Monday, May 06, 2013

What Hormesis Means to Me

Back in the Day (that would be the day before we discovered the Intertubes and immersed ourselves in strange bits of misinformation), there existed upon the land the interesting practice of exposing people to low doses of radiation and/or poison in order to make them immune to damage from higher doses.  This "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" approach to life went out of fashion when doctors set up web sites warning against all sorts of exposure to the natural world (and the unnatural, of course, as well).  In the end, we have very little hormesis left and a whole lot of fragility.  Allergies of all sorts are a plague upon us, and so is the severe damage that comes from not having much experience with, say, gravity prior to jumping off the garage roof.

Recently I found myself with a backlog of unread magazines, and I spent an afternoon skimming articles so that I could get rid of the teetering stack on Recycling Day.  By the end of the day, I'd been taught that pretty much everything I knew was wrong (one of my favorite Firesign Theater albums, by the way), and that I've spent my life endangering myself and my child and everyone else over whom I've held any sway in any way.  


Dillon discovering horse snot...and not an antiseptic wipe to be seen

For instance, when my poor child was a-growing, there were no restrictions on feeding nuts, shellfish, dairy products, Elmer's Glue, or what-have-you to small fry.  Keeping them from eating paint was certainly recommended, but beyond that it was pretty much a "whatever they're willing to eat" kind of situation.  Ditto exposure to potential allergens in their surroundings.  I have a great shot of my newborn baby girl suckling at the collie's nose.  She was handling worms on her fish hook (presumably licking her hands clean afterward) by the time she was five, and had been coated in toxic substances at the horse barns where we boarded by the time she was ten.  Her only allergic reaction was to my special recipe for liver and onions, and that's assuming that shoving the plate across the table constitutes an allergic reaction.

More recently, my horses have been Hormese'd (yeah, I made that word up) to a fine turn.  There are many research articles suggesting that I should probably be pilloried for not putting fly sheets or little yellow repellent tags on my horses during the summer and for allowing them to eat pasture grass without having a specialist come to assess the weeds that grow there.  I split the difference with feed-through bug repellents that prevent larval development, even though in doing so I may well be setting the ecology of my little ecosphere back a thousand years. And I keep an eye out for colic and other negative reactions to whatever they've found to eat.  So far (knock wood or something) I've not had a major problem in 16 years.  Sure, Pokey had "pasture heaves", allergic to 22 plants in her environment.  But she was alone in her misery.  And the plants included such goodies as cottonwood trees, of which we have none so she certainly didn't sensitize herself by gnoshing the leaves or bark thereof.  



At Dakota's request, I don't do this anymore.

Perhaps the best signal that we are about to return to extolling the virtues of hormesis instead of fragilizing ourselves and our animals is the penchant for "barefoot" trimming for as many horses as can tolerate it.  I'm not a bandwagon type, and I have had two horses that had to be shod 12 months of the year due to structural defects that rendered their feet overly sensitive to the abuse of stuff like walking around.  But where possible, I've left the others to their own devices, and they've adjusted perfectly.  I hedge by using boots if we're headed out into the woods over rocks and roots.  That's on the days I remember to put their boots on, of course.  Sometimes I don't remember to put my own boots on, so it's certainly not a guarantee.  

Harking back to my last few posts, regular readers (who I love) can probably guess that this is still about the whole randomness fascination I've been flagellating of late.  It's about not being able to really know that what we're doing to/for ourselves, our loved ones, and our animals is helping more than it's hurting.  If I dress Dakota up for a summer's day as if I expect an invasion of aliens and expect to use him as a scarealien in the pasture, who's to say that the welts on his butt are from the fly sheet rubbing the hair the wrong way or from biting insects that got under the sheet?  They could be a reaction to something he ate.  Too many variables.  When I hung fly catcher bags on fence posts all around the farm and found them filled with carcasses (that's 22,000 per bag) weekly, I thought, "Wow!  We really have a fly problem, and it's a good thing I invested in these nasty, smelly solutions!"  Then one day someone said something that made me take pause and think, "Wow!  I've been drawing flies from farms all over the neighborhood!  I wonder what would happen if I stopped doing that."  Yeah.  Almost no flies.  Iatrogenics at work:  the cure made an almost non-existent problem sooooo much worse.  

Hormesis is only a theory, and I'm pretty sure that pumping Zip, my curious problem child who is always most likely to eat a can of creosote or chew up something that is clearly labeled not for consumption, full of his toxin du jour will not make him immune as much as it might kill him or destroy some of his basic operating system (OSZip.01).  But I do believe that sticking to the natural path, letting horses and humans encounter natural stressors, survive them (hopefully) intact, and move forward stronger physically and mentally is a better approach than attempting to foresee every random possibility and engage in frantic preemptive measures whose outcomes can't be predicted with any certainty.  

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it until I hear a better one.  

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