When exposed to the same illness, why is it that some people get really sick and others show no symptoms? The debate between germ theory versus terrain theory is not a new one, but recently has been getting a resurgence in wellness circles. With everything we have seen with COVID-19, this question is especially more relevant: why do some people get the virus so much worse and others do okay? That is where germ theory and terrain theory comes in.

The history behind germ theory versus terrain theory is extensive. In 1861, Louis Pasteur announced his finding of Germ Theory — a concept that had proved germs cause disease. Around the same time, Antoine Bechamp introduced the notion of Terrain Theory which states that disease can’t develop in a truly healthy environment, and that germs and viruses can only become disease if they are inhabiting an unhealthy organism. There has been much debate on this topic with opposing sides advocating for and against each theory, however, a closer look at the two theories reveals that there is merit and wisdom in both.

A Deeper Look at Germ Theory

Germ Theory sets up the foundations of modern Western medicine. It states that illness is when external pathogens attack the sterile body. It also states that in order to be healthy, we need to avoid contact with all germs and viruses, with the ultimate goal being to kill all viruses.

Germ Theory emphasizes the virus/germs as the foundation of all illness, and does not include the body as part of the theory.

This emphasis on germs has led to the development of antibiotics and vaccines. In our ever changing and advancing world, it is important that we have medicine that can help us combat viruses and illness if our bodies are not strong enough to combat them naturally. It is also important to continue taking precautions to keep yourself protected from germs, such as washing your hands, staying away from those who are sick, etc. These are the foundations of germ theory although there is extensive research in the field.

Terrain Theory Under the Microscope

Terrain Theory brings into account the health status of the person in which the virus comes into contact. Bechamp believed that the condition of the human body plays a more important role than the germs that infect it.

Basically, Terrain Theory states that the more unhealthy a person is and the more out of balance their body is, the more susceptible the person is to illness, and the sicker they will get when they come into contact with germs or a virus.

This theory aligns with the idea that the better you treat your body and the healthier your lifestyle is, the better your body is at fighting off illness. Doing what you can to strengthen your immune system through a healthy diet, lifestyle, and good mental health will help keep the immune system strong, ensuring that your body has a strong defense against illness. Germs and viruses thrive in sick environments. If your body is at optimal health, your inner environment will become inhospitable to foreign invaders. Although this is a topline view of terrain theory, there are a number of sources that dive deeper on the concept.

Do Germ Theory and Terrain Theory Need to be Mutually Exclusive?

Although Germ Theory has helped millions and has a powerful role to play, it also seems logical that our body’s terrain — our immunity and vitality — is a powerful force in the fight against illness. In looking at each of these theories, both play an important role in understanding how illness develops. Finding middle ground between the two is ideal.

In taking into account both Germ Theory and Terrain Theory, we can conclude that the better you take care of your body, and healthier your lifestyle is, the easier it will be for your body to fight off illness and viruses when you do come in contact with germs and disease.

Not only is there room for both theories in how illness develops, but it is actually very important when talking about illness and the body. When looking at how we protect ourselves from illness in everyday life, we follow germ theory by washing our hands and avoiding people who are sick, and also follow terrain theory by keeping ourselves healthy and boosting our immune systems so that if and when we come in to contact with germs, our bodies are healthy enough to fight them off. With the increasing awareness around “wellness” and what it means to be truly well, Terrain Theory provides an excellent basis for why it is necessary to maintain your health, and practice wellness in your lifestyle. As we continue to learn more about the microbiome and how your gut environment has a huge role in all sorts of diseases, Terrain Theory becomes an even more integral part of how we understand the body and illness.

Ali Parsons graduated from The University of Washington with a degree in Media & Communications. She is passionate about nutrition, health, and wellness and is currently in the process of becoming a Registered Dietitian. Ali enjoys cooking, running, yoga, hiking and travel!

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