How to Think about Acupuncture: Introducing Acupuncture Hormetics

We generally have a reason why we exercise, or why we should; weight loss, strength, to look good, endurance, whatever.

There is an understanding that if I do x I will get y.

This should be the same with Acupuncture Treatments.

I think of Acupuncture as one technique from a class of interventions that facilitate the restructuring of systems by means of hormesis. Todd Becker has coined the term Hormetics to refer to the use of low-dose stressors to improve the body's structure and function and Edward Calabrese refers the process of leveraging hormesis as Preconditioning. The work of both men has been influential in my thinking about Acupuncture.

Exercise is the principle example used to explain the concept of hormesis, whereby tissue (or any system) is  stressed at a certain intensity, for a certain duration, in a certain way that produces a predictable result. This is illustrated by a very brief comparison of a long distance runner and a powerlifter. The runner's training will be generalized (in relation to the lifter) as lower intensity for a longer duration while the lifter's training will be of a shorter duration at a higher intensity. In one case the stress on the body creates greater endurance and lean muscle while the other will create larger more powerful musculature.

This is a scenario with two different exercise inputs create two different outputs.

Other examples of Hormetics that are gaining popularity amongst athletes are:

  • Cold Therapy
  • Heat Therapy
  • plant based nrf2 activators/Sirtuins (i.e. turmeric and resveratrol)

  • bloodflow restricted training

  • hypoxia/hyperoxia  via breathing practices

  • Sun Exposure

  • Cupping & Soft Tissue instruments


Proponents of some of the above tools will attribute the effects to reduced levels of inflammation, alteration in blood ph, increased levels of Vitamin D. Which are all true but leave us with the question of dosage and context; when to do what and how much should I do? (what is the best timeframe for cryotherapy? before or after training? within an hour? 2-3hours? next day? for how long at what temperature? It is an area of study that is relatively new and many questions still remain.

But Acupuncture as a Hormetic has a 2,000 year old history with instructions, indications, and expectations. Most of these instructions and applications are simple and provide testable hypothesis and the number of people who are exposing themselves and learning about these methods are growing. This is, I believe, very promising.

We'll look into these techniques and principles in future posts.