl:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_psychology
http://www.paradoxpsychology.com/history/

I recall a parent who was able to help her child stop bedwetting by paying the child a quarter each time the bed was wet.  The shift from fear and avoidance to active pursuit of the symptom made it disappear.

What's got me fired up are two possibilities:
  • That it might be possible to cure a lot of chronic problems by just stopping your method of relief.

  • That the problem->relief->problem loop might actually be a clue to the way things work when they're working normally.
If living things are anything, they're self-stabilizing. These "reverse hormesis" loops might just be a perverse form of stability.

Any thoughts?

I'm with you on this, Torvald! It's exciting to make these connections in so many areas.  Yet it is not always as simple as "always do the opposite of the standard treatment".  You have to look carefully at the dynamics of the disorder and see if you can observe a homeostatic mechanism whereby efforts at short term relief are causing a compensating long term pathology. And that's precisely where there is the potential for leverage in reversing the pathology.  But I agree that in a large number of cases, this overlooked strategy is more effective than the conventional treatment.

My only quibble is in calling this "reverse hormesis".  In fact, I think that parodoxical interventions are classic examples of the effective application of straightforward, real hormesis.  A case in point is the "paradoxical" use of anti-corrective plus lenses to reverse myopia.  Another great example of this is laid out in my article "The paradox of barefoot running".    From the perspective of conventional therapies, hormetic interventions for the most part appear to be paradoxical.

So I would rephrase your topic: "Hormesis as a reversal of standard therapies"

Todd

Offline OtisBrown

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Re: Reverse hormesis: a clue?
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2013, 05:46:31 PM »
Hi Tom Lu,

Otis>  Great insight on your part.  This is truly what got me "started"  in my analysis of all natural eye's - on a theoretical level.

Tom> In many cases, the obvious solution aggravates the very problem it intends to solve.

Otis> But, I thought, even an optometrist would understand this issue - and NOT use a minus on his own child - knowing the long-term consequences of doing that.  Instead, he would insist that *his* child keep his nose at 13 inches, and always wear a plus 2.5 for all close work.

Otis> That is probably the only way "prevention" will ever be started. 

Otis> But I acknowledge that this is truly a person choice.

Otis> This "reverse thinking" is indeed a "paradigm shift".  We are over-due for that type of thinking.

Offline Torvald

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Re: Reverse hormesis: a clue?
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2013, 05:53:35 PM »
Similarly, there are a number of therapies that utilize the concept of paradox -- actively pursuing or trying to maintain the very symptom you have been trying to avoid.  Paradoxical interventions are a central theme of the work of Paul Watzlawick, Gregory Bateson and others like Adler and Frankl:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_psychology
http://www.paradoxpsychology.com/history/

This is great stuff! I especially like this:

"Watzlawick et al. (1974) observed that paradoxical interventions placed the client in the dilemma of a ‘win-win double bind.’ Whatever direction the client goes, he comes out a ‘winner’. This creates a pleasant and unanticipated dilemma for the client who has grown to accept his life to be an unending series of ‘lose-lose predicaments.’

"As such, these double-binds influence the person as a whole entity and challenge the client’s status quo view of himself and the world. As a result, interventions impact the client simultaneously on many levels of awareness and perception. This is in contrast to linear styles of treatment that may target specific behaviors, feelings, or thoughts."

Narrow targeting seems to be critically important: sometimes the system just exploits a narrowly targeted intervention in rotten ways that make it even worse (like drugs that target a specific enzyme, or perverse economic incentives), and sometimes it triggers "whole system" growth (like exercises to help with sports, or constraint in hormesis in general). Paradox psychology looks like a great source of ideas about this.

The Christian idea of "turning the other cheek" might be another example.

Offline Torvald

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Re: Reverse hormesis: a clue?
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2013, 06:16:25 PM »
My only quibble is in calling this "reverse hormesis".  In fact, I think that parodoxical interventions are classic examples of the effective application of straightforward, real hormesis. …

So I would rephrase your topic: "Hormesis as a reversal of standard therapies"

Actually, by "reverse hormesis", I mean "becoming progressively weaker through comforts that encourage a homeostasis loop around staying weak."

I also wouldn't want to say that symptom relief is always a gateway to addiction or "misery loops". Only some forms of symptom relief cause reverse hormesis. The speculation is that when you see reverse hormesis happening, that's a clue to how the system works.

Or maybe it's a bad term. Clearly it didn't convey what I meant. It occurs to me now that entering into symbiotic relationships, like with your gut bacteria or with your spouse, might also be reverse hormesis. Or maybe the correct conclusion is that reverse hormesis isn't always bad.

Offline Torvald

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Re: Reverse hormesis: a clue?
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2013, 06:25:55 PM »
Just on the note of therapy, I think more evidence about how antidepressant works just as good as a placebo drug is starting to surface. The solution is usually the least obvious ones such as diet and stress externalization.

Can you tell me some more about stress externalization? It sounds interesting.

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in many cases, the thing that relieves your symptoms is actually the cause of your symptoms.

Great rule of thumb. But I think it's more about the shortsightedness in decision making - a lack of peripheral awareness, so to speak.

Yup. It's focus on first-order effects without considering second-order effects. Which is probably fine most of the time. Nobody has time or ability to consider the higher-order effects of everything they do.

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1) Advocates of the Pasteurian school of thought tend to think of bacteria as categorically harmful creatures. When tuberculosis occurs, the most obvious solution is to just administer antibiotics. It turns out that in many cases, it makes the bacteria more resistant - The antibiotics in effect contributes to the creation of "monster germs."

These are some great examples. I especially like this one. It's reverse hormesis not in that it makes you weaker, but in that it makes your enemy stronger. ;)
« Last Edit: September 24, 2013, 09:44:20 PM by Torvald »

Offline Torvald

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Re: Reverse hormesis: a clue?
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2013, 06:45:11 PM »
Yet it is not always as simple as "always do the opposite of the standard treatment".  You have to look carefully at the dynamics of the disorder and see if you can observe a homeostatic mechanism whereby efforts at short term relief are causing a compensating long term pathology. And that's precisely where there is the potential for leverage in reversing the pathology.  But I agree that in a large number of cases, this overlooked strategy is more effective than the conventional treatment.

I think you've pegged the essential difference: if relief of symptoms sets up homeostasis for relieving those symptoms over and over again, that's probably going to be a "misery loop". Or vice versa. But without homeostasis, there's probably no danger.

Here's an example from my own experience where relieving symptoms seemed to work wonderfully. One day coming home from work, I felt the beginnings of a cold: a tickle in my throat, a slight headache, the beginnings of a runny nose. And I felt a craving for a mocha, with a strong expectation that the mocha would cure it. I went to a coffeehouse and got a mocha (something I rarely do), and sure enough, even before I was done, the cold symptoms had gone away. And they didn't come back.

Months later, I felt the beginnings of a cold again, but with no craving for a mocha. As an experiment, I went to the same coffeehouse and got a mocha anyway. No effect. By the next day, I had a real cold.

I don't really know what's going on here. I conjecture that the lowest levels of my metabolic network had somehow percolated up to consciousness a signal about some molecule they needed. But that's also what's happening in carb binges and drug addiction.

Hmm, maybe it wasn't simply "symptom relief". Maybe the mocha actually addressed the cause of the cold. Or rather, addressed a micronutrient deficiency which was preventing my immune system from doing its job with full effectiveness.

Have you read anything about "good cravings"? Everything I've found in the literature so far says that the medical consensus holds that they probably don't exist, but it's hard to be sure because they're extremely hard to test (because they occur unpredictably, as in my mocha experience).

Offline OtisBrown

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Re: Reverse hormesis: a clue?
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2013, 04:57:03 PM »
Hi Torvald and Todd,

Subject: Looking for a deeper truth - to "reverse" a difficult problem.

Todd>  I'm with you on this, Torvald! It's exciting to make these connections in so many areas.  Yet it is not always as simple as "always do the opposite of the standard treatment".  You have to look carefully at the dynamics of the disorder and see if you can observe a homeostatic mechanism whereby efforts at short term relief are causing a compensating long term pathology. And that's precisely where there is the potential for leverage in reversing the pathology.  But I agree that in a large number of cases, this overlooked strategy is more effective than the conventional treatment.

Otis> I would like to add that it take great personal insight to go "against" the standard office treatment you get from an optometrist in an office.  The doctor often seems like a God - that he can solve all your problems so easily.  You seem like a heretic if you even slightly question anything he is doing, or your suspicion that the (minus) lens he is giving you, is truly NOT solving any problem, and the only reason is that it makes your vision slightly sharper in a moment or two.

Otis> I do a lot of research on that subject, and look for professionals who point out the failure of these simple methods (like quick-fix with minus).  What Todd recognized, is what I found out.  The minus is recognized to make your vision far worse in the long run.  So "reverse hormesis" must include an education sufficiently strong to find ODs and MDs that argue for a "reversal" of (nearsightedness), under control of the person himself.  That is a truly difficult problem, since you (if you are a medical person)  are completely dependent on the person himself, to prove his success.

Otis>  Perhaps we should search for another word that places the person in the "feedback loop" of objectively clearing his vision back to normal - under his control.  One thing is certain - once a person has taught himself to recover his distant vision - he will NEVER go back to wearing a prescribed minus lens.  I also see this as protective feedback, where Todd helped his son recover his distant vision by this same process. 
« Last Edit: September 25, 2013, 05:00:28 PM by OtisBrown »

Offline OtisBrown

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Re: Reverse hormesis: a clue?
« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2013, 07:11:08 AM »
Hi Torvald,

Otis>  You know I will "turn the clock back" till the time I was in high school, and very "pissed" about being nearsighted.  I truly WONDERED if that was in fact the case.

Torvald>  I did some googling about food and calm, and came across an alternative-medicine web site that said that in many cases, the thing that relieves your symptoms is actually the cause of your symptoms. In other words, you tend to crave the thing that's making you miserable.

Otis> My "wondering" came from a physics class about the optics of a minus lens.  Yes, I could not "argue" (after I INDUCED negative status in my natural eyes - because of my nose-on-book habits), that a minus lens in fact "cleared" the 20/20 line, when I was slightly "negative" at the time.

Otis> But I thought, why does the OD NOT TELL ME THIS?  I am strong enough to be told "scientific truth", even if it means that I must do "all prevention" under my control. 

Otis>  Obviously no OD or MD will "volunteer" this CRITICAL information to you.  That is my ONLY objection about the "medical community".

Otis> Used with great personal wisdom and persistence -- you can protect your distant vision for life.  This means you must "resist" the wearing of that FIRST minus lens - by not wearing it.  But the deeper issue is this.  Do you have the motivation to do all this preventive work yourself?  I can answer that as a scientific question.  But for the person himself - I will never know how he will react.

Otis> From everything I have seen, prevention is always possible - with the above "limit".  For the "medical person", I would just say that you can not "prescribe it".  It must be by the wisdom and fortitude of the person to do this scientific work personally and successfully.
« Last Edit: October 07, 2013, 07:14:27 AM by OtisBrown »