By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Today I want to talk to you about a turning point in history that set the precedent for how we look at germs and illnesses. Our modern mindset on health and disease is influenced heavily by the work of Louis Pateur (1822–1895), the father of the germ theory of health. However, fewer people are familiar with the name Antoine Béchamp (1816–1908), a scientific researcher who lived in the same time period as Pasteur. Although the two were scientific contemporary–in fact they were both members of the French Academy of Science–they held very different perspectives when it came to germs, health, and disease pathology.
Some people seem to catch multiple colds a year, while others get sick less often–and when they do get sick, it’s much less severe. Why is this? Today we are going to discuss Pasteur’s Germ Theory vs Béchamp’s Terrain Theory, why we think about illness the way that we do–and why we might be wrong.
While Antoine Béchamp was a brilliant scientist with a remarkable mind, Louis Pasteur was very well-connected. So although the two researchers both studied disease pathology at the same point in time, it was Pateur’s connections which won him the financial backing to bring the germ theory mainstream.
Pasteur’s germ theory won mainstream attention in part because of his political and financial connections, and also because his views were in-line with the science and politics of the time. Additionally, the germ theory has paved the way for incredible pharmaceutical industry profit: chemotherapy, synthetic drugs, surgical removal of body parts, and vaccines have become society’s medicines of choice due to the groundwork laid by Pasteur–all very profitable.
The reason I want to revisit this moment is history is because although Pasteur’s germ theory has defined modern medicine–his theory has benefited scientific bias and insane industry profits–NOT public health.
Pasteur’s research, coined the ‘germ theory,’ demonstrated that microorganisms (germs) in the environment spread and cause disease. The germ theory claims that the sole cause of illness is a germ. These pathogens include bacteria, fungi, and viruses, and the theory purports the shape, color, and function of microorganisms are constant, and every disease is specific to a certain microorganism. Following the germ theory model, vaccination is the supported method of protection, and pharmaceuticals are the preferred method of treatment–quite the profitable model of health and illness.
While the germ theory states that infection by a germ equals illness, the terrain theory takes another approach to explaining the process of pathology.
The Terrain Theory asserts that germs cannot create infection or disease unless the body conditions (terrain) allow it. This means an unhealthy body with a weak immune system and poor microbiome may provide a feeding ground for pathogens to replicate and cause illness, while a healthy body will remain unaffected.
The terrain theory takes into account the health of the body as a terrain: the internal environment of the body. While an unhealthy body has no defenses against pathogens, a healthy body with a healthy terrain can repel, defeat, and balance pathogenic microorganisms.
You may notice a correlation between being around someone sick and catching a cold–the truth is that both theories hold some weight. If your terrain is unhealthy, you may be more susceptible to infection and disease caused by pathogenic microorganisms.
The truth is that we are all surrounded by germs, all of the time. Our bodies host more bacteria than human cells! If the germ theory was truly accurate, that would mean we would be walking infections, and everywhere we went and everything we touched would be dangerous. It just doesn’t make sense, because that’s not how it happens.
While Western medicine’s infatuation with the germ theory is rooted in profits, there are still cases where focusing on eliminating germs is beneficial. During surgery, equipment is sterilized and hands are washed thoroughly to prevent infection.
Keep in mind, however, that the human body has a microbiome and germs are beneficial to our health! Our culture places too much emphasis on sanitization, as evident by the omnipresence of things like anti-bacterial soap and hand sanitizer.
Take for example the Hygiene Hypothesis: children who grow up on farms are healthier and less likely to have asthma, allergies and autoimmune disease when compared to children who grow up in urban environments. A certain degree of germ exposure makes you stronger! Of course there are cases (like surgery) where precaution is beneficial.
The health strategies I share with you on a daily basis are all pieces of the puzzle for optimal health. Here are some resources to learn more about the best ways to optimize your terrain and strengthen your immune system:
Our current medical system is a very financially viable industry. While we can’t expect such a profitable business to turn around tomorrow and start promoting free lifestyle changes to better the public’s health, we can use this information to take charge of our own well-being. Get good sleep, spend time outside, support your microbiome, and focus on health-promoting foods to strengthen your terrain and build up your defenses.