]]]]]]]]]]]]]     RADIATION HORMESIS AFTER 85 YEARS    [[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                Background Radiation is Good for You        (8/21/88)

[This file downloaded from Ken Seger's excellent BBS in St. Louis, 
Mo., tel. 314-821-2815. No author given, but I seem to recognize the
masterful pen of Marshall Brucer, M.D.  (Note by P.B.)]

[I have had conformation that this article is by Marshall Brucer and was
published in the Health Physics Society Newsletter, July 1987. This
is the HPS site. This information provided by John Cameron,
(jrcamero@facstaff.wisc.edu). Note by Bob Long, 13 May 1998.]

     Why does your pancreas secrete only when food has passed through 
the stomach?  In 1902, an English physiologist, E. Starling, dis-
covered that an acid estract of duodenum contained "secretin" that, 
when discharged into blood, stimulated the pancreas to secrete.  By 
1904, he coined the word "hormone" to designate any substance produced 
in small amounts, but carried in blood to influence some other organ.  
It is from the Greek "Hormo," meaning, "To excite."
     A pharmaceutical principal practiced by the ancients was:  A weak 
stimulus might stimulate what the same, but stronger, stimulus inhi-
bits.  No medieval poisoner would dare kill somebody without first 
tasting the poison.  Alchemists all knew that a poison taken in small 
dosage was dangerous.  A few generations ago, physicians carried 
strychnine in their bags for aged 50 year old patients.  Only in high 
dose was it considered a harmful poison; prescriptions were intended 
to be for a stimulating tonic.

 | Toxicity is a matter of dose. |
     No substance is without toxic effects at improper dose.  Consider 
the most dangerous substance known to man:  Oxygen.  It adversely 
affects the body at 5% too low a concentration.  Moderate oxygen defi-
ciency however, stimulates RBC production.  Many common substances, 
such as nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and even water, have mild effects 
in low doses, but are deadly with large dosage.
     For a hundred years, pharmacologists gave groups of animals vari-
ous doses and plotted the percent killed against the dosage.  The 
amount of a drug that killed 50% of the animals became the drug's LD-
50 (Lethal Dose for 50%).  The complete curve was sigmoid, but an LD-
90 could be "statistically significant" in a very small population.  
With few dead at LD-10, it took many animals and lots of time to find 
"significance."  Hence, the low end of the curve was often "approxi-
mated."  Few pharmacologists paid attention to very low-dose effects.

 | The Word "Hormesis" is Introduced. |
     However, physiological chemistry (biochemistry's proper name 
during the 1920's) blossomed around vitamins and hormones, both low 
dose materials.  C. Southam and J. Erlich found that concentrations of 
oak bark extract inhibited fungal growth, but in low dose it stimu-
lated fungal growth.  Publishing in Phytopathology 33:517, 1943, the 
modified Starling's word to "Hormesis" which described stimulation by 
low doses of agents that are harmful, even lethal at high dose.
     After World War II, antibiotics were released to agricultural 
chemists.  During the 1950's, T. Luckey and colleagues were feeding 
antibiotics to livestock, expecting that the suppression of intestinal 
flora would decrease growth.  Instead, they discovered that low dose 
dietary antibiotics caused a surge in growth.  Since then, feeding 
antibiotics has become standard practice for poultry, pigs and cattle.  
Experiments in germ free birds demonstrated a true chemical hormesis.  
In surveying the literature, T. Luckey found that hormesis was common, 
particularly when the "dose" was of ionizing radiation.
     One of the first studies in radio-biology (1898) found that X-
irradiated algae grew faster than unirradiated control groups.  Stimu-
lated growth was noted in trees (1908) and increased life span in 
invertebrates (1918) and insects (1919).  X-Rays stimulated seedlings 
(1927), plant growth (1937), along with guinea pigs, rabbits and mice 
(1940's).  Increased life span was the rule in low dose irradiated 
rats, dogs, and even house flies (1950's).  In a 1981 monograph (CRC 
Press), T. Luckey revived the term "hormesis," but this time with 
ionizing radiation and backed it up with a review of over 1250 
articles from 85 years of experimental biology.

 |   Radiation Danger  |
 | Takes the Spotlight |
     Before 1900, about ten articles mentioned a probable hormetic 
response to X-rays, then two or three articles were published each 
year, until the death, in 1906, of an English radiotherapist from 
overexposure caused the first radiation hysteria. (ArRR, 1906-1910)  
Skin damage to number of German and French radiotherapists led to a 
new emphasis on protection from damage.  Before World War I, and into 
the thirties, about ten articles a year mentioned a hormetic effect, 
but the idea did not grow.

 | Why Didn't Hormesis Take Hold? |
     A Russian histologist, Alexander Gurwitsch, had discovered in 
1923 that living cells gave off a form of radiant energy that stimu-
lated other growing tissues. (RA 100:11, 1923)  "Gurwitsch" rays were 
confirmed outside of Russia, then denied.  During the 1930's, major 
WPA radiobiology programs studied these "mitogenetic rays," but with 
World War II, geneticists and biologists dismissed the idea with 
shame.  The rays taught radiobiologists how to juggle numbers and live 
off a government dole.
     In 1925, H. Martland described 18 female radium dial (like those 
glow in the dark watch faces, etc.) painters.  After tipping brushes 
with their lips for five years, these high dose recipients developed 
necrosis of the jaw bones and profound anemia.  Other high dose 
patients, including possible osteosarcomas were, and still are, de-
scribed in tabloid scandal sheets.  No newspaper ever featured the 30 
year followup of 1155 low dose radium dial painters who had fewer 
cancers than the general population and lived longer.
     In 1926, H. Muller published his work on genetic damage from 
irradiation of fruit flies.  X-rays soon became standard for producing 
fruit fly mutations.  In the 1930's, "Radiation" became synonymous 
among geneticists, with chromosome damage.  Chromosome defects of 
unknown significance occur in man after high dose, but postulated 
mutations after low dose are all mathematical extrapolations from data 
on fruit flies and mice.

 | Health Physics is Invented. |
     The Manhattan Project expected large amounts of radioisotopes.  
Robert Stone gathered a new group, that he called Health Physicists, 
to monitor this largely unknown, possibly dangerous phenomenon.  Their 
first experiment, rasing mice in an atmosphere of uranium dust, showed 
exposed mice living longer than controls.  They set up an arbitrary 
Maximum Permissible Dose (MPD) after proving that mice in radiation 
fields ten times the MPD lived longer than controls.  Thus Health 
Physics began with a high MPD, and ended the war with record safety.
     After World War II, almost 20 articles per year mentioned a hor-
metic effect in spite of a budding fallout hysteria.  Health Physi-
cists soon learned that their livelihood depended upon scaring the 
pants off Congress.  H. Muller predicted a genetic catastrophe from A-
Bomb exposure in a 1955 flurry of headline publicity. [No publicity 
was given the disproof 35 years later.]  This was (at least for the 
media) scientific proof that radiation cause such things as two headed 
babies.  In 1957, a fire in a power reactor at Windscale, England, 
released 20 curies of I-131 into the atmosphere.  Newspapers predicted 
thousands of thyroid cancers in end-of-the-world headlines (but failed 
to mention, 25 years later, that no biologic effect has ever been 

 |    Health Physics     |
 | is Self-Perpetuating. |
     Health Physics and Genetics were supported lavishly by radiation 
hysteria, and Radiation Biology was the most intensely researched 
science in history.  At the 1955 Atoms-for-Peace conference an English 
geneticist uttered heresy at the opening session.  Background radia-
tion, he said, was probably the cause of most mutations throughout 
evolution, and the human race had not done too bad.  He was almost 
read out of science for this heresy.  Every Genetics budget meeting, 
from 1955 to 1981 opened its request for funds wht an anti-nuclear 
     In spite of this atmosphere, during the 1960's and 1970's, about 
40 articles per year described hormesis.  In 1963, the AEC repeatedly 
confirmed lower mortality in guinea pigs, rats and mice irradiated at 
low dose.  In 1964, the cows exposed to about 150 rads after the Tri-
nity A-Bomb in 1946 were quietly euthenized because of extreme old 

 | A Little Radiation |
 |  Is Good for You.  |
     In 1981, T. Luckey revived a very obvious radiation hormesis.  No 
experimental evidence of damage at low-dose existed; self-serving 
extrapolations from high-dose data dominated Health Physics.  One New 
York Health Physics bureaucrat passed off hormesis as a "theory" simi-
lar to evolution.  But, in 1983, M. Brucer published an article in the 
Health Physics Newsletter entitled "Radiation is Good For You," and 
over 200 reprint requests indicated agreement with his position.
     In August 1985, a Conference on Radiation Hormesis in Oakland, 
California, recognized the reversal in concepts of radiation effects.  
Its Proceedings, published in the Health Physics journal in 1987, 
finally recognized that low dose radiation is not only good for you, 
it is essential to life.  But how will Health Physicists now earn a 

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