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Beyond the ‘air germ’ theory

Reading time: 12 minutes

Almost everyone in the world knows about germ theory. And almost everyone in the world forgets that it still remains a theory. 

Developed by the famous nineteenth-century French chemist Louis Pasteur, germ theory maintains that invisible living microorganisms found in the atmosphere, soil and water are the fundamental cause of all disease.

These microorganisms, in the form of bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents, infiltrate what Pasteur declared to be the “sterile environment” of the human body, proliferating and upsetting the internal environment, causing disease.

It is said that Pasteur never shook anyone’s hand lest he become infected with germs. Today, people around the world are terrified of these invisible disease agents. There’s even a word for it: mysophobia. 

In 2020—as a direct result of the germ theory—the global market for antibacterial products was valued at approximately $27 billion, and it’s forecast to grow more than 2.3 percent per year throughout the decade. Additionally, the vast majority of people around the world regard it as standard of care to be vaccinated against infectious diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, cholera and diphtheria. 

Of course, since the Covid pandemic, vaccinations have become viewed as the one and only defense against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  

In the realm of germ theory, the only defense against disease is aggressive vaccination, the sterilization of one’s environment, and physically avoiding pathogen-ripe conditions—such as being around animals, farms and other dirty places. Once sick with a bacterial or viral infection, the only option is the targeted use of pharmaceuticals designed to attack, disable and kill the specific microorganism.

In contrast to germ theory, terrain theory, based on the research of French physician, chemist and cellular researcher Antoine Béchamp, holds that disease starts within the human body itself as a result of stresses—emotional, psychological and physical—upsetting the homeostatic balance of innate health. 

Disease susceptibility from within

Pollution, agricultural chemicals, food additives, toxins, electromagnetic frequencies, emotional stresses, overwork, vaccines and pharmaceuticals—all of these have a damaging impact on the cells of our bodies. According to Béchamp, it is under the influence of such toxic stressors that what he called the “microzymas”—living granular structures he found within all cells under a microscope—react to this external onslaught, morphing into harmful microbes like bacteria and viruses that then trigger cellular inflammation and disease in the body.

“The terrain of the body is what enables, facilitates or drives that shape-shifting of the cells and the production of exosomes and bacteria,” says Dr Erin Singh, founder of Options Naturopathic Clinic in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. “People throughout history have had this alternative perspective, but unfortunately in the face of the dominant germ-based paradigm, it seems outlandish.” 

Among early supporters of Béchamp’s work and the concept of pleomorphism—the development of two or more structural forms of cells and other organisms during a life cycle, which opposes Pasteur’s belief in the monomorphic, fixed-form life of microbes—was the famous Scottish pathologist William Russell, who discovered “the parasite of cancer” that apparently developed from formerly normal cells. 

Royal Raymond Rife, the inventor of the famous Rife microscope, researched and wrote about bacteria that changed form within human tissue samples. 

German zoologist Gunter Enderlein confirmed that microbes emanate from microzymas. He called them “protits.” Gaston Naessens, a twentieth-century Canadian microbiologist, studied blood microbes that changed form, which he called “somatids.” 

California-based cellular researcher Dr Robert O. Young has recorded the pleomorphic activity of bacteria and other microbes. 

“The anatomical elements that make up living cells can morph and change depending on the environment, giving birth to bacteria, giving birth to yeast, giving birth to mold,” says Young, a naturopath and pioneer in the research of pleomorphism. 

“I see cells changing in form under the microscope based upon environmental content, environmental context and biochemistry. When that’s off, I see the birth of exosomes. I see the birth of molds. I see the birth of bacteria. I see the birth of yeast. These are just manifestations of the transformations of the environment which they’re being exposed to.”

Exosomes are extracellular vesicles (EVs), which are tiny fluid-filled sacs or nanoparticles that originate from various cell types in the body, including stem cells.

A teeming population within us

When it comes to microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, viruses and others—human beings are walking, talking microbial ecosystems. 

There are about 700 species of microbes in our mouths , including Streptococcus viridans, Neisseria sicca, and Candida albicans.1

Even our skin is colonized by a huge collection of about 1,000 microorganisms, including mites, bacteria, fungi and viruses, with wonderful-sounding names like Staphylococcus epidermis and Pityrosporum ovale.2 

And anywhere from 500 to 1,000 species of microorganisms live in our intestines, including Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus gasseri and Escherichia coli.3 Yes, E. coli lives in all of us and helps break down the food we eat.

Mainstream disenchantment, alternative promise 

Today, there is growing research giving ever-greater credibility to Béchamp’s work and the world of pleomorphic microbes. For example, recent studies into EVs shows that they are incredibly similar to viruses.1 And the description of EVs and the method of their production, being squeezed out of cells or “pinched off” from regular cells, sounds suspiciously similar to what Béchamp and now Young and other researchers like him are talking about.

In general, there is growing scientific disenchantment with the germ theory and the resulting “a shot and a pill for everything” pharmaceutical approach to disease. There is also growing concern in the research community that laboratory experiments are producing findings that support the germ theory, not because the germ theory is correct, but because to do otherwise would be disastrous for continued funding. 

There is concern that tissue samples subjected to dyes, highly reactive chemicals and electron microscopy (which only looks at dead cells because nothing living can survive the process of examination) don’t reflect reality. 

Electron-microscopic specks identified as viruses could be debris from dead proteins or particles of cytoplasmic (cellular) residues. And there are serious considerations about whether test tube-based results with viruses can be replicated in a living organism.

Even prestigious medical journals like The Lancet   have taken potshots at germ theory: “The germ theory of disease … is a gross oversimplification. The germ theory has become a dogma because it neglects the many other factors which have a part to play in deciding whether the host/germ/environment complex is to lead to infection.”2 

And then there is the not-so-small issue of the “sterile environment” of the human body that Pasteur considered fundamental to the germ-based theory of disease. He thought the body was free from all “contamination” from microbes unless they attacked it. 

A walking, talking bioreactor

Today we know that the human body, which is estimated to contain approximately 37.2 trillion cells, has at least 10 times that number of bacteria, fungi, yeast and protozoa living inside—comprising about one to three percent of the typical human body’s mass. 

This means that in a 200-pound (90-kg) adult, there’s between two to six pounds (one to three kg) of bacteria—enough to fill a small bag of dry cat food. 3

 In the book 10% Human: How Your Body’s Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness (Harper, 2015), science writer Alanna Collen describes how the vast internal colonies of microbes we carry influence not only our immune system but things like our weight, our mental health, and even our choice of partner. 

The human body is anything but a “sterile environment.” More people are becoming familiar with the reality of the human biome and realize they carry a lot of bacteria in their body—especially in their gut. 

But few people understand that viruses are one of the most abundant of all microorganisms on the planet and that human beings carry a vast number of viruses inside them—around 1013 particles per person—with no ill effects.4 Known as the human virome, studies show that even viruses like hepatitis B can be carried in the virome of the body without manifesting any symptoms.5

Bottom line, we now know that bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms are incredibly important in helping us to do everything from digest food to maintain a healthy reproductive system. They also protect us against infection.

Far from avoiding microbe-rich environments, studies now show that newborns exposed to household germs, rodent dander and cockroach allergens during their first year of life have a lower risk of developing asthma and allergies later in childhood.6 Children raised with dogs and cats are also healthier than those raised in more “sanitary” households.7 

Germ-free mice and antibiotic-treated mice develop abnormalities in their intestinal tracts because of the absence of intestinal bacteria, which carry out important functions like providing stimulatory signals.8 

In fact, the microbiome contributes more genes to human survival than the human genome.9 Which means it’s more than time to examine the validity of Pasteur’s germ theory in a very different light. 

An ancient rivalry

Born in 1822, the noted French chemist Louis Pasteur birthed the development of pasteurization (the application of heat to destroy pathogens in foods and certain beverages). He popularized germ theory and developed some of the first vaccines.

His research into the alcohol fermentation process taught him that yeast was vital to fermentation and that it was the growth of microorganisms in beer, milk and wine that lead to their spoiling. Researching beverage contamination from microorganisms led him to the conclusion that disease in humans was also caused by these contaminants. 

Eventually, Pasteur came to believe that every disease known to man was attributable to a particular microorganism, an invisible “air germ” invader with a single physical presentation or form, which was capable of infiltrating the human body and spoiling the tissues, thereby causing disease. By the end of his life, Pasteur had been awarded multiple prizes in various countries for his discoveries. The Institute Pasteur, a globally famous vaccine research institute, has 32 locations around the world today.

Six years before Pasteur developed germ theory, French doctor Pierre Jacques Antoine Béchamp, then Dean of the Catholic Faculty of Medicine at Université Lille Nord de France, came to the conclusion that molds responsible for the fermentation process either were living organisms themselves or contained living organisms and would change their form depending upon the environmental conditions of the medium they were kept in.

A cytologist specializing in the study of cells, Béchamp eventually discovered the ability of tiny round granular bodies he found in most cells to trigger fermentation, and he named the tiny dust-like yet reflective particles “microzyma.” (Microzyma is a combination of the Greek words for “small” and “ferment.”) Eventually he discovered that under certain conditions, microzyma were capable of transforming into bacteria.

Béchamp quietly consigned Pasteur’s “air germs” to the rubbish heap and announced to the scientific community that microzyma were the organized, living particles from which all life and all disease arose. In Béchamp’s view, when stress and other contaminating influences upset the homeostatic balance of the human body, microzyma already existing in our cells were triggered to morph into their pathological forms as bacteria and viruses, thus causing disease from within. 

Pasteur’s theories were very much in alignment with the medical thinking of the day, while Béchamp’s findings were antithetical to the development of the drugs and vaccines that would soon become popular in the “fight” against Pasteur’s terrifying invisible air germs. 

Pasteur died a famous man at age 73. Béchamp died a well-respected yet highly ignored scientist at the age of 91.

COWS and terrain theory

COWS is an acronym that stands for what Dr Robert O. Young refers to as the “seven natural doctors”: Chlorophyll, Clay, Oxygen, Oil, Water, Salt and Sexercise. “These are the seven doctors that you want to implement in your life for healthy living,” he says.  

Chlorophyll, found in green leafy vegetables, has a similar chemical structure to the nonprotein (oxygen-binding) part of hemoglobin, and it’s thought to help increase hemoglobin production in the body. The main difference between the two is that hemoglobin is rich in iron, while chlorophyll is rich in magnesium.1  

Young recommends montmorillonite clay
as an excellent chelator for toxins, with a suggested dose of 5 grams twice a day mixed in distilled water. 

The oils he recommends include black seed oil, broccoli seed oil, hemp seed oil, and borage seed oil. Avocado oil and olive oil are also acceptable. 

All these plant oils are super polyunsaturated and help maintain alkalinity in the body, a pH state that Young maintains should ideally not drop below 7.35 as measured via a urine pH test strip. 

Getting enough oxygen means getting good aerobic exercise, preferably not in the city, where air pollution is an issue. 

Water should be purified, and natural sea salt is the best salt to choose. 

As for the last “S,” says Young, “that’s up to the individual.” 

The simple logic of terrain theory

As strange as the findings of Béchamp, Rife, Enderlein and Young sound, if you vault past talk of pleomorphism, microzymas and EVs, put aside questions about whether they exist and what the implications are and simply focus on the foundational premise of terrain theory—that a healthy body depends upon a healthy internal and external environment—it’s difficult to argue with the simple logic of it.

Nowadays, it’s hardly news to anyone that eating a fast-food diet based on refined sugars and refined GMO-based wheat products, eating foods filled with pesticides, preservatives and food additives, slugging down soft drinks and working in a polluted urban environment under high-stress conditions is not the best formula for maintaining good health. 

Maintaining a proper balanced diet filled with fresh organic fruits and vegetables is understood as a basic requirement for health. As is sufficient hydration with pure water, proper amounts of exercise and sufficient sleep. These things are all prime elements in the terrain-based physician’s handbook of good health practices—along with many other things, like maintaining an alkaline pH level in the body.10 

“Disease is born in us and from us due to lifestyle choices—what you eat, what you drink, what you breathe, what you think, what you feel, what you believe—all these are contributing factors,” says Young. 

“If you want energy and a lifetime of exercise without pain and misery, look at what rabbits eat. They eat greens and more greens. All the strongest animals from the silverback gorilla to the rhinoceros to the elephant eat plants; that’s why they’re so strong. You just can’t do the same thing on Gatorade and a protein bar.”

Of course, Young, Singh and other advocates of the terrain theory concur that one of the most detrimental impacts on the healthy terrain of the human body is modern medicine—vaccinations and the endless pharmaceuticals shoved at patients from birth to death—all of which are based on Pasteur’s germ theory.

“The world is still stuck in the mentality that we were in back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when microbes were first discovered,” says Singh. 

“We’re stuck in a language of war, otherness and defense that is so replete in our medical jargon that people can’t step away from it and recognize that their microbiome is part of the human being. Look at the word antibiotic. It means ‘against life.’ When you take an antibiotic, you’re in the beginning process of killing yourself.

“We talk about the microbiome as if it is separate from us, and it’s really a continuum. We are like colonies of life, and all life on the planet is a continuum of each other, even though we have these distinct bodies and entities and species.”

Probiotics, not antibiotics

Jenifer Hartz, 55, of Gainesville, Florida, is a perfect example of a patient who began her medical treatment solidly in Pasteur’s germ theory camp.

She started having sinus infections in high school, which would recur a couple times a year. Each time she’d be miserable for at least a week. “My eyes would water so much that they would swell,” she said. “My whole face hurt so bad I couldn’t do anything but lie in bed trying not to move.”

Each time she had sinusitis, she was prescribed a course of antibiotics by her doctor. Over time the number of sinus infections increased, with a new one starting shortly after the last one healed. She also started experiencing recurrent bouts of cystitis, and then a severe case of bronchitis. She was on an almost steady stream of antibiotics, year in and year out. And the situation was only getting worse. 

Finally, at the recommendation of her massage therapist, she decided to see Dr Erin Singh, ND. 

“The first appointment, I was with her for an hour and a half,” says Jenifer. “She wanted to know who I was and what I was dealing with. She didn’t treat me like a number like all my allopathic doctors did.”

Jenifer began to work with Erin on her various infections. “The first big thing she did was put me on this super probiotic remedy, and I remember that after two days of taking it, I couldn’t believe how different I felt.”

“Jenifer ate a relatively decent healthy diet,” says Dr Singh, “but there were emotional issues that weren’t being addressed that kept triggering the chronic infections. Every time the symptoms started, she’d go to the doctor and get put back on antibiotics, which would arrest the process and was why she could never really get well. 

“When people take enough courses of steroids or antibiotics, their body loses the ability to eliminate toxins created by various stressors, and then they start clogging up with toxicity. And that’s what creates chronic disease.”

Jenifer says that she learned there were several reasons Erin got sick—and it wasn’t because she “caught something” or got “infected by a bug.” The heavy stress from her work as a middle school teacher was weakening her immune system—which steady courses of antibiotics over the years had already compromised. 

“It took a couple of years to get everything under control. But I haven’t had cystitis or a sinus infection in quite a while, even though there’s a ton of pollen here in Florida,” says Jenifer. 

Working with Erin and taking a “keep the terrain healthy” approach, which included dropping wheat from her diet and adopting a low-carb, metabolic diet was difficult at first, but now Jenifer sees what a difference this approach makes. 

“Something will happen and I’ll tighten up, but I quickly realize when I‘m stressed and need to take a walk or do something to chill out. I can get myself in a much better place really quickly.



Dr Erin Holston Singh, ND:

Dr Robert Young, PhD, ND:

Main Article



Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2016; 113(33): 9155–61


Lancet, 1968; 1(7551): 1077–81


US National Institutes of Health, “NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body.” June 13, 2012 


Nat Rev Microbiol. 2021 Mar 30: 1–14


Virol J. 2005; 2: 82


J Allergy Clin Immunol, 2014; 134(3): 593–601.e12


Pediatrics, 2012; 130(2): 211–20


Immunity, 2015; 42(5): 805–13


NIH News in Health, “Your Microbes and You.” November, 2012. 


J Environ Public Health, 2012; 2012: 727630


A teeming population within us


National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, “Mouth Microbes.” June, 2019


Nature, “The Skin Microbiome.” Dec 16, 2020


Lancet, 2003; 361(9356): 512–19


COWS and terrain theory



JAMA, 1936; 106(11): 925



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