What Western medicine has historically merely seen as a digestive system that has to work, Eastern culture has seen as a central theme to their medical structure.
The Japanese refer to the gut as onaka, “honoured middle” and hara, “centre of the spiritual and physical strength”. However, the West is catching up, if only because of the explosion of gastrointestinal diseases throughout the West, and a high incidence of declining gut health, including obesity, allergic reactions, chronic inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders. More recently, it’s being increasingly suggested that psychological conditions, such as depression and anxiety, are linked to the health of our guts.
The decline of fermentation in Western countries through the 19th and 20th centuries came as agriculture became progressively industrialised and homogenised. At the same time, science developed increasing knowledge about the dangers of pathogens and Pasteur invented the simple method of heating milk to 60C for about 30 minutes, which kill the organisms that lead to spoilage and sickness. Pasteurisation has saved a vast number of lives, but Pasteur also failed to recognise the complexity of the microbial world, seeing all bacteria as germs to be eradicated, rather than potential life-enhancing allies.
Almost 150 years after the invention of pasteurisation, a 2010 study in Vermont compared bacteria levels in raw milk with the 1970s. Whereas microbe counts in the 1970s showed millions of bacteria in each millilitre, the 2010 study showed that 86% of milk samples destined to be turned into raw-milk cheese contained fewer than 10,000 bacteria per millilitre, and 42% contained fewer than 1,000 per millilitre. We are seeing a holocaust of the microbial world.