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What makes you sick: the bug or the background?

It seems that both are important!


Over a hundred years ago, Louis Pasteur proposed the germ theory of disease, which said that bacteria caused disease. He was the one who proved that microbes from our environment can affect our food, and by killing those bugs with pasteurisation, milk could be prevented from spoiling quickly.


But others considered that the terrain of the body was more important: the internal environment. How healthy someone is affects how well their immune system can respond, and therefore how likely they are to get sick if exposed to a bug.


Science helps explain why both are important.


Of course we apply both ideas in daily life. We avoid people who are coughing, and we know we should look after ourselves if we feel run down.


Science has now identified so many different pathogenic microbes: bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Microbes are all around us and on us, absolutely everywhere!


Science can also often identify which drugs will kill disease-causing microbes. When a person is really sick, when the microbes are winning the battle, that knowledge is often life-saving. But those anti-microbial drugs aren’t without downstream effects, and many bacteria have developed antibiotic resistance, so these drugs should be always used judiciously.


A healthy terrain makes you less likely to get sick, and helps you recover faster and more completely if you do. When someone is feeling run down and gets a cold or flu, looking after themselves: resting, hydrating, and some chicken soup, is usually enough to get better. There’s no need to use a sledge hammer to crack a nut!


What supports a healthy terrain? 


General good nutrition, of course. Malnourished people get sick more, because they don’t have the necessary nutrients to mount a proper defence.


But so do the overfed and undernourished, in different ways. A big factor in this case is inflammation: a background of chronic inflammation is fertile breeding ground for infection.


Specific nutrients play critical roles in immunity:

  • Vitamin D, for its immune system support, found to be so important during the Covid pandemic

  • Vitamin A, for healthy mucous membranes

  • Zinc, to sustain proper immune function

  • Vitamin C, to increase the number of immune cells, and their activity.  

Sleep, time for the body to rest, repair and restore. Lots of healing takes place when we are sleeping.


Stress reduction and emotional well-being. Stress triggers inflammation, as well as hormonal changes that blunt our immune response.


Exercise creates better circulation of blood to oxygenate and nourish our tissues. It also moves lymphatic fluids that “take out the trash” of accumulated cellular debris.


Detox. A clean terrain functions better. It’s not enough to throw vitamins into a swamp! See our blog on the many benefits of detoxification!


We are fortunate to live at a time when many can choose healthier food, and a lifestyle that supports our ability to stay well. But if we are unfortunate enough to have a severe illness, there are usually life-saving drugs available to kill microbes. As naturopathic doctors, we like the idea of cleaning up the terrain after using antibiotics, and then looking into why someone got so sick in the first place, to help avoid that happening again in the future.


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