Terrain Theory

Terrain theory is an alternative to germ theory.  Have you heard of it before?


Didn’t think you would have.  You see germ theory is a dominant ideology in the Western World.  We live our lives looking at health through the lens of germs and all things germy.  Germs invade our body.  They attack us and have to be fought off.

Miasmatic Theory

It hasn’t always been this way though.  For a long time we used miasmatic theory (bad air) to explain disease.  Disease was carried through the air and in order to avoid it we had to avoid bad air.  The beak like plague masks were stuffed with smelly herbs to crowd out the bad air and the masks we are wearing today can trace their origins back to miasmatic theory.

Germ Theory

Germ theory was gradually accepted from the late 1800s after John Snow took the handle off of the Broad Street pump proving that disease was spreading through water and not air.  Ignaz Semmelweis proved that surgeons were spreading disease by not washing their hands and Louis Pasteur discovered that many diseases were caused by germs.

Terrain Theory

Terrain theory sprang up at around the same time.  It competes with germ theory by explaining that germs only become dangerous when the host is unwell.  If the terrain is not good then germs can get a hold.

Think of it as being a bit like gardening.  If you want a good harvest from your veg plot you have to have good soil.  Manures, mulches, fish, blood and bone meal.  You don’t wait until your veg looks a bit weak and wambly before trotting out the insecticide – you prepare the ground first and don’t need the insecticide.

So under terrain theory, as long as you are healthy you will not be vulnerable to disease.  As long as you are healthy you can shrug off germs.

This is born out by our current experience of Covid-19.  Susceptible people tend to be old and/or have existing chronic diseases acting as co-morbidities.  Youngsters shake off the virus with the majority having few or no symptoms at all.  This has major implications for the way we view the virus.

Instead of hiding everyone away and shunning the disease we should be looking at improving the soil we are growing in.  Yes, if you are in a high risk group, shield but at the same time look to improve your health if possible.

My own thoughts on terrain theory.

I’m not pretending to be an expert on anything here – this is just gut feelings.  Terrain theory makes a lot of sense and answers the question about why not everyone who comes in contact with a germ gets laid low with it.  It misses something though.  Germs are still viewed as being external to us, a threat.  Ok they may not be a significant threat if we are healthy but they are still potentially dangerous.

In recent years we have discovered friendly bacteria and the microbiome on our skin and in our guts.  We’ve also discovered that we have a virome with millions of viruses peacefully living in us and on us.  It is my opinion that we need a more symbiotic theory which will allow us to work with the bacteria and viruses.  Yes, improve health, get the best, healthiest soil possible for these germs and viruses.  That way we will be able to live long, healthy lives and viruses will not cause the angst that this one is doing.

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