Germ Theory + Terrain Theory = Saving Lives

I hear a lot of people these days talking about “germ theory” and “terrain theory” in light of the pandemic. In short, germ theory focuses on infectious agents—bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites—and assumes that if you’re exposed to these infectious agents, you’re likely to get sick—because of the infectious agent. Terrain theory approaches disease more holistically, claiming that a body with a healthy terrain (because of good nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, a low trauma burden, a low-stress lifestyle, a strong immune system) will fight off almost every infectious agent, becoming resilient. As they say, “Your fish is sick. Germ theory: isolate or vaccinate the fish. Terrain theory: clean the tank.”

Here’s the rub. Most who debate germ theory versus terrain theory seem to be unduly polarized and unnecessarily heavy on one side or the other. Either they eschew germ theory altogether and claim there is no virus—a potentially dangerous point of view flouted by conspiracy theorists who think the pandemic is a hoax. Or they attach so heavily to germ theory that they mistakenly think the terrain is irrelevant and all we need is masks, social distancing, and handwashing until we finally cure the whole germ problem with good pharmaceuticals and an effective vaccine, ignoring altogether that the US is one of the hardest hit in this pandemic because we have one of the most physically and psychologically vulnerable and unhealthy populations on the planet (plus no universal health care to help us better clean up our terrains, should doctors and therapists be educated to think this way).

Terrain Treatment Is HARD & SLOW

I think both points of view miss something crucial. Cleaning up the terrain is crucial and necessary for disability-free longevity. But terrain treatment takes time. It’s not easy to eat right, give up your bad habits, recover from your addictions, lose weight, make lifestyle changes that reduce chronic repetitive stress responses in the nervous system, and treat past trauma. It’s no small thing to take personal responsibility for tending to your own terrain and shaming people who haven’t cleaned up the terrain yet only makes it worse. Plus, we have to accept that many people will resist terrain treatment because few people are helping them heal the personal, economic, social, financial, racial, and collective traumas that make them vulnerable to unhealthy terrain.

Also, terrain treatment doesn’t work well for acute care because it takes too long. If someone has an unhealthy terrain, it can take months or years to implement the interventions that would “clean the tank.” Applying terrain treatment to a life-threatening illness that could kill you in days or weeks ignores the immediacy of the threat. In this case, front line workers are doing their damnedest just to save lives, even in people with unhealthy terrains, using the kinds of treatments we typically use in a germ theory model.


Unfortunately, when we’re rushing around trying to save lives, this can lead to an over-focus on germ theory for front line health care providers and public health officials. With little attention to the terrain, they apply war mentality to the germ—Enemy: coronavirus. Strategy: kill the mother f*cker (or maybe one day vaccinate against it). Think about it—the war on the pandemic, the war on cancer, the war on drugs, the war on terror. When has this strategy ever worked? When we approach a problem with war mentality, the only winner . . . is war.

While working swiftly to try to control the ravages of this novel virus makes public health sense, why are the CDC and WHO not also teaching the public how to clean the tank? Why the tunnel vision, unless they really have been that corrupted by pharmaceutical companies and financial interests that stand to benefit from drug and vaccine warfare?

Germ Theory PLUS Terrain Theory

I think we need to acknowledge that both are true. The terrain impacts the severity, longevity, and likelihood of symptomatic infection with COVID-19. Focusing on cleaning your tank is necessary prevention—and it’s never too late to start. It’s also true that the germ can wreak havoc on an unhealthy terrain, and we need to intervene quickly if we want to save lives—using physical measures like masks, social distancing, and hand washing for prevention and also life-saving oxygen treatment, drugs, and supportive measures when necessary.

People focus on all the “healthy” young people who get sick without any underlying health condition. Surely, it’s the bad germ, they say. And yes, it is a bad germ. It’s a strange and unpredictable virus. As doctors, we’ve never seen anything quite like it, so it scares doctors on the front line because it’s hard to predict or control. Uncertainty is not something we like in the hospital.

But this argument ignores the reality that sometimes unhealthy terrain is invisible, as when unhealed situational or development trauma impacts the nervous system and disables the immune system in otherwise apparently healthy people—or when poor diet or bad habits gunks up the inside in ways you can’t see on the outside. Or to get more esoteric, when energetic interferences in the subtle body predispose someone to infection because of energetic disharmony.

If we want to maximize both prevention and treatment, we need all health care providers and world leaders, as well as each of you as individuals—to consider interventions that make the terrain more healthy—not just for prevention of COVID but prevention of ALL disease. We also need to acknowledge that epidemics that used to kill millions of people have been eradicated or slowed down because of what we’ve learned about germ theory. We do not need to choose sides. We need both sides of an unnecessary polarity to cooperate with each other.

You Can Do Your Part

Clean up your terrain. Start now if you’re not already doing so. I’ve been posting since the beginning of the pandemic about how to do this, and so have many others. It’s worth doing. You can read the revised edition of Mind Over Medicine or the free Corona Cocoon ebook I wrote or sign up for the Healing Soul Tribe, where we do terrain treatment every month. (Join us here.)

Also, when you can’t social distance, wear a mask if you can, even if you don’t like it, in case it saves even one life. I know nobody wants to wear a mask. I hate them too. I know the science is “iffy.” It’s not easy to prove or disprove that masks do or don’t work, and the internet is full of scientists who claim to have proven the unprovable. People grab the science they can find to support their agenda, but the truth is that we really don’t know how much masks help or cause harm. That said, please—until we know more—the doctors I know and love on the front lines are begging people to wear masks. Unless you have a really good reason not to, please try to cooperate.

Also, do what you can to get your mental health and economic needs met—because good mental health and the ability to pay for shelter and food are essential to keeping your terrain clean. I know it’s not easy when the US does not offer universal health care, which is a travesty, and so many are unemployed and financially struggling. Trauma treatment should be covered, as should holistic health care and other terrain treatments, like Traditional Chinese Medicine and energy medicine. I know things like good nutrition and wellness practices can be a luxury good—and I wish they weren’t. Until we get wise and practical and kind and smart about helping ALL people treat their terrains, we will always be at risk of the next pandemic. Health should be a right, not a privilege.

When you do get together with people—as a necessary part of preventing the health risks of loneliness and social isolation, please do so safely—six feet apart, outdoors, with masks on if you can’t social distance. Try to resist the temptation to pretend we’re back to business as usual. We’re not. The virus is still spreading and as much as we all just want to have a fun summer, it’s too early to party and play in dangerous ways. It’s also risky to stay isolated. We need each other now, now more than ever.

Harm Reduction

As much as we’d like to live risk-free lives, we cannot do so right now. To lockdown has severe social, mental health, and economic risks. To open up has risks of contagion. Since we can’t negate risk, we must focus on harm reduction. To do this, we need to work together—for the good of the whole.

We do not need to divide between the people who promote germ theory and those who support terrain theory. Although many are doubling down on their agendas with tunnel vision, now is not a time for myopia; it’s an invitation to practice true holistic health. If we can all cooperate—germ theorists and terrain theorists together—we can get through this with as little collateral damage as possible, considering especially all our essential workers and the grave dangers they face.

I know it’s hard. So offer your own embrace to the parts in you that think this sucks. Be gentle with each other, because we’re all suffering in our own ways right now. Be kinder than is necessary, even if you see someone not wearing a mask. Some people are not wearing masks because they have unhealthy terrains and it’s hard for them to breathe in a mask. Others get PTSD flashbacks from masks because of past traumas from surgeries or having a hand over their mouths during a sexual assault. Some are just plain rebellious. Either way, please don’t shame people. Try to be as empathic as you possibly can because you can’t know why people behave the way they do. Empathy for our fellow humans is good medicine. It helps us heal.

Yes, this DOES suck—and it’s okay to have a good “This sucks” session if you need to! Cry if you need to. Scream and have a tantrum and love that rebel child who doesn’t want to be told what to do. Treat the traumas that might be lit up right now. Be the parent that inner kid needs. Then, without bullying yourself or anyone else, put on your big girl or boy panties and let’s rally through this. We can do hard things with great love. Together. Alone. Together.



Enjoy this post? Subscribe here so you don’t miss the next one

Follow Lissa on Facebook

Tweet Lissa on Twitter

Feel free to share the love if you liked this post.