Mitochondrial Toxins and Healthy Lifestyle Meet at the Crossroad of Hormesis

Diabetes Metab J. 2019 Oct;43(5):568-577. doi: 10.4093/dmj.2019.0143.


Mitochondrial function is crucial for the maintenance of cellular homeostasis under physiological and stress conditions. Thus, chronic exposure to environmental chemicals that affect mitochondrial function can have harmful effects on humans. We argue that the concept of hormesis should be revisited to explain the non-linear responses to mitochondrial toxins at a low-dose range and develop practical methods to protect humans from the negative effects of mitochondrial toxins. Of the most concern to humans are lipophilic chemical mixtures and heavy metals, owing to their physical properties. Even though these chemicals tend to demonstrate no safe level in humans, a non-linear dose-response has been also observed. Stress response activation, i.e., hormesis, can explain this non-linearity. Recently, hormesis has reemerged as a unifying concept because diverse stressors can induce similar stress responses. Besides potentially harmful environmental chemicals, healthy lifestyle interventions such as exercise, calorie restriction (especially glucose), cognitive stimulation, and phytochemical intake also activate stress responses. This conceptual link can lead to the development of practical methods that counterbalance the harm of mitochondrial toxins. Unlike chemical hormesis with its safety issues, the activation of stress responses via lifestyle modification can be safely used to combat the negative effects of mitochondrial toxins.

Keywords: Dementia; Diabetes mellitus, type 2; Environmental exposure; Environmental pollutants; Healthy lifestyle; Homeostasis; Hormesis; Mitochondria; Nonlinear dynamics; Organic chemicals.

Publication types

  • Review