Anti-fragility and Hormesis

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You What?

Is it possible that a random bacon double cheeseburger could ultimately make a vegan live a longer, healthier life? What if a raw vegan or even a frugivore could live ten to twenty years longer by simply eating something that is not within their strict framework every once in a while? Is it possible that consuming a diet that is too easy on the system is actually worse than one that is not?

I am beginning to wonder. Because complex organic operating systems are weakened, sometimes even unto an early demise where there is a lack of stress. And as we have seen over the last few years, 2019-2022, Mother Nature does not favor the weak. On the contrary, she favors the strong.

I can’t imagine each and everyone one of us hasn’t heard this many times over. Kelly Clarkson made a hit song with this title in 2011. It’s not just a catchy song, it is also a very true statement within a complex system that has the ability to adapt. In the scientific and medical worlds, it is referred to as anti-fragility or hormesis.

In Greek mythology, there was a story about a creature with nine heads called Hydra. The monster would occasionally emerge to stir up the people and livestock of the mythical land of Lerna. When someone attempted to defeat this creature by cutting off one of its heads they would find that two more grew back in its place. What didn’t kill Hydra made him stronger.

This concept can also be seen in the plant world through a process called topping in which the main stalk of the plant is cut resulting in the plant redirecting its energy and growth hormones out to the side branches resulting in the branches growing more robustly in an outward fashion instead of continuing skyward. The intended result is a plant that produces more fruit.

And this is why you see so many humans working out. What doesn’t kill us does quite literally make us stronger. You see, some things benefit from a shock to the system that pushes a smooth running organic machine out of balance. Even our bones grow stronger when put under stress by physical activity. But there does come a point where that stress can become too much and the benefits are no longer as robust. This brings me to my another question I will address later. How much is too much?

So, back to the double bacon cheeseburger question. Could an occasional curveball actually be better for the human body than a perfectly executed raw vegan diet? It would seem so. Even Dr. Valter Longo, author of The Longevity Diet notes that those who indulge in a small amount of fish once per week ultimately live longer healthy lives than those on a strict, 100% uncooked whole-food/plant-based diet. Nonetheless, he still stresses the importance of maintaining a 95% whole-food/plant-based diet. But I don’t really remember ever hearing him clearly state what that mechanism of action is by adding a little fish to the diet.

My feeling is that it boils down to the hormetic/anti-fragile effects of the animal food product acting as a small amount of poison that kicks our body’s immune system into high gear. That just a few ounces of fish once per week causes our body to produce an excess amount of neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes, and lymphocytes that then go out into the body to fix the problem.

And this is where the magic happens.

Not only is the specific poison addressed by all of those amazing immune cells that our body produces for times just like these, but they also go about cleaning up a whole host of other lesser things that were flying just below the radar at a subclinical level improving the overall health of the human body. Cleaning up other senescent cells that are no longer beneficial to life, but not quite problematic enough to trigger an immune response. Individually, those senescent cells won’t take out the creature(us), but over time they will and do build up to a level that eventually precipitates a health crisis that most aren’t even aware of until we start experiencing systemic inflammation requiring an interventional response.

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