Toxicological awakenings: the rebirth of hormesis as a central pillar of toxicology

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This paper assesses historical reasons that may account for the marginalization of hormesis as a dose–response model in the biomedical sciences in general and toxicology in particular. The most significant and enduring explanatory factors are the early and close association of the concept of hormesis with the highly controversial medical practice of homeopathy and the difficulty in assessing hormesis with high-dose testing protocols which have dominated the discipline of toxicology, especially regulatory toxicology. The long-standing and intensely acrimonious conflict between homeopathy and “traditional” medicine (allopathy) lead to the exclusion of the hormesis concept from a vast array of medical- and public health-related activities including research, teaching, grant funding, publishing, professional societal meetings, and regulatory initiatives of governmental agencies and their advisory bodies. Recent publications indicate that the hormetic dose–response is far more common and fundamental than the dose–response models [threshold/linear no threshold (LNT)] used in toxicology and risk assessment, and by governmental regulatory agencies in the establishment of exposure standards for workers and the general public. Acceptance of the possibility of hormesis has the potential to profoundly affect the practice of toxicology and risk assessment, especially with respect to carcinogen assessment.

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