Hormesis is a term used by toxicologists to refer to a biphasic dose-response to an environmental agent characterized by a low dose stimulation or beneficial effect and a high dose inhibitory or toxic effect. In the fields of biology and medicine hormesis is defined as an adaptive response of cells and organisms to a moderate (usually intermittent) stress. Examples include ischemic preconditioning, exercise, dietary energy restriction and exposures to low doses of certain phytochemicals. Recent findings have elucidated the cellular signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms that mediate hormetic responses which typically involve enzymes such as kinases and deacetylases, and transcription factors such as Nrf-2 and NF-kappaB. As a result, cells increase their production of cytoprotective and restorative proteins including growth factors, phase 2 and antioxidant enzymes, and protein chaperones. A better understanding of hormesis mechanisms at the cellular and molecular levels is leading to and to novel approaches for the prevention and treatment of many different diseases.