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Germ Theory vs. Cellular Theory: Two Perspectives on the Causes of Disease

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

In this blog post, we will delve into the key differences between these two theories and their lasting impacts on the field of medicine

Germ vs cellular theory


In the realm of medical science, two groundbreaking theories have influenced our understanding of the origins of disease: Louis Pasteur's Germ Theory and the Cellular Theory advocated by Antoine Béchamp (1816-1908) and Claude Bernard (1813-1878). These theories present contrasting views on the causes of diseases and the role of microorganisms within the body

Germ Theory (Pasteur, 1881):

Louis Pasteur, a renowned French biologist, is often credited with pioneering the Germ Theory in the mid-19th century. This theory postulates that microorganisms, commonly referred to as germs, such as bacteria and viruses, are the primary culprits behind infectious diseases. Key aspects of Germ Theory include:

  • External Invasion: According to Pasteur, infectious agents invade the body from external sources, causing diseases. This perspective laid the foundation for understanding contagion and the transmission of diseases.

  • Vaccination and Pasteurization: Pasteur's work led to the development of vaccines to prevent infections, like the rabies vaccine, and pasteurization techniques to control the spread of harmful microorganisms in food and beverages.

  • Prominence in Modern Medicine: Germ Theory's emphasis on microorganisms as disease agents significantly influenced modern medicine and the development of antibiotics.

Cellular Theory (Holmes, 1986):

Antoine Béchamp and Claude Bernard took a different approach to understanding disease causation through what they called the Cellular Theory. Their theory focuses on the body's internal environment, known as the "terrain" or "milieu intérieur." Key elements of the Cellular Theory include:

  • Internal Environment: Béchamp and Bernard argued that the health of the body's cells and the balance of the internal environment are critical in determining a person's susceptibility to disease.

  • Terrain and Disease Susceptibility: They believed that microorganisms are not the primary cause of disease but are opportunistic, flourishing in an unhealthy or imbalanced internal environment.

  • Emphasis on Prevention: The Cellular Theory underscores the importance of maintaining a healthy internal terrain through proper nutrition and lifestyle to prevent diseases.

How acupuncturists and osteopaths view disease causation within the context of these theories

Osteopaths and acupuncturists approach the question of disease causation from holistic perspectives that emphasize the body's innate ability to heal itself. They recognize the significance of maintaining a balanced internal environment and overall well-being. These practitioners often integrate elements of both Germ Theory and Cellular Theory within their healthcare approaches.

  • Osteopaths: Osteopathic medicine combines conventional medical practices with a holistic perspective. Osteopaths aim to restore balance and function to the body's systems, recognizing the role of microorganisms as disease agents while also emphasizing the importance of the body's internal environment (Parson and Marcer, 2009).

  • Acupuncturists: Practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncturists focus on the balance of vital energy, or "Qi," within the body. They consider illness as an imbalance and work to restore the flow of Qi to promote health and alleviate ailments. While not explicitly adhering to Western disease theories, their approach aligns with the principles of the Cellular Theory, emphasizing the importance of internal balance (Beinfield and Korngold, 1992).


In conclusion, the debate between Germ Theory and Cellular Theory provides a fascinating glimpse into the complex nature of disease causation. Understanding the interplay between microorganisms and the internal environment of the body can lead to more comprehensive approaches to healthcare. Osteopaths and acupuncturists, with their holistic and patient-centred approaches, integrate elements of both theories, placing a strong emphasis on the body's natural healing capacity and overall wellness


-Beinfield, H. and Korngold, E., 1992. Between heaven and Earth: a guide to Chinese medicine. 1st trade pbk. ed. New York: Ballantine Books.

-Holmes, F. L. 1986. Claude Bernard, The “Milieu Intérieur”, and Regulatory Physiology. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 8(1), 3–25.

-Parson, J. and Marcer, N., 2009. Osteopathy: models for diagnosis, treatment and practice. Harlow: Churchill Livingstone.

-Pasteur, L., 1881. On the Germ Theory. Science, os-2(62), pp.420–422.


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