What’s that word?

Yesterday, I was chatting with a friend about the poor water quality we both noticed at our beach. We were discussing potential exposure to bacteria in the water and how gross it seems.

But, there’s also the possibility that a low-level exposure might produce a more robust immune system. I couldn’t think of the word for this phenomenon while we were talking. Of course later, when I stopped trying to remember it, the word came to me, hormesis.

It’s said that “the poison is in the dose.” Hormesis is the word for what happens when a low level of exposure to something (that’s toxic at higher levels) produces a positive adaptation. The system in question gets stronger and more robust.

Hormesis occurs in many situations. Stay in the sun for fifteen minutes, the next day you’ll have created some vitamin D and the start of a tan. Stay in the sun for hours and you’ll be burned, possibly causing long-term skin damage. It’s about the dose.

But not knowing what the dose is, or which bacteria is thriving in our break, I stayed out of the water today and stayed in the sun for fifteen minutes.