Holistic Health, Germs and Disease
This post is essentially a simplified history of microbiology. As medical technology advanced, scientists gained enough insight to begin studying the causes of disease and two schools of thought emerged. One showed immediate and promising results while the other was more holistic in nature and, though sound in theory, could not readily offer the same clear evidence in terms of results. This dialogue began in Europe in the early 1800s and still continues in present times. It can be somewhat characterized by the following comparisons easily recognized today.
- Western vs ‘Eastern’ Medicine
- Modern vs Traditional (or Natural) Medicine
- Pro-Vaccinations vs Anti-Vaxxers
We offer a way of thinking about these views without going to extremes and propose that a middle ground should be sought.
Vaccines To The Rescue
The technique of vaccination was developed in 1796 by Edward Jenner. Jenner used pus from open running sores of sick cows and injected it into his patients. These patients would effectively get cowpox and develop an immunity for it which was similar enough to the immunity required to fend off the deadly smallpox disease. This was the birth of immunization (or vaccination) and paved the way for the development of antibiotics, the first being penicillin in 1940.
In the late 1800s there was a sharp decline in deaths relating to smallpox. Vaccinations continued to have an impact.
- 1955, vaccination developed against polio
- 1963, vaccination developed against measles
- 1979, WHO declares the eradication of smallpox
- 1988, vaccination developed against mumps
- 1994, vaccination developed for hepatitis-b
Another key development in the late-1800s was aseptic surgery by Joseph Lister which contributed to lower mortality rates. Lister realized that improved medical procedure hygiene prevented additional infections from surgery and it also applied to childbirth. This idea aligned well with Pasteur’s theory and, with so many lives being saved, the medical sciences community gained confidence that they were on the right track.
We did not understand the mechanisms of vaccinations when they were first employed. However efficacy could not be denied as many lives were saved. It was not until after the mid-1800s that scientists like Louis Pasteur and Antoine BéChamp began a proper investigation into the nature of disease. However, as we can see from the vaccination development dates above, the ideological train of immunization had already left the station.
Louis Pasteur was a French biologist who started his research around the mid-1800s. He developed pasteurization which involves heating raw milk until it kills the germs and bacteria in order to prevent infections. The idea was that germs are inherently bad and cause of disease. It would follow then that killing germs, including viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites is the way to treat and prevent disease. In other words, germs are the enemy and we must defeat them to survive.
Antoine BéChamp, also a French biologist and Pasteur’s peer, held a different view. BéChamp noted that germs were everywhere and even existed inside of us in a symbiotic relationship. Rather than acting on live healthy cells, germs take advantage of damaged tissue and a greater presence of germs would manifest as a symptom of disease. Bacteria are scavengers in nature and reduce dead tissue to its smallest element. To prevent illness, BéChamp advocated the cultivation of healthy tissues through diet, hygiene and lifestyle choices. If the person has a strong immune system and healthy tissues then excessive germs would not appear.
Seeing is Believing
Pasteur and Béchamp endured a rivalry about who better understood the true cause of disease. Pasteur’s ideas, likely due to the confidence boost from life saving immunization practices, became more popular in the west. Western medicine grew from Pasteur’s theory and led in the development and use of vaccinations, antibiotics and other antimicrobials.
In short, immunization, as first used, was a crude tool that was effective and was used despite little to no understanding of it at the time. Though, it did save many lives. Looking forward, immunization would be best used as a last resort or emergency measure. Essentially, it should only be used for human survival. If we only kill the infection without addressing the dysfunction in the patient’s immune system the patient may become sick again by the same means, or perhaps some other infection. When the immune system is compromised, an infection may further weaken and/or burden the immune system. By focusing on supporting the body’s immune function, the body will handle the infections on its own and maintain an appropriate amount and diversity of germs. Supporting the immune system and striving for healthy tissues should be our first line of defence. These are major components of being responsible for your health.
Note: Healers who rely on natural remedies and may also make the mistake of targeting germs by using anti-microbial herbs prematurely.
Back To The Future
In present times we can still see this dichotomy playing out. We have Western Medicine or Modern Medicine mostly operating in its own sphere. We also have Eastern or Traditional views of medicine also usually operating in its own sphere. We have advocates of vaccinations and we have anti-vaxxers. These opposing views on medicine can be simplified as having an offensive strategy versus a defense one. With this framing we can appreciate that it isn’t wise to simply choose one over the other. There is a hierarchical component as well. Should the individual be responsible for their health, and by extension the health of their community, or should the state be our caretaker?
Seeking Medicine’s Middle Ground
A middle ground can be negotiated in order to take advantage of all the forces involved. It is our view that we should first defend our health by supporting our body’s own defense systems for prevention and treatment. If an infection cannot be contained we can then seek solutions from the modern realms of medicine. As for responsibility, both the state and the individual can work in tandem with the individual taking the lead. States however, being a kind of artificial entity, may not always have human interests in mind. Individuals must be careful not to allow the state to infringe on their rights with forced solutions which could end up making them sick and more susceptible to other ailments which in turn may require more solutions. This destructive pattern is always driven by economic addictions and capitalistic values. Forced solutions should be met with intense scrutiny and only accepted with understanding rather than trust.