a review of scientific american’s 1955 article; ‘second thoughts on the germ theory’

PULITZER PRIZE WINNING SCIENTIST, RENE DUBOS, SHARES HIS THOUGHTS ON THE “GERM THEORY” OF DISEASE

“It’s not that germs don’t play a part in disease, it’s just that the part they play is not the part we’ve been led to believe they play.”  Me from a previous post (link below)

“Everyone harbors disease germs, yet not everyone is sick.  This is ascribed to ‘resistance,’ suggesting that germs are less important in disease than other factors affecting the condition of the host.”  The header of a 1955 article published in Scientific American (Second Thoughts on the Germ Theory) by renowned scientist, Rene Dubos

Born in France in 1901, Rene Jules Dubos’ life was dramatically affected by infectious disease; him contracting a severe case of Rheumatic Fever that left him paralyzed for a year of his youth (not to mention its most classic sign — a lifetime of heart valve problems), and his father dying in the FLU PANDEMIC OF WWI that killed something like 100 million people worldwide.  You will see one other tragic example that occurred later in Dubos’ life, when his wife succumbed to tuberculosis, all of which makes his story even more incredible. 

Dubos attended university in Paris (The Institute of Agronomics) where he excelled in the field of, you guessed it, agricultural economics.  But despite his successes, ag econ was not his true calling.  Dubos’ 1989 biography discussed how his intellectual focus changed a few years after the Great War.

“In 1922, Rene obtained a position in Rome on the staff of the International Institute of Agriculture, a branch of the League of Nations. For two years, as associate editor of the International Review of the Science and Practice of Agriculture for the Bureau of Agricultural Intelligence and Plant Diseases,he abstracted journal and agricultural reports from all over the world. He now spoke Italian and English as well as French and German. Rene recalled his days in Rome as very pleasant. He was a handsome young man with a bushy head of hair who was particularly attracted to English girls, ostensibly to improve his language skills. At this time he was undecided about career goals, considering occupations as divergent as journalist and scientist.”

After being exposed to a scientific paper by Paris’s renowned soil biologist / microbiologist, Serge Winogradsky, Dubos changed professions, eventually landing at Rutgers after earning enough money to make the cross-Atlantic trip by translating studies on agriculture and forestry from several languages into French.  Once in America it didn’t take long to establish himself as an intellectual force, earning his Ph.D in microbiology in 1927 (his thesis was on the way in which bacteria in soil decomposed the fibrous part of plants called cellulose).

After landing at The Rockefeller Institute (the institution that interestingly enough was responsible for bringing us the unscrupulous FLEXNER REPORT), he began a major survey and study of soil throughout both the United States and Canada, earning academic acclaim for three new and distinct ideas.

  • The idea that bacteria nourished in the proper environment can produce enzymes specific to themselves.
  • The idea that in infectious diseases, bacterial by-products stimulate immunity to said bacteria.
  • The idea that environmental stressors affect the development of the organism as a whole (today we would probably refer to these stressors as EPIGENETIC FACTORS).

The authors went on to reveal the result of Dubos’ new way of thinking…….

“His interests progressed from studies of pneumonia and tuberculosis to the whole pattern of disease and, finally, to the quality of human life on earth. The unifying thread in this seeming diversity was his perception that any living organism, whether microbe, man, or society, can be understood only in the context of the entire web of relationships it forms with everything else.”

Dubos is talking here about a concept I have dealt with extensively on my sidte concerning both WHOLE FOOD NUTRITION and FASCIA.  Modern, Westernized science breaks things down (organisms, soil, humans, bacteria, plants, food, etc), separating them into their tiniest microscopic components, always looking for a compound or chemical that will prove to be the magic bullet in the quest against CANCER, OBESITY, or who-knows-what-else. The problem is, MONOTHERAPIES (chemicals or compounds in isolation) rarely do what’s claimed of them. 

In other words, Dubos believed that the whole (organism, food, field, forest, etc) was much greater than the sum of its individual parts, which provides us with a good description of the chief difference between MECHANISM & VITALISM (or HERE).  Mechanistic (Westernized) medicine believes that all of ill health’s secrets will one day be unlocked by purely mechanical ’cause-and-effect’ thinking, while vitalists realize that there is something about living organisms and ecosystems that cannot be understood apart from the whole. 

What’s equally as interesting along these same lines is that even though Fleming gets the credit for discovering antibiotics, not only did Dubos do a great deal of the early heavy lifting in this field, he also predicted that bacteria would eventually become “resistant” to these various antibacterial compounds (ANTIBIOTIC); a concept we are all too familiar with today (HERE).  And unlike many of his peers, he was not under the delusion that antibiotics were wonder drugs that would wipe sickness and disease off the face of the earth, such as became widely promoted by the scientific community in the 1950’s, not to mention by LBJ’s GREAT SOCIETY in the 1960’s.

During WWII, Dubos’ wife died of the recurrence of a latent TB infection, leading him to start heavily researching infectious tuberculosis.  Notice, however, the ‘epigenetic’ manner in which he thought about this disease.  “Rene began with the conviction that tuberculosis became an important social disease only under certain social conditions“.  We talked about some of these conditions IN MY LAST POST, which, although happened to be on autism, could just as easily been about any of the 85-90% of all diseases that are not genetic (yes; way too many doctors continue to promote a genetic etiology of “LIFESTYLE DISEASES” to their patients).   Not surprisingly, in the myriad of papers Dubos published on TB, one of his favorite areas of study was, “the effect of diet on the course of experimental tuberculosis in laboratory animals.” 

In other words, Dubos continued to shed Pasteur’s idea that germs themselves were the cause of disease, while standing on the shoulders of scientific giants like Claude Bernard, Antione Bechamp, Ilya Illyich Meshnikov, and Rudolph Virchow, all of whom were alive when he was, and all promoting similar ideas — ideas that were being hijacked by industry right under their very noses.  What’s important to remember is that despite their collective scientific achievements, in many ways these men became pariahs because of their belief that the health of the organism (“the soil“), was far more important than whether or not they had been exposed to some germ or another (HERE).  Not surprising considering what the authors wrote about Dubos’ original mentor, Serge Winogradsky…..

“Winogradsky stated that microorganisms should be studied not in a pure laboratory culture but in their own environment in competition with other bacteria. He emphasized interactions of organisms under natural conditions and the significance of the role played by the environment in these interactions. Rene said his scholarly life began with these ideas—ideas he restated in many forms throughout his life.”

There it is again folks; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!  But, as medicine’s emphasis on treating infectious disease shifted from long-term solutions (looking at epigenitic factors that affected the health and immunity of the host) to short-term band aids (drugs that killed germs or altered symptoms without really ever addressing underlying pathophysiology or immunity), Dubos became increasingly frustrated, turning his attention towards environmental advocacy, lecturing, and writing a number of books (he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969).  Listen to what these authors said of him concerning this era…..

“The key book resulting from Dubos’s thoughts about illness, and his most popular work, was Mirage of Health (1959).  Embodied in its title is his ecological view that man will never be free from disease because he must continuously adapt to environments in flux: Disease results from the dynamic process of life. In Dreams of Reason (1961), he questioned over-confidence in science’s ability to eliminate disease, advocating, instead, using the means and knowledge of science to determine the kind of health society wants. A more explicit, scientific statement of his views on environmental biomedicine appeared a few years later in Man Adapting (1965), which emphasized that states of health or disease are organisms’ adaptive responses to environmental challenges.”

I bring up the 1950’s because of an article that expert in hormones and mitochondrial dysfunction, DR. CHANDLER MARRS, posted the other day.   You see, back in May of 1955, Dubos wrote a piece for the oldest science publication in the United States, Scientific American, concerning this very topic.  The article’s provocative title?  Second Thoughts on the Germ Theory.

Before I begin, you must remember that Louis Pasteur (the man who came up with the germ theory) was not only primary of Dubos many scientific heroes, but Dr. Dubos actually published a biography on Pateur in 1950 titled Louis Pasteur: Free Lance of Science.  Understand that for Dubos to write an article with this sort of title, went not only against today’s current thought, but against the current thought for that era as well, not to mention the fact that it was essentially a rebuttal of some of the biggest aspects of Pasteur’s work. Need proof?  Take a peek at the article’s shocking header (it’s the quote at the top of the page).  Why would this have been so controversial within the scientific community of that day? Because it’s almost exactly what ‘quacks’ like the developer of the chiropractic profession (DR. BJ PALMER) repeatedly said during their careers.  It also happens to be the foundation of a field of study known as epigenitics.

We grew up being told that the field of GENETICS was, like the field of microbiology and bacteriology before it, going to solve all of humankind’s health woes.  Not only has this not panned out, but infectious diseases are being fingered as the chief culprit in growing numbers of diseases that were originally believed to be genetic (and as I said earlier, are still being promoted as such by far too many doctors).  How important has the field of epigenetics become?  In Y-2K there were ten studies published on the subject.  Ten years ago (2008) PubMed showed 240 studies with the word “epigentic” in the title.  By last year, that number had increased over ten-fold to almost 2,700 published studies.  Epigenetics are important because it’s today’s best example of the concept Dubos was trying to get through to his readers sixty five years ago.

Dubos began his 1955 paper by suggesting that the germ theory of disease — germs find susceptible hosts and multiply — was grossly oversimplified.  He explained this by arguing that there have been plenty of critics of the the Pasteur / Koch theory since its inception in the 1870’s, not the least of whose reasoning included the fact that healthy animals / humans were frequently surrounded by the sick, yet did not get sick themselves.   He went on to describe followers of the germ theory as having three distinct characteristics.

  • They are “almost cultish” in their love of and defense of the germ theory.
  • They are “undisturbed by the inconsistencies” of their theory.
  • They are “not too exacting about evidence“.

Remember; this was 1955 — long before today’s emphasis (no matter how TWISTED OR OXY-MORONICAL) on evidence-based medicine.  Furthermore, listen to how another ‘quack,’ Dr. DD Palmer — the founder of chiropractic back in the late 1800’s — described this same phenomenon in relation to the humble beginnings of the profession.

“For ten years I had been looking, thinking, asking myself and others the question, why does one person have a certain ailment and another remain well, although both may be eating the same food at the same table, sleeping in the same bed and working side by side? At last Harvey Lillard assisted me in answering my question. He told me that while he was in a cramped position he felt something give way in his back and from that time he was deaf. Upon examination I found a vertebra out of alignment, racked out of its normal position. I replaced it by two adjustments and restored his hearing.”

The point here is not that chiropractic adjustments are the cure for deafness (LIKE THIS ONE WAS), or that germs aren’t associated with disease on some level (they are).  It’s that exactly as BJ Palmer said probably 100 years ago, “The germ might well be the agent of disease, but the cause is much more complex than that. Otherwise, eventually no one would be alive to tell you about it!”  Listen to the way Dubos described this same phenomenon.  “Is it not possible that bacteria are only the secondary cause of disease — opportunistic invaders of tissues already weakened by crumbling defenses?”  And this, my friends, is the crux of the debate.  Do germs actually cause disease, or do diseased (but in many cases asymptomatic) organisms simply attract germs in the same way that spoiled fruit attracts flies or ROTTING GRAIN ATTRACTS RATS?  As is often the case, the truth falls somewhere in the middle; although he (and I) would argue closer to the latter.

But as far as the former goes (the point that germs are actually the cause of disease), Dubos was not silent.  He went on to talk about various historical plagues that killed horrifying numbers of people. “These instances provide tragic evidence that a microbial agent may strike down the weak and healthy alike when introduced to a susceptible population.”  However, the fact that not only did everyone exposed to these plagues not die, but not anywhere near the majority, helps prove that Dubos was on the right track.  And once natural immunity develops within the population, death rates plummet despite regularly being exposed. “Theories of disease must account for the fact. that in any community, a large percentage of healthy individuals continually harbor potentially pathogenic microbes without suffering any symptoms or lesions.”  Dubos went on to declare that most of his readers were harboring “virulent” staph and tuberculin themselves, yet would never know it because it would never manifest.

This itself raises an interesting question.  Despite our best efforts to “cure” infectious disease, why are rapidly growing numbers of people plagued with illnesses that are increasingly believed to be the result of what Dubos referred to as “latent infections” (ALZHEIMER’S, DISC HERNIATIONS, EBV, PANDAS/PANS, IBS, FLACCID PARALYSIS, DISEASES FROM ROOT CANALS OR OTHER ORAL INFECTIONS, and on and on and on)?  

He answered this by revealing that the most likely scenario is that these ‘sleeping dogs’ (my term, not his) will continue to lie until something wakes them.  What might awaken a dormant infection?  Here is Dubos’ list (most of these are direct quotes or nearly so).  Diabetes or other sugar dysregulation issues (AFTER ALL, SUGAR FEEDS INFECTION), being interned in a concentration camp or gulag (LIKE THIS), overwork, over-indulgence (both of which create SYMPATHETIC DOMINANCE), damp drafts, UNHAPPY MARRIAGES, FEVER, RADIATION, CHEMICAL TOXICITY (or HERE), SURGERY, MENSTRUATION, IMPROPER FOOD, etc, etc, etc.  Honestly; what do these collectively remind me of?  This list appears to be made up of the very elements that modern researchers would include in parenthesis just after mentioning epigenetic factors.

There is, however, an even deeper question raised by Dubos’ paper; what are the results of a constant cradle-to-grave barrage of ANTIBIOTICS, CORTICOSTEROIDS, (FLU SHOTS INCLUDED), BIOLOGICS, and OTHER DRUGS (many of which are unarguably based on IMMUNE SYSTEM SUPPRESSION)?  Interestingly, Dubos provided an answer.  Listen to how true his words still ring today.

“It has been repeatedly observed that vigorous treatment with drugs of almost any type of virulent infection in a human being may have the paradoxical effect of bringing about another type of infection, caused by the proliferation of otherwise innocuous fungi and bacteria.  We are beginning, in fact, to witness the appearance of man-made diseases, caused by the rapid changes in human ecology, brought about by these new therapeutic procedures.”

Gulp!  And he’s not even talking about the absurd numbers side effects of drugs taken for non-infectious diseases (HERE), let alone the astronomical amount of medication (or range of vaccines) that the average citizen would one day become conditioned to believe is normal.  I don’t think even a visionary like Dubos could have foreseen our current pharmaceutical flood looming just below the horizon (HERE or HERE).  A mastermind group that I am part of (there are brilliant people from a wide range of academic, athletic, and medical backgrounds — AND THEN THERE’S ME) recently had a debate (blow-up would be more descriptive) over vaccines.  At least partially in response, I wrote a short post on legal issues raised by brand new testimony concerning the vaccine / autism debate (HERE). 

The point of my post was that unfortunately you can’t, at least in most cases, know up front whether or not your child will be the one who reacts, as well as the fact that many of these reactions may not fully manifest for decades.  Although Dubos was talking about antibiotics in the quote below, he could just as easily have been talking instead about vaccines (our government’s national vaccine campaign did not begin for another 7 years in 1963 —- HERE or HERE). 

“The classical doctrines of immunity throw no light on precisely what mechanisms determine whether dormant microbes will remain inactive or begin to act up.  What is needed to analyze this problem is an understanding of the agencies needed for natural resistance to infection, and of the factors that interfere with these agencies.  Fortunately, interest into research in this area is increasing rapidly.”

While his last sentence may still be true today on some level, don’t kid yourself; it’s only really true in terms of creating drugs — a fact driven home by a recent discussion within the above-mentioned group (mostly by MD’s) on the ABHORRENT STATE OF NUTRITION EDUCATION WITHIN THE MEDICAL PROFESSION.  The truth, however, is exactly like Dr. Dubos stated after telling his readers that disease is all about the ecology of one’s environment, both internal and external.  “Whether man lives in equilibrium with microbes depends on the circumstances under which he encounters them.”   I love the word “equilibrium” here, implying a HOMEOSTATIC RELATIONSHIP between man and germ —- the very thing required for health as per the HYGIENE HYPOTHESIS.  What do I suggest you do with this information?

Firstly, realize that Dubos is correct in his assertion that “we cannot possibly eliminate all the microbes that are potentially capable of causing us harm.”  Trying to do so has created more damage than the average person could ever begin to comprehend.  Secondly, it’s critical to grasp that you wouldn’t want to do this even if it were possible (see previous link as well as information on both MICROBIOME & DYSBIOSIS and their relationship to AUTOIMMUNITY).  And thirdly, realize that even though this information is not exactly new, you can leverage it’s main ideas to start taking your life and health back.  After all, no one else — not even your doctor — can do it for you.

Although there are some of you that will require some very specific and uniquely customized approaches to your return-to-health plan (your “EXIT STRATEGY” if you will), for most of you — that would be over 50% of you — MY GENERIC HEALTH-RESTORATION TEMPLATE is enough to get you started.  And if you know someone who could benefit from the cool (and completely free) information on our site, be sure and like, share or follow on FACEBOOK since it’s still a great way to reach the people you love and value most!

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