The “germ theory” of disease is one of the most basic foundations of modern medicine. Based on the work of Louis Pasteur, who linked the presence of pathogens to disease, this theory has predominated the profession since the early- to mid-1800s. Others such as John Snow, William Ostler, Robert Koch, and Joseph Lister championed the use of sanitation in food and water supplies, hospital settings, and waste disposal. Their observations and discoveries, as well as the implementation of those concepts, were truly monumental and instrumental in saving millions of lives by stopping the spread of infectious diseases.
The discovery of penicillin and other antimicrobials have been a godsend to mankind as well. The link between pathogens and disease is undisputed on a microscopic level. No one questions the fact that disease and destruction can result when pathogens overwhelm the body’s natural defenses.
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The germ theory was hard to accept in Pasteur’s day. Without the widespread use of microscopes, it was hard to comprehend that “invisible bugs” in the air, water, and food somehow invaded the body and could cause disease and death. It’s still difficult for many in mainstream medicine to accept that the body’s terrain often needs to be addressed instead of just the pathogen.
It has been reported that, on his deathbed, Pasteur stated: “Bernard is right. The pathogen is nothing. The terrain is everything.”
He was referring to the work of Claude Bernard, the French physiologist who believed that the focus of conquering disease should be not on pathogens themselves, but instead on the body’s internal environment, which allows these harmful bugs to flourish. Bernard felt that bacteria and viruses could only thrive in an acidic environment; by keeping the body in an alkaline state, infectious diseases could be prevented.
Both of these concepts are valid. If you have an open, infected wound or massive bacterial infection, penicillin can save your life. If, on the other hand, you suffer from chronic inflammation due to an imbalance in bacterial flora, wiping out all the bacteria in your system with antibiotics isn’t the solution.
The idea that the body’s internal environment is one of the most (if not the most) important factors in the prevention of disease is still not widely accepted among mainstream medicine. In fact, for the most part it is still regarded as unscientific and immaterial. But the idea that the only good microbe is a dead one is no longer valid, either.
Although it’s an area that I (and others in the field of natural health) have studied and promoted for decades, mainstream medicine and the pharmaceutical industry continue to try to discredit the idea. Finally, as more research on the microflora of the body becomes available, it’s a truth that no one will be able to overlook or disparage.
Obesity, Cancer, and Other Health Concerns
Presciption drug use and the obesity epidemic in this country. They are not independent of each other. The use of antibiotics can increase body fat and weight. Those who raise livestock have known this for years and have been adding antibiotics to animal feed to fatten up their animals. Now we have antibiotic residue in our milk, meat, and water supplies, and the average child in this country goes through three courses of antibiotics by age 2. By age 10, they average 11 courses.
Obesity is just the tip of the iceberg, however. The most dreaded disease on the planet, cancer, is linked to an imbalance of intestinal microflora. Colorectal cancer, the third most common form and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US, provides the strongest evidence so far.
When compared to those without the disease, individuals with colorectal cancer have a higher number of the bacterial groups Enterococcus, Fusobacterium nucleatum and Streptococcus, and less Lachnospiraceae.
Surprisingly, none of these microbes are infectious pathogens that invade the body and cause disease. So the germ theory doesn’t apply here, but the internal environment of the body still plays a major role.
Drugs Require Healthy Microflora to Work Properly
The bacteria in our body are living organisms. Each species produces different amounts and varieties of compounds, which can be anything from metabolites, vitamins, hormones, and neurotransmitters to noxious gases, toxins, and free radicals.
For example, the beneficial species of bacteria such as Lachnospiraceae create as much as 10 percent of our energy through the fermentation of carbohydrates into fatty acids. These fatty acids fuel the cells of the intestines and protect them from harm. The other types of bacteria mentioned above, through a cascade of events, trigger DNA breakage, instability in the cells forming intestinal walls, inflammation, and tumor growth.
Administering antibiotics to “nuke” the intestinal tract clear of bacteria isn’t the answer. In fact, it can actually make problems worse.
Antibiotics are commonly given during chemotherapy and radiation to prevent bacterial infections. New studies, however, have shown that when these antibiotics indiscriminately destroy bacteria in the gut, certain chemotherapy drugs become less effective at fighting cancer. In simple terms, antibiotics can negatively impact the success of chemotherapy.
It appears that certain drugs rely on the formation of the free radicals by our intestinal bacteria to work effectively. When the free radicals aren’t produced, efficacy decreases. (Science 13 Nov 22;342(6161):967–70) (Science 2013 Nov 22;342(6161):971–6)
An interesting statement made by one of the study’s coauthors, Giorgio Trinchieri, should be prominently displayed on each and every antibiotic container: “It has been demonstrated, and our present study has confirmed, that after antibiotic treatment, the bacterial composition in the gut never returns to its initial composition. Thus, our findings raise the possibility that the frequent use of antibiotics during a patient’s lifetime—or to treat infections related to cancer and its effects—may affect the success of anticancer therapy.”
Again, it’s important to keep in mind that, under normal circumstances where these various microbes live together in the right ratios, they don’t cause problems.
By now I’m sure you understand how to keep the proper balance of bacterial flora in your gut: by consuming naturally fermented, live food on a regular basis and taking a high-quality probiotic every single day of your life. Remember, as Pasteur said, “The terrain is everything.” Maintaining a proper and balanced internal environment is the key to health.
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