Mithridates VI, king of Pontus and Armenia Minor in northern Anatolia (now Turkey) from about 120 BC to 63 BC, was a forward-thinking and perceptive individual who understood that a little bit of stress can be a good thing. Terrified of succumbing to the same fate as his father, who was assassinated by poisoning at his own banquet, Mithridates began ingesting sublethal doses of poisons to develop immunity to them, a real-life example of The Princess Bride’s Westley.
The benefit of this practice, which in modern times is known as “hormesis,” is believed to stem from the fact that in low, subtoxic amounts, poisons, toxins, and other types of stress will upregulate antioxidants and detoxification enzymes in the liver, heart, and other major organs, thereby augmenting the natural ability of the body to detoxify and protect itself against future exposure to those same toxins. Could that be what’s happening with n-3 PUFAs in the heart? Could the highly reactive oxidized products generated from PUFA oxidation cause adaptations in the heart—such as biochemical/biophysical alterations in membranes and the upregulation of cardio-protective genes—that subsequently protect the vital organ against disease and stress?