by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, DO, AOBNMM, ABIHM
We have been taught that germs are bad and that they are lurking around every corner, waiting for the opportunity to invade defenseless humans. We go to great lengths to combat these potential invaders; we employ frequent hand-washing with copious amounts of soap and grimace at the thought of eating a morsel of food picked up from the floor. Doctors and the media discuss the flu season as though getting the flu is inevitable unless, of course, you get a flu shot.
But similar to other unquestioningly accepted medical concepts, convincing us that we have a frail immune system that must be strengthened by vaccines is a medical myth. A better understanding of the symbiotic relationship between humans and microbes is long overdue.
The immune system is the interaction between white blood cells, antibodies, hormones, proteins, enzymes, and inflammatory molecules called cytokines. Together, they perform a complex dance, working flawlessly together to maintain health. Every moment, your body is exposed to trillions of microbes. They live on us, in us and on everything we touch. It has been estimated that more than 1000 species of bacteria live on our skin and we carry between 30 and 50 trillion microbes in our intestines. Microbes that coexist with humans are called symbionts — organisms we have developed a mutually beneficial relationship with and are part of the body’s normal flora. Our immune system – specifically the Toll-like receptors and macrophages – recognizes foreign bacteria which are not part of our normal flora and effectively eliminates them. This process occurs thousands of times per day with little or no fanfare. Therefore, it is not an invasion of foreign microbes that leads to symptoms we call the flu; it is a breakdown and contamination of the terrain that leads to flu-like symptoms – fever, cough and congestion.
One of the primary differences between conventional medical practitioners and those who embrace more holistic medical practices is in their interpretation of the Germ Theory of Disease, credited to Louis Pasteur. When the Germ Theory is challenged, the discussion generally deteriorates into some level of disdain and hostility because the Germ Theory is one of the foundational cornerstones of today’s medicine. Pasteur’s mechanistic idea of disease—finding the right cure (drug) for each germ—lead to the exponential growth of the pharmaceutical/ medical empire and its dominance over healthcare. It is most unfortunate that his premise was accepted to the exclusion of all other considerations. What was presented at a theory has become the only truth microbes: bugs are bad and must be eliminated by drugs and vaccines.
By most historical accounts, Pasteur is considered one of the luminary heroes of mankind. Some of his discoveries were undoubtedly noteworthy. For example, his discovery of microbes set the groundwork for minimizing the spread of infection in hospitals and his work with rabies began the study of viruses. Pasteur has also been credited with the development of a process known as “pasteurization,” a method to heat and destroy microbes that supposedly harm food. The truth about pasteurization is another topic, for another day.
Opposing the Germ Theory
Rewriting generally accepted medical dogma is a monumental task, especially when taking a critical look at a premise set forth by someone with the stature of Pasteur. However, there is another view of microbes and infection which challenges Pasteur’s 150-year-old premise: Health is based on the condition of the body called the terrain, or its soil. Only when the terrain is unwell do pathogens “invade” and propagate.
The debate regarding germ theory vs. the body’s terrain is deeply buried within the history of medicine. Notable physicians throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s were involved with the heated debate, but the most vocal figures were Pasteur and two of his contemporaries, Claude Bernard and Antoine de Béchamp. Both strong critics of Pasteur’s work, it was Bernard — a physiologist considered to be the father of experimental medicine — made this statement amidst a group of physicians and scientists, “The terrain is everything; the germ is nothing,” thus creating the great debate that has continued to this day.
Bernard used a simple example: When a peach or an apple is sitting on a shelf, it remains intact. But when the skin is broken or the pulp is bruised, microbes can gain access to the body of the fruit. When a human body is intact and well maintained, it remains well.
What is little known is that throughout his career, Pasteur had doubts about his own assumptions. Pasteur and Bernard frequently debated whether germs produced disease or whether the body’s resistance was more important. Pasteur placed more emphasis on the microbe, while Bernard focused more on the environment, the terrain, and the body’s ability to maintain health. On his deathbed, Pasteur reportedly said, “Bernard avait raison. Le germe n’est rien, c’est le terrain qui est tout.” (“Bernard was right. The germ is nothing, the soil is everything.”)[i]
However, even in Pasteur’s day, the germ theory of disease had become so profitable that modern medicine dismissed his final confessions as nothing more than the ramblings of a dying man. It bears repeating: The money is in the medicine—not health and being well.
Stated another way, Bernard’s view was that disease is an “inside-out job.” When the body’s normal physiological processes are disrupted by the toxicities we experience in our industrialized world—vaccines, pharmaceuticals, environmental chemicals, heavy metals, processed (GMO) food, pesticides (glyphosate and more), electromagnetic fields, and more – the terrain is compromised and the cells begin to accumulate acidic waste. Guyton’s Textbook of Medical Physiology teaches that a normal pH, the balance between acid and alkaline, is one of the most important parameters for maintaining health. When cells become acidic, homeostasis is compromised and virtually all body functions are adversely affected. Cells begin to die and these dead cells need to be removed to restore health.
In a forest, healthy trees thrive and a dead limb is broken down by invading bacteria. As contrary as it seems, germs are attracted to diseased tissues; they are not the primary cause of it. A quote from Dr. Rudolph Virchow, the father of modern pathology, supports this idea:
“If I could live my life over again, I would devote it to proving that germs seek their natural habitat—diseased tissue—rather than being the cause of diseased tissue; in other words, mosquitoes seek the stagnant water but do not cause the pool to become stagnant.”
The symptoms generally described as the flu or pneumonia—fever, chills, cough, and excess mucous production—are actually secondary; the first illness is the loss of a healthy terrain.
A Different View of Microbes
If everything on the planet is here for a reason, it may very well be that microbes are here to help humans detoxify. Instead of being the problem, what if viruses and bacteria are part of the solution? Perhaps pathogens are nature’s clean-up crew, assisting the body to detoxify and clean out our clogged systems. It would be interesting to test the secretions expelled during a bout of “the flu.” After all, the human race evolved because of its relationship to microbes, not in spite of it
The human race evolved because of its relationship to microbes,
not in spite of it.
For example, if a person reportedly died from pneumonia, perhaps his body was trying to expel a huge amount of chemical-containing mucous. If the person was too weak to muster an adequate response (fever) and his lymphatics were too congested to drain the accumulated debris — and more chemicals were added such as antipyretics, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and steroids — his body may have become overwhelmed, leading to the person’s demise. The cause of death was blamed on the infection, but the real cause of death was the person’s inability to detoxify. This, of course, goes completely against the current medical dogma that embraces suppressive medicine and harbors an unrealistic – and damaging – fear of fever.
Perhaps people who are seldom sick a lower toxic load, i.e., they eat mostly organic food, consume a minimal amount of refined foods, don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, drink plenty of fresh water and use detoxifying teas. They may exercise and sweat regularly, get adequate sleep and purposefully care for their body’s detoxification pathways – the liver, the skin, the lymphatics, and the colon – with supportive supplements, such as elemental sulfur (MSM), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), silymarin (Milk thistle) and probiotics.
Embrace Health – Make Friends with Microbes
Much has been written about the human microbiome. We’re learning that microbes are handy to have around and may even be useful for inflaming the system and cleaning out the muck. Perhaps an episode of the flu, with a fever and a hardy cough to eliminate mucus, is a way to clear out the internal dross. Instead of viewing every infection as the enemy, perhaps a better solution is to support the body through its elimination process with real food, plenty of purified water, Chinese herbs, and homeopathy – and avoid suppressing the symptoms with Western medicine.
Ever notice how much better you feel after you recover from an infection? Detoxification is the key to overall, long-term health and longevity. Perhaps viruses and bacteria are our friends after all.
[i] DeAngelo, LeAnna. Germs On Our Mind: The Psychology of Contagion, Washington: New Academia, 2005.