Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 95–102 | Cite as

Radiation hormesis — fact or fiction?

  • R. Piispanen


Deriving from the Greek verbhormein, which means to stimulate and excite, hormesis literally refers to any kind of stimulation and excitation. As a medical and geomedical term (though of unsettled status) it has a more restricted meaning however, indicating merely the putative or real stimulatory and beneficial effects observed when a biological system is exposed to a low dose of an agent known to be toxic or hazardous at a significantly larger dose. Depending on the type of stimulatory agent, one can speak of chemical or physical hormesis, radiation hormesis being a member of the latter group. The present paper reviews and evaluates the history and origins of the concept of radiation hormesis and its present status — fact or fiction. It is concluded that despite the numerous, sometimes undeniably strong, individual pieces of evidence that have been presented in favour of this phenomenon, the bulk of the evidence is so far not strong enough to establish it as a scientifically proven fact. It is also evident that, instead of speaking of radiation hormesis as an entity, one should pay attention separately to the effects of alpha, beta and gamma radiation, the deleterious and possible beneficial hormetic effects being different in each case.


Radon cancer geomedicine medical geochemistry 


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Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Piispanen
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Geosciences and AstronomyUniversity of Oulu, FIN-90570OuluFinland

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