Learning from nature's laws. Toxins are healthy?!

Jun 22 / Drs. Bryan & Julie Walsh

Learning From Nature's Laws

In the world of physiology, there are a multitude of theories to explain how the body works and it does what it does. In fact, most of what we talk about in human physiology is theoretical.
Theories in this context are ideas or hypothesis that exist due to careful thought and repeated examination.

On the other hand, observations in the body that are repeatably provable or immutable, are called laws.

Interestingly, there are only a handful of laws in physiology.

Recently, we were reflecting on how some of these physiological laws could act as metaphors for human behavior, and how we might learn from them.

Dalton’s Law

Dalton’s Law in respiration basically states that the pressure exerted by a mixture of gasses is directly related to, or the sum of, the partial pressures of individual gasses in that mixture.


Picture it this way. You have a bottle. In it, there are a bunch of different gasses – oxygen, helium, carbon dioxide, etc. Each gas exerts a pressure on the bottle.  Therefore, the amount of total pressure inside the bottle is a sum of the pressure of all the gasses. 

If for some reason this bottle were to explode due to excessive pressure from inside the bottle, it wouldn’t necessarily be due to only one gas. The pressure inside the bottle was due to a combination of ALL the gasses.

One gas may have tipped the scales, but ultimately they all contributed to the pressure.

There is a lot of finger-pointing going our society today over, well, just about everything.  Whether it is politics, viruses, race relations, climate change . . . if someone is talking about it, there’s likely arguing and finger-pointing going on. 

But could Dalton’s Law be at work here? Could the overall pressure or tension that we’re witnessing in a given situation be a sum total of the pressures we’re all exerting? Remember, all gasses provide some pressure.

Frank-Starling Law

There is another law, this one in the heart, that says the more blood that enters into the heart, the harder and more vigorously the heart contracts, and therefore the more blood is ejected from the heart. 

Put another way, the more that goes into the heart, the more that comes out of it.

Or even more simply, “more in, more out”.

This metaphor can be taken a couple different ways.

One is, how much is going into your heart emotionally these days?  Are you watching endless news cycles about the troubles of the world and complaining about those things, or are you figuring out who you are, what makes you happy, and finding solutions?  If Frank-Starling works emotionally in our heart the same way it works with blood, is there some way we could put more good into our heart to get more good out of our heart?

The second way you can look at Frank-Starling is, the more you put into just about anything, the more you get out of it.  Education, relationships, parenting, gardening, marriage – the more you put into them, generally speaking, the more you get out of them.  What areas of your life do you feel like you’re not getting enough out of it?  If we’re honest with ourselves, maybe it is because we’re not putting enough into it first. 

When life starts to get messy and we’re looking for solutions to problems, perhaps we can look to some of the “laws” of nature, if not to solve our problems, but possibly offer insight into why we’re even experiencing issues in the first place.  

If you want more out, put more in.

Toxins are healthy!?

Last week we posted a video about the idea of Hormesis, and how a low doses of certain things might be strengthening, while at high doses would be damaging, or even lethal.  Hormetic stressors include things like exercise, temperature, phytochemicals, and calorie restriction. 

Then, the video questioned whether hormesis might exist with dehydration and chemical toxin exposure, too.

That led me to find this next article which when you see the study outcomes, well, let’s just say it is sort of the opposite of what we preach in the functional medicine industry.

As a quick side note, bias is rampant in our industry. This generally leads to the presentation of information that supports one’s personal or professional view so as to sell more supplements, not make someone look bad, or both.  We must fight this urge to only present information in a balanced and honest way, as it can help us make better clinical decisions and ask important questions. 

With that said, here’s the paper . . .

Researchers wondered what would happen when they combined a chronic, low-does toxin exposure with vitamin deficiency?  Neurological diseases have been increasing worldwide and the researchers cited how both vitamin deficiency and toxin exposure could be implicated, so what would happen if they combined the two?

To accomplish this, researchers took 200 rats and split them into four groups. 


Vitamin sufficient rats, no toxin exposure


 Vitamin deficient rats, no toxin exposure


Vitamin sufficient rats, toxin exposure


Vitamin deficient rats, toxin exposure
The study lasted nine months (25% of a rat’s life) and they evaluated the rats in the area of locomotor activity, spatial orientation, anxiety, and both short- and long-term memory.

The experimental group was exposed to a combination of six common chemicals in a dose – get this – 100 times below the no observable adverse effect level. That’s pretty low.

Here’s what researchers found.
  • At the end of nine months, there was no changes in the first group.
  • The second group of mice (vitamin deficiency) demonstrated a decrease in locomotor activity and spatial orientation, and an increase in anxiety.
  • The third group (vitamin sufficient, toxin exposed) demonstrated the same changes as the previous group - worse locomotor activity and spatial orientation, and more anxiety.
  • And the fourth group (vitamin deficient, toxin exposed) was the odd one. This group showed an increase in locomotor activity, improved spatial orientation, and decreased anxiety-like behavior. The only downer for the group a decrease in long-term memory.

The authors suggest there might be a hormetic effect of chemical toxins, which for some reason appeared to be magnified with vitamin deficiency, and resulted in the apparent stimulation in nervous system activity in this study.

As with most studies, this should be repeated to see if the results are the same. Also, there are a few other things to consider. Firstly, mice were deficient in B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B9 and B12) and vitamin K only. Other vitamins and all minerals were not touched by researchers. Also, as I discuss in All About Detoxification, the detox pathways in rodents and humans operate very differently, so extrapolations between species is difficult and inexact.

Obvious unanswerable questions include, how many toxins are we exposed to and at that level is it hormetic or is it damaging? Should we be taking vitamin and mineral supplements and If so, at what dose?

As usual, we know a lot less than we think we do, but hopefully the findings in this study leads to conversations that can move us forward as an industry. And we want to hear from you. What do YOU think about this study?