The Terrain is Everything

The Terrain is Everything

Reviewed by Irene Pauline Humpelstetter, CNP

“The microbe is nothing. The terrain is everything” said world-renowned microbiologist Louis Pasteur. But what does this really mean? What is the “terrain” and why is it more important than the microbe itself?

Within our digestive system is a rich and diverse ecosystem of microbes all interacting with each other in a symbiotic relationship. These microbes survive and thrive on our digestive lining which acts as their terrain – much like ourselves living on the surface of the Earth. If the terrain is not healthy to the microbe, then the microbe will have a hard time surviving. The terrain also determines if the microbes present are beneficial to us, or pathogenic, therefore it is very important to maintain a healthy terrain. In fact, the terrain is now regarded as more critical to a healthy gut flora than the microbes themselves.

The importance of the terrain has led to a shift in the approach in supporting the gut flora. Instead of just providing the bacteria, as is the approach of probiotics, it is more important to nourish and nurture the terrain in order to stabilise the gut flora and encourage a natural diversity of microbes that suit you and your specific needs. It is argued that there is little point in delivering billions of microbes to your digestive tract if the terrain is not healthy.

It is worth looking at our ancestors as they had a very rich and diverse gut flora and generally very good digestion. It is largely accepted that fermented foods were the probiotics of our ancestors, which provided everything we needed to nourish the terrain as well as providing a healthy level of beneficial microbes. It is now becoming recognised that the most effective food for nourishing the gut flora, with the greatest amount of support research, is fermented soymilk. This was understood in the traditional Asian culture.

The fermentation process creates compounds and phytochemicals which have a huge impact on our gut health (1). It also provides many beneficial microbial strains that need to be present in a healthy gut flora. Just like traditional Asian cultures who made nutrient and microbe rich miso and natto, fermented, organic soy contains everything needed to provide the most nutrients (also known as prebiotics) to the beneficial microbes to survive and thrive and to nourish the terrain itself.

“The microbe is nothing. The terrain is everything.”

In fact, fermented soy milk has the largest amount of research on how it benefits the gut flora and digestive health. During fermentation, soy is converted into an array of key nutrients that encourage the colonisation of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Fermented soymilk has been shown to increase the number of probiotics and reduce populations of unwanted bacteria, and significantly improve the ecosystem of the intestinal tract (2;3). Fermented soy milk is rich in L-glutamine, which is the most abundant amino acid in the body, and is critical for the maintenance of the mucosal lining. Disruption of this lining does play a role in the development of gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease (4). Fermentation also produces short chain fatty acids (SCFA) like butyrate which support the gut environment, reduce inflammation and reinforce the digestive lining (5). A lack of SCFA may be the cause of ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory conditions (6).

There’s also many therapeutic herbs we can use with fermented soy which can support our terrain. Aloe vera is a soothing herb which can be beneficial for repairing tissue damage. It’s anti-inflammatory effects show promise for irritable bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis (7; 8). Slippery elm is another herb which has natural soothing qualities and forms a protective coating over the digestive lining and reinforcing the mucosal barrier which is key for optimal digestion. It has shown benefits for IBS and can improve bowel function (9). Marshmallow root can also provide a soothing action to irritated and inflamed mucous membranes.

Fermented, organic soy milk and herbs are a powerful and natural way to support our gut health and nourish our terrain. In providing the right, and optimal environment for our thousands of strains of beneficial microbes in our gut, the health benefits of a balanced ecosystem are endless.

Find out more about Living Alchemy’s Your Flora Terrain, a fermented food supplement using a traditional Kefir-kombucha style fermentation made with 35 naturally occurring strains.



1: Selhub, EM., Logan, AC., Bested, AC. 2014. ‘Fermented foods, microbiota and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry.’ Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 33(1), pp.1-12.

2: Chend, IC., Shang, H-F., Lin, T-F. et al. 2015. ‘Effect of fermented soy milk on the intestinal bacterial ecosystem’. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 11(8), pp.1225-1227

3: Inoguchi, S., Ohashi, Y,. Narai-Kanayama, A. et al. ‘Effects of non-fermented and fermented soybean milk intake on faecal microbiota and faecal metabolites in humans.’ International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 63(4), pp.402-410.

4: Rao, RK., and Samak, G. 2012. ‘Role of Glutamine in protection of intestinal epithelial tight junctions.’ Journal of Epithelial Biology and Pharmacology, 5( 1 M-7), pp. 47-54.

5: Canani, RB., Di Costanzo, M., Leone, L. et al. 2011. ‘Potential beneficial effects of butyrate in intestinal and extraintestinal diseases.’ World Journal of Gastroenterology, 17(12), pp.1519-1528.

6: Wachtershauser, A. and Stein. J. 2000. ‘Rationale for the luminal provision of butyrate in intestinal diseases.’ European Journal of Nutrition, 39(4), pp.164-171.

7: Joo, Y-E. 2014. ‘Natural product-derived drugs for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease’. Intestinal Research, 12(2), pp.103-109.

8: Ng, SC., Lam, YT., Tsoi, KK. et al. ‘Systematic review: the efficacy of herbal therapy in inflammatory bowel disease.’ Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 38(8), pp.854-863. Hawrelak, JA., and Myers, SP. 2010.

9: Hawrelak, JA., and Myers, SP. 2010. “Effects of two natural medicine formulations on irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: a pilot study.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(10), pp.1065-1071

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