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The Spirit of Hormesis


Let’s face it.  Most “nootropics” don’t work well for youngish healthy individuals, at least in my experience.  As my health problems disappeared, I naturally started to search for the best tools for enhancement and I realized everything that was highly effective fell into 2 categories.  They either corrected a deficiency or worked by hormesis.

Hormesis is the best method for enhancement for people who are already healthy.  Hormesis is the concept of introducing an acute stress to the body, in which case the body will have  a reaction that will prep it for future stressors that are even stronger.  By being prepped, the body can be shifted into a state of higher performance.

Vaccines work in this manner.  You introduce a tiny dose of a pathogen and the body responds with developing immunity to an even bigger onslaught of that pathogen.  When you introduce small stressors, the body will super-compensate and become stronger.

Exercise mainly works by hormesis as well, which is why it’s an effective enhancement tool for people who are already very healthy.

The American ethos, though, has a hard time digesting this concept and using it properly.   We like the concept of becoming stronger but we lack the culture of moderation and the wisdom that less is more.  We view hormesis as what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

In reality, what doesn’t harm you too much makes you stronger.  We like to take things to the extreme, though. If something is good we’ll do more of it.  Exercise is healthy?  Great.  Time to run marathons.

The dose used in hormesis must be carefully applied according to the individual’s initial condition.   For example, someone who hasn’t exercised in years shouldn’t suddenly engage in exhaustive exercise.  In the same vein, someone with a ‘leaky gut’ should not be exercising exhaustively or drinking alcohol because these things exacerbate such a condition.  With hormesis, the dose is key.  A little is great and a lot is terrible.

The conditional nature of hormesis adds complexity and naturally humans don’t like this because we tend to view the world in a binary fashion, where things are either good or bad.  If it’s good, we like it and if it’s not we don’t.  A nuanced approach is missing here, where the answer isn’t “yes” or “no” but rather “it depends.”

The human body is a complex system that requires nuance more than less complex systems.  By categorizing things clearly, nuance gets lost in the jungle of labels.  By not truly accepting this idea that less is more, many bloggers and people tend to take things too far.  If we don’t use hormesis properly it can cause more harm than good.

Examples of Hormesis in Health


  • Cold Showers
  • Fasting
  • Protein Restriction
  • Calorie Restriction
  • Sun
  • Interval exercise – sprints, weight lifting
  • Using an oxygen tank- or breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Psychological stress
  • Dual N-Back
  • Meditation – has some aspects of it
  • Alcohol
  • Getting glycogen depletes
  • Vaccines
  • Herbal supplements – Adaptogens, Curcumin, Resveratrol, Berberine, Gynostemma, Grapeseed extract, etc..
  • Vegetables, plant-based foods – plant toxins
  • Methylene Blue
  • LLLT
  • Caffeine – alkaloids in general work by hormesis
  • Ketosis
  • Short-term nutrient deficiency
  • Very low doses of environmental toxins – even heavy metals.  The problem is we’re exposed to them chronically often….
  • Getting sick – I don’t recommend it for adults, but kids growing up have a better developed immune system when they play with germs.

Tips for Using Hormesis

  • It’s better to have all the basic building blocks(i.e. proper diet and nutrition) before you start hormetic types of enhancements.
  • The dose is everything.
  • The proper dose can be different for different people in different circumstances.
  • Less is more.
  • Do not “stack”.
  • You must fully heal before taking the next dose.
  • Take breaks.  Use different kinds of stressors during these breaks that stress different aspects of the body/mind.
  • Do not use stressors to improve performance during or immediately after.  Performance actually takes a dip right after the stimulus.  Effects accrue over time, though.
  • When you stop feeling an effect, up the dosage by a little.

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.


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  • Thomas

    I like this but at a certain point you need to be satisfied with where you are at and just enjoy the art of living.

  • Steve

    Is there a way to upregulate NR2B gene in any way, maybe epigenetics?


  • kieron

    So hold on here iam confused are antioxidants bad then, self haked what about all the things you use that act as antioxidants ?

  • Selfhacked

    I agree.

  • Rick

    Thank you, this was interesting : )
    I’ve found a nice site – where i’m reading more about hormesis

  • Sidney Phillips

    Completely agree. I’m a MENSA member in med school now. Found my memory was weak (“brain fog”) as I was studying for my USMLE Step 1 board exam. I’ve tried it all: CILTEP, Bulletproof Coffee, Racetams, Fisetin, PQQ, etc etc. Nothing worked. What did work was fixing my leaky gut (resistant starch heavy diet with lots of probiotics to kick things off),and eating a clean gluten and dairy free diet. Also, removing my mercury fillings showed immediate memory improvement and weigh loss. So, all of the above supplemetns may work on people who’ve fried their minds with illicit drugs or horrible diet or of average intelligence, but for people who are already doing well on the IQ scale stick to the basics. Remember, above all else do no harm. The body is amazingly plastic and can fix itself if you give it the right ingredients.

    1. Selfhacked


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