Germ Theory alternatives?
February 21, 2007 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I've recently come across someone who disputes the Germ Theory of Disease. Has anyone ever heard of such a crazy thing before?
posted by xmattxfx to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This was apparently the state policy of the Soviet Union.
posted by mzurer at 9:26 AM on February 21, 2007


I assume you're not trying to ask a rhetorical question. Are you looking for resources to debate him or are you looking for backgrounds on his beliefs?
posted by ardgedee at 9:32 AM on February 21, 2007

You probably met a Jehovah's Witness. It looks like they gave up on this position in the 50s but I wouldnt be surprised if diehards exist or if many of them still believe this.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:35 AM on February 21, 2007

I'm not sure exactly what you're getting at, but if you're not asking "these people who don't believe in germs are wackos amirite?" there are couple of germ theories out there.

Miasma was popular for a while? And then there was that theory that involved lots of leeches and bloodletting.

Christian Scientists think that disease comes from not being "Godly" enough, and that healing comes through prayer and devotion to God.
posted by that girl at 9:36 AM on February 21, 2007

The Germ Theory: A Faulty Medical Model seems to posit that it is only when your body's PH allows the microbes to turn into deadly bacteria, fungus, or viruses.
posted by jepler at 9:38 AM on February 21, 2007

erk, my post was nearly as incoherent as the page it cited. anyway, go read it (if you can handle the background image) and have a good laugh at the idea that your body's PH turns microbes into deadly viruses.
posted by jepler at 9:39 AM on February 21, 2007

Thank you jepler, for this wonderful link.

"I choose to reject the Medical Model. I choose to take charge of my own health. And in doing so, I will avoid most all of the plagues of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Cancer, Anthrax, and AIDS."

If I ever open a mailed envelope to find it filled with white powder, I'll just remember the wondrous teachings of "The Center for Unhindered Living," and everything will be okay.

I'll not even comment on the (capitalized) Cancer and AIDS. I might even be open to this sort of reasoning, if it wasn't presented along with such damning hilarity.
posted by gaiamark at 9:56 AM on February 21, 2007

I mention Chiropracty in an earlier comment, but it was deleted. So i'll mention it again.
posted by the cuban at 9:59 AM on February 21, 2007

There are several reasonably popular, contemporary ideologies that are opposed in part or whole to the germ theory of disease.

The viewpoint of Christian Science is considerably more complicated than stated above. Briefly, and still simplified/interpreted by a non-believer, Christian Scientists hold that all reality is composed of the Divine mind, and that matter and the human body are myths. Thus, "false beliefs are the procuring cause of all sin and disease." In a nutshell you become sick because you believe yourself sick, sickness is at its root simply an individual disharmony with the Divine mind. Getting medical treatment is then actually opposed because you're basically feeding into the false belief and giving it more power, rather than focusing on getting right with God.

Many proponents of alternative medicine, particularly homeopathy, dispute the germ theory to some degree. Although specifics vary, a common viewpoint is that infection is essentially a symptom of disease rather than a cause: when one is sick in some holistic or homeopathic sense, the body becomes, as a result, vulnerable to out-of-control growth of microorganisms it normally fosters without their reproducing out of control or causing problems. Likewise, these people do not believe that managing an infection (i.e. with antibiotics) truly restores an individual to health. Often homeopathic practitioners hold that doing this actually drives the core disease deeper into the body and practically guarantees its recurrence.
posted by nanojath at 10:07 AM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


In western science, there's Miasma and Abiogenesis. Both of these theories have been largely discarded, but they were functional in their time. Particularly the Miasma theory led to many successful ways of dealing with disease.

In traditional Chinese medicine diseases are considered to be side effects of unbalanced energy. Hard to prove or disprove, but once again following the theory leads to some very successful ways of dealing with various diseases.

Then of course there is the religious angle. A number of faiths (the Christian Scientists being the usual example) consider diseases to be a physical manifestation of their soul not being right with god. Unfortunately this theory does not seem to lead to effective ways of dealing with diseases.

Last but not least, we have about a million and one crackpot theories, where "crackpot" is defined as "haven't convinced enough people yet". You've got your Body pH theory and your Entropy theory and ... oh hell, just go to this lovely site and start clicking at random.

And before you go too hard on these people: is the idea that our health is determined by millions of invisible creatures that surround us at all times really that plausible? If you understand the details it becomes a bit more reasonable, but just on the face of it the idea sounds completely insane.
posted by tkolar at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2007

Over at Scienceblogs, Tara has had some trouble with germ theory deniers.

I don't mind that they refuse antibiotics and die, but I weep for their children.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:12 AM on February 21, 2007

The issue of Beauchamp's theories WRT Pasteur and the germ theory are so popular among the alternative medicine crowd that if you google Beauchamp and "germ theory" you will find a very, very great deal of reading by other interesting opponents of conventional medicine and its wicked lies.
posted by nanojath at 10:15 AM on February 21, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all. Very informative. I had never heard of such a thing so was surprised when I heard about it. I never heard of such a thing when I study Microbiology. Somehow it doesn't surprise me that alternative medicine and religion have something to say about it.
posted by xmattxfx at 10:57 AM on February 21, 2007

This was apparently the state policy of the Soviet Union.

I only mean to derail the thread a little, but I decided to do a some Googling on that, since Lysenkoism has been extended to give a very bad rap to the natural sciences in the former Soviet Union. (While no supporter of the former Soviet Union I always double-check random allegations like this since I find they're often Cold War propaganda leftovers.)

It was interesting to see that the Skeptical Inquirer claims that anti-vaccinationism in the Soviet Union came from the opposite of state policy and was fueled by Perestroika, climaxing as the Soviet Union dissolved:
During the 1970s and into the 1980s, the Soviet Union maintained control of pertussis through compulsory immunization. Perestroika changed all that. Its anti-government bias spawned an active anti-vaccination movement, one of whose targets was the pertussis vaccine. Soviet virologist Galina Chervonskaya inspired the Soviet media to launch a campaign to discredit vaccination, and DTP vaccination coverage rates fell by 30 percent. Not surprisingly, the Russian Federation (figure 5) also began to experience pertussis epidemics (Gangarosa et al. 1998).

I'm always fascinated by cases where an authoritarian government is doing the correct thing (e.g., vaccinations) but is stymied by wrongheaded popular opposition (even if the popular opposition is on the whole correct).
posted by Gnatcho at 12:29 PM on February 21, 2007

There’s also a non-dogmatic rejection of the germ theory, which is not so much a denial of the existence of germs as a refusal to accept that germs are the fundamental problem.

The basic premise is that not everyone gets a disease even when they are exposed to the relevant germs. Therefore, rather than focus on the germs, why not look at why some people get sick and others don’t? This involves looking at the whole organism and trying to find what’s making it vulnerable.

In fact, this is an approach scientists regularly take. The problem is that the answer is often something like age or genetics, which we can’t do anything about so isn’t useful. The germ theory leads us to vaccinate and to treat infections, which is practically useful and why we’re so interested in it.

Holistic methods for restoring an organism to a state of equilibrium and invulnerable health involve quitting smoking, exercise, sleeping enough, moderate and varied diet, adequate hydration, food supplements, homeopathy, meditation, foot massage, visualisation, the placing of crystals, feng shui, colonic irrigation, strings around the waist and sundry other sensible and silly practices. These approaches are all fundamentally hopeful: that there’s a healthy body in there that just needs the right conditions to flourish. Which is true, within limits.

The limits are imposed by the human condition itself. We are frail. We fail, we are challenged, we suffer damage and we die. Even if we have done everything right, our bodies are fragile. The second line of defense after providing ourselves optimal conditions for health is to treat the diseases we fall prey to, whether circulatory, cancer or infection. Yes, treating these secondary states is an admission of failure of our bodies — but our bodies do fail.

So yes, the germ theory of disease is limited. It accepts the body’s vulnerability to infection as a given rather than attempting to challenge it. While often realistic, this acceptance can also be too fatalistic. There are usually things we can do to improve our outlook.

The holistic approach should be our first line of defense, but we still need second and third lines. Nutcases are the ones who hold that we are all perfect and destined for immortality if we can just maintain the correct optimistic attitude. Seeking to help health flourish in the first place isn’t nutty.
posted by kika at 2:15 PM on February 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

I did a post on such a view here.

More of a HIV/AIDS thread in particular, but nonetheless.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:49 PM on February 21, 2007

I don't know if they disbelieve in germs, but I know that some Christians believe that all illness is a result of sin.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:12 AM on February 22, 2007

« Older Shopping tips for the young, lanky urbanite?   |   Help me keep it clean! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.