The Terrain

As the story goes, in a flash of either insight or honesty, Louis Pasteur supposedly recanted on his deathbed. Pasteur is canonized as the person who brought us the germ theory and as such is considered one of the father’s of modern medicine. The germ theory, of course, tells us that germs are the cause of infectious diseases.

The germ theory is part of our contemporary common sense. It has an aura of irrefutably about it, like the fact that the sun is going to rise tomorrow morning. So, what was there for Pasteur to recant? He did not refute the existence of micro-organisms nor the fact that certain of these were closely associated with disease processes.

It is said that in his final hours Pasteur proclaimed that “the terrain is everything.” Simply put, this was an admission that the true cause of disease is the internal environment of a living organism not external micro-organisms. It is the state of this internal environment — the terrain — which either allows for germs to invade and injure the organism or fends them off. In other words, killing off bacteria and viruses is not the be all and end all of either curing disease nor preserving health.

Well, what specifically is this terrain? Depending on one’s background and point of veiw it actually can be understood and spoken about in various ways. It can be defined in terms of nutritional status, toxicity levels, energetic balance, immune function, mental outlook and emotional well-being. It can be evaluated through any combination of physical examination, blood chemistry analysis, electronic testing, pulse diagnosis, tissue sampling and verbal consultation. Generally, we can think of it as those factors which dispose the body toward health or disease.

Unfortunately, Pasteur’s change of heart is not a widely known fact. A ‘kill the bugs’ mentality is still the prevalent outlook that holds sway over the conventional medical world as well as the layperson’s common sense about illness. From the common cold to cancer, ulcers to mutiple sclerosis, somebody is always seeming to try to explain away a disease in term of deadly micro-organisms. Superbugs sweeping over the world in defiance of the best efforts of medical science has even caught on as a popular theme for movies and books.

Yet, an overly narrow focus on destroying pathogens (disease causing agents) with a reliance on pharmaceutical agents that solely perform this function is one of the major shortcomings of conventional medicine. A methodology which ignores the terrain is akin to protecting your car by shooting the thieves instead locking the doors and taking the keys out of the ignition.

The most common example is the child treated over and over again with antibiotics for an ear infection. It is a classic case of treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause. The anti-biotics eliminate bugs and most often eliminate the symptoms, but the terrain remains the same. Without making changes in the environment of the child’s body , s/he will remain susceptible.

Thus the vicious cycle of infection, drugs and increasingly poor resistance because of the drugs eventually leads to more aggressive procedures like “maintenance doses” of drugs and/or ear tubes. Without hope for any cure, the parents are advised that the child will eventually outgrow it...

The widely publicized phenomenon of antibiotic resistant bacteria is a natural consequence of this therapeutic strategy. As long as the body remains in a weakened state susceptibility to one micro-organism or another is high. Like buzzards drawn to a piece of carrion, the germs will find the terrain of a weakened person again after the latest round of symptomatic treatment. Eventually they will adapt to make the treatment itself obsolete.

The influence of the philosophy which underlies germ theory extends even beyond infectious disease to non-infectious illnesses like cancer. Conventionally, the therapeutic focus is the annhilation of as many cancer cells as possible through various search and destroy missions. Relatively little emphasis is placed on altering the internal body conditions that give rise to malignancy. In fact, typically conventional cancer treatment leads to marked deterioration of the internal environment.

One of the greatest medical tragedies of this century, in fact, is the steadfast refusal of the medical establishment to incorporate the ideas and therapies of cancer researchers who believe that improvement in the terrain is the true basis for cure. Even in the midst of a modern day cancer epidemic which seems to actually be accelerating, this body of research is either ignored or rejected out of hand, while the researchers themselves have been subjected to ridicule and harrassment.

The difference in focus between the pathogen or “bad cell” on the one hand and the terrain on the other is perhaps one of, if not the most important philosophical and clinical distinctions between conventional and wholistic medicine. I have chosen the word “wholistic” carefully here.

The use of natural substances to replace pharmaceuticals, whether they be “natural antibiotics” for an infection or a nutritional supplements to take the place of conventional anti-inflammatory medication for arthritis, is still symptom based. While they may produce fewer side effects, the underlying disposition toward disease will not change.

True wholistic medicine is the endeavour of understanding and adjusting the terrain.