The importance of hormesis to public health

Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Nov;114(11):1631-5. doi: 10.1289/ehp.8606.


Background: Hormesis is a specific type of nonmonotonic dose response whose occurrence has been documented across a broad range of biological models, diverse types of exposure, and a variety of outcomes. The effects that occur at various points along this curve can be interpreted as beneficial or detrimental, depending on the biological or ecologic context in which they occur.

Objective: Because hormesis appears to be a relatively common phenomenon that has not yet been incorporated into regulatory practice, the objective of this commentary is to explore some of its more obvious public health and risk assessment implications, with particular reference to issues raised recently within this journal by other authors.

Discussion: Hormesis appears to be more common than dose-response curves that are currently used in the risk assessment process [e.g., linear no-threshold (LNT)]. Although a number of mechanisms have been identified that explain many hormetic dose-response relationships, better understanding of this phenomenon will likely lead to different strategies not only for the prevention and treatment of disease but also for the promotion of improved public health as it relates to both specific and more holistic health outcomes.

Conclusions: We believe that ignoring hormesis is poor policy because it ignores knowledge that could be used to improve public health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • Risk Assessment*


  • Environmental Pollutants