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A Tale of Two Theories (Germ & Terrain Theory)

In this article you will learn about the difference between Germ Theory & Terrain Theory, their history and what implications they have for how we perceive health, sickness and disease.

When you go to the store and get some milk that’s been pasteurized, this refers to a process like heat or irradiation that’s been applied to kill any pathogens that may have been in the milk. The word “pasteurized” comes from Louis Pasteur, a 19th century French biologist and chemist. Pasteur is famous for many contributions to science and medicine, but one that is less known by the general public is the Germ Theory.

In a nutshell, Germ Theory argues that it is microbes and pathogens which cause disease by invading the body and wreaking havoc. This leads to several important conclusions if it’s true and we will examine them in just a bit. What’s less known about Pasteur is that he had a bitter rivalry with some other French scientists and researchers named Antoine Bechamp and Claude Bernard.

Contrary to Pasteur’s theory, Bechamp and Bernard argued something called Terrain Theory. Through it they postulated that it wasn’t the germs coming in and creating disease, but rather that diseased environments attracted and housed germs in the first place, allowing them to proliferate out of control and cause disease.

This is fundamentally important because it means that germs themselves don’t make you sick, but having a misaligned body that is damaged and functioning poorly does.

As you can imagine, back in the day before much technology or research was available, these two competing ideas would have held very provocative debates. Is it germs and pathogens that cause disease by invading your body? Or is it your body that is misaligned which allows germs to take root in the first place and create problems? How do you prove either?

It’s similar to the debate of nature versus nurture in Psychology, and the proliferation of these theories into different branches of medicine is what has led to the modern difference between alternative and conventional perspectives.

It’s All About Balance

Interestingly, Pasteur is noted to have recanted his Germ Theory on his deathbed. “The germ is nothing, the Terrain is everything,” were his famous last words. Despite this, Germ Theory held on and still holds strong today in its influence over our perspectives of disease and medicine in the Western world.

Because Germ Theory considers the individual parts in a system (the germs) and

separates them from the environment, it draws a series of important conclusions on how to address the problem of disease. Likewise, Terrain Theory considers the environment as more important so it draws a series of completely different conclusions on how to go about curing and preventing disease.

My goal with this article is that you become familiar with these perspectives, understand their points of view and employ them into your toolbelt as an informed person.