A critique of the use of hormesis in risk assessment

Hum Exp Toxicol. 2005 May;24(5):249-53. doi: 10.1191/0960327105ht520oa.


There are severe problems and limitations with the use of hormesis as the principal dose-response default assumption in risk assessment. These problems and limitations include: (a) unknown prevalence of hormetic dose-response curves; (b) random chance occurrence of hormesis and the shortage of data on the repeatability of hormesis; (c) unknown degree of generalizability of hormesis; (d) there are dose-response curves that are not hormetic, therefore hormesis cannot be universally generalized; (e) problems of post hoc rather than a priori hypothesis testing; (f) a possible large problem of 'false positive' hormetic data sets which have not been extensively replicated; (g) the 'mechanism of hormesis' is not understood at a rigorous scientific level; (h) in some cases hormesis may merely be the overall sum of many different mechanisms and many different dose-response curves - some beneficial and some toxic. For all of these reasons, hormesis should not now be used as the principal dose-response default assumption in risk assessment. At this point, it appears that hormesis is a long way away from common scientific acceptance and wide utility in biomedicine and use as the principal default assumption in a risk assessment process charged with ensuring public health protection.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug*
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Toxicology*