Friday, May 1, 2009

What is disease?

So far we know that viruses are bundles of genome encased in a protein sheath. Although they do not appear to be alive or self-directed, scientists don’t have a conclusive answer. However, almost any scientist or doctor you talk with will tell you that they’re not alive. They will also tell you that they are infectious agents that attack living organisms. This is the pathogenic model for medicine that has gone largely unquestioned since its inception in the late 1800s.

Like many endeavors, from discoveries to inventions to works of art, much depends on what came before. The idea of microorganisms dates as far back as written history goes, but it was all wrapped up in God’s will, evil spirits, and curses. After the Middle Ages, humankind started focusing on intellectual pursuits.

"When Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) revolutionized physics with his studies of optics and gravity, he perceived the universe as an immense mechanical construct, a giant clockwork that scientists could probe by analyzing various parts. He inaugurated a new scientific methodology, known as reductionism. According to the assumptions underlying this approach, insights gained by studying bits and pieces of nature could be fitted together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to eventually explain the workings of the cosmos." David Suzuki, Tree: A Life Story

As scientific methods and instruments became more and more precise, scientists were able to isolate smaller and smaller particles in controlled environments.

In 1898 the first virus was discovered by Martinus Beijerinck. While Beijerinck studied botanical microbiology in the Netherlands, two scientists in France were studying microbiology in relation to animals. They were Louis Pasteur and Antoine Bechamp. They were working to discover the cause of disease occurring in silkworms in France. And, although they were contemporaries, the fire of belief and the politics of discovery between these two was palpable. The way in which they experimented, interpreted, and assembled their data was vastly different.

Through Antoine Bechamp’s silkworm experiments, he found that animals carry microorganisms in them all the time, microorganisms that symbiotically assist in the metabolism of their host. He noticed that in systems that changed from healthy to diseased, those microorganisms become pleomorphic, or mutate. He called his theory the cellular disease theory, or pleomorphism. Bechamp ascertained that, only when a biological system becomes imbalanced does disease occur. Viruses, which work to catabolically break down or scavenge toxic waste, have a medium in which to do their work. They de-toxify the dead cellular matter. It is only when disease is widespread that viruses become widespread. Thus, he contended, disease comes first.

Louis Pasteur, on the other hand, saw microorganisms as the cause of the silkworm disease. Not only that, but he asserted that each microorganism was a specific disease, arising from the external environment. He believed that these specific diseases, like the one affecting the silkworms, as well as diseases like rabies or influenza, attack healthy cells and weaken or destroy them. Pasteur called his idea the the germ theory of disease.

Pasteur’s ideas were not all well-received, and his success was controversial. Even the famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, published a critique of the theory.

“The specific disease doctrine is the grand refuge of weak, uncultured, unstable minds, such as now rule the medical profession. There are no specific diseases; there are specific disease conditions.” Florence Nightingale, 1860 (Excerpted from The Dream and Lie of Louis Pasteur by R.B. Pearson)

There are numerous books written both in favor of and oppostition to the germ theory. Perhaps it was because his father was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars that he found favor and support.

“In 1863, Emperor Napoleon III asked Pasteur to assist France in combating various “diseases” of wine that often caused exported French wine to go bad before it reached its destination.” (Excerpted from

Perhaps that is why, with his alliance, Pasteur’s germ theory prevailed over Bechamp’s cellular disease theory. Whatever the case may be, his theory became the basis for modern medicine, along with the advent of immunizations and hygienic practices.

The fallout from the germ and subsequent immunization theories is that modern medicine is pathological and curative-based. It looks toward disease and not toward health. You might argue that immunizations are preventative, but their efficacy is also yet to be proven. When my daughter was six, she was out of school for a good portion of the year. She had an incessant, hacking cough that made her stomach spasm and dry heave. It was loud and painful. My husband and I felt powerless to help our little girl. We decided to take her to the emergency room. The doctor diagnosed her with whooping cough. My daughter had one more series of shots left in her childhood immunizations, but my husband and I had made the choice to discontinue them. We didn’t have internet at the time (weird, huh?), and even though we have a great library system, there wasn’t much literature on immunizations. I remember reading What Every Parent Should Know About Childhood Immunization by Jamie Murphy. I told the doctor that she didn’t have the last of the series, and she said that she should be covered. However, she said that she, herself, had acquired whooping cough as an adult, even though she was fully immunized against it. She said the vaccine didn’t have a high success rate. To add insult to injury, there was nothing they could do for my daughter. I think I might have made her up an herbal preparation from the immunization book that I read.

I didn’t make a big deal about the fact that our family had chosen not to finish immunizing our daughter. But when her doctor realized she hadn’t completed her series, he wanted to schedule an appointment. He was livid at me when I told him our decision. He angrily pressed me with questions. Although I didn’t feel very self-confident, I told him that I wasn’t convinced of their effectiveness. I told him I believed I could support our immune system through diet and herbs. I told him that I didn’t like the side effects of the vaccines or the ingredients in them (such as MSG, animal material, aluminum salts, formaldehyde, and mercury). He told me that they don’t have thimerosol (a mercury-based preservative) in vaccines anymore. I later found out that this wasn’t entirely true. They phased it out in 2001. This means that the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t make most childhood vaccinations with mercury anymore. The ones that do contain it, have “acceptable” amounts. And there were still some mercury containing vaccines in doctor’s offices and warehouses across the country.

Needless to say, we don’t go to the doctor very often anymore. I came to realize what a big industry it was, embroiled in bureaucracy and dogmatism. The whole system is not bad. Sometimes surgery is necessary. And there are wonderful individual doctors, who truly believe in what they do and genuinely want to help people. Unfortunately, they are kept too inhumanely busy to do much research. Research is what’s needed. Doctors are scientists, too. And scientific theory must be continually reexamined, renewed. Life is constantly changing. Maybe there are new ways of seeing. New questions arise. Previously discredited theories or indigenous wisdom can be looked at anew. Perhaps Antoine Bechamp’s theory that cells change, that a bacteria could mutate to become a virus, as a response to a diseased, biological ecology, should be revisited. Some scientists are reexamining old paradigms.

Here is a video of an amazing microscope called the Ergonom. You can see living tissue through high resolution lenses without dye or altering the medium. You can see mutating microorganisms just as Bechamp proposed.

“…as scientists investigated the parts of living organisms, they found the parts themselves were made up of parts—molecules—which were in turn assemblages of atoms, which were ultimately made up of quarks, the (so far) irreducible structures of all matter. At the quark level, there was nothing to distinguish life from nonlife.” David Suzuki, Tree: A Life Story

“Recent advances in genome science have revealed an additional mechanism of cooperation among species. Living organisms, it turns out, actually integrate their cellular communities by sharing their genes. It had been thought that genes are passed on only to the progeny of an individual organism through reproduction. Now scientists realize that genes are shared not only among individual members of a species, but also among members of different species. The sharing of genetic information via gene transfer speeds up evolution since organisms can acquire “learned” experiences from other organisms. [Nitz, et al, 2003] Given this sharing of genes, organisms can no longer be seen as disconnected entities; there is no wall between species. Daniel Drell, manager of the Department of Energy’s microbial genome program told Science in (2001 294:1634): “…we can no longer comfortably say what is a species anymore.” [Pennisi 2001] Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief

Isn’t that incredible?! New models of our world are constantly being born. New inspiration is realized.

“All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The public is increasingly embracing naturopathic medicine. But we must be ever vigilant. We must always reexamine theories and not take them as ultimate truth. That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.

“Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.” Thich Nhat Hanh (excerpted from Dharma Gaia ed. Allan Hunt Badiner)

Cultivate critical thinking, but do not abandon your heart.

What does my heart say? I am alive!

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