Germ theory vs Terrain? Pasteur and Beauchamp duke it out!

Ever wonder to yourself why you can have two people with similar exposure to a certain pathogen yet one person has only mild symptoms and the other is laid up for weeks on end?

Western Medicine, insofar as it relates to infection, is based primarily on Louis Pasteur’s work on pasteurization (he is AKA the “Father of Microbiology”) The theory goes like this: The body is sterile, vulnerable to attack by external pathogens, and should said pathogens take up residence in the body, a clear clinical course associated with that pathogen ensues. Further, the rationale suggests that in order to be truly well, we need to kill all the bugs and do whatever we can to avoid contact with said bugs in the first place.

This body of work led to the framework for modern medicine: antibiotics, vaccines, sterilization, all tools we are familiar with. This mindset places ALL the emphasis on the bug but says nothing of the terrain into which it’s introduced. One would be forgiven for thinking that if this were the case, things like nutrition and sleep are basically pointless.

Of course, we know this to be untrue. We are starting to see the limits of this theory. More antibiotic resistant infections, skin rashes (bacterial in origin) because of overuse of alcohol-based hand rubs killing protective microbes, and more susceptibility to infections in general because of poor immunity are now some of the mainstays of visits to the doctor’s office.

Looking into Claude Beauchamp’s work (a contemporary of Louis Pasteur) you will find he was widely regarded as a quack, that the body of his work is “comprehensively wrong” as one author put it. Yet there are millions and millions of dollars being funnelled into research investigating the role of the microbiome and the resultant susceptibility to disease.

The thinking basically goes, and this is something I think you will find time during these precarious times, is that the severity of the infection will correlate with the patient’s health status. In other words, the unhealthier the lifestyle, the more out of balance a body is, the more susceptible they will be to disease. Further, the disease will be much more severe in that person compared to a body that is physiologically stable and healthy.

So far, what we’ve gathered with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, is that the ones who are experiencing the most severe symptoms and thus dying from this virus, are men. Looking closer, the working theory is that men are more likely to binge drink, eat poorly, smoke, and keep erratic hours (women, by the way, would be just as vulnerable if they chose to engage in these behaviours). Knowing the impact that these habits have on our body is it any surprise that this group is more vulnerable to complications?  As of last night (March 26, 2020), CTV reported that more young people are contracting the virus and experiencing complications. The common denominator? Vaping.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are only a few STRICT pathogens out there, one where, if you get exposure to these microbes, you WILL GET SYMPTOMS, no matter who you are. These include malaria, HIV, and syphilis. MOST other microbes are what we call ‘opportunistic’ in that the severity will be determined by your susceptibility to infection in the first place. Is COVID-19 a ‘strict’ pathogen? That remains to be seen. Who should you believe? Pasteur or Beauchamp? Believe them both. Neither of them is wrong. It’s all about the context. Here’s some food for thought though: Louis Pasteur is rumoured to have said on his deathbed in a moment of inspired lucidity, “the terrain, the terrain!”. The modern medicine machine was well underway by then.


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