Written by Helen Cooke, Helen Seers and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated August 21, 2013

Gerson therapy

What is it?

Description

The Gerson therapy uses a special diet, supplements and also coffee enemas to detoxify and stimulate the body’s metabolism.

History/providers

Originally devised by Dr. Max Gerson (a German doctor 1881-1959), the Gerson approach is now headed by his daughter Charlotte Gerson, who presently leads the Gerson Institute in the United States (US). The Gerson Institute is linked to the “Baja Nutri Care Clinic” in Tijuana, Mexico and a Hungarian clinic, which have both been licensed to practice the therapy by the Gerson institute. To publicise the therapy as much as possible, Charlotte Gerson tours the world lecturing and providing workshops for patients and health care professionals.1

Components

The Gerson diet is entirely organic and vegetarian and includes up to 13 glasses of fresh juices a day. Coffee enemas are administered (up to five a day) as they are believed to stimulate the toxin-removal activity of the bile ducts, liver, and bowel. A variety of supplements may also be administered on the Gerson regime, These include: potassium compound, Lugol’s solution (an inorganic solution of iodine with potassium iodide), thyroid hormones, vitamin B12 and pancreatic enzymes.1

Application and dosage

Treatment is initially provided by Gerson clinics. Until recently, the only medical facility licensed by the Gerson Institute was the Baja Nutri Care Clinic, located in the Playas area of Tijuana, Mexico. There is now also a clinic in Hungary that has also been licensed by the Gerson Institute.1 Charlotte Gerson and the Gerson Institute staff visit the clinic on a regular basis. The Gerson Institute supplies support and advice to anyone wishing to carry out the therapy at home.

The Gerson Institute provides a newsletter and contact details of support groups run by long-term recovered patients. The Gerson Institute offers a list of “Recovered Patient Referrals” to prospective new patients. Further details of the Gerson network are set out on their website.1

Claims of efficacy/mechanism(s) of action/alleged indications

The intensive treatment based on nutrition and detoxification is claimed to restore and revitalise the body, strengthen the immune, enzyme and hormone systems and correct the function of the essential organs. The Gerson therapy is not targeted at any one specific symptom or disease, instead it is claimed to treat the underlying cause of the disease, therefore restoring health to the whole body. By supplying nutrients that are thought to be “easily absorbed” and utilized by the body it is thought that this provides the optimum conditions for healing. After restoring the body with “hypernutrition” it is believed that excess sodium and toxins (due to previous poor nutrition and exposure to environmental pollution) are released. With the release of toxins into the system it is according to the Gerson approach necessary to support the liver in removing these damaging by-products.

Importantly, the Gerson therapy is supposed to be an alternative therapy, it does not encourage the use of chemotherapy alongside its regime. This is because it is believed that those undergoing chemotherapy prior to Gerson therapy have an immunological disadvantage. The use of radiotherapy is considered more compatible with Gerson therapy.2

One published review of the therapy found that the theoretical rationale behind the Gerson therapy does not stand up to scrutiny.3

Prevalence of use

Reliable estimates of how many people follow the therapy worldwide are not available.

Legal issues

There are two Gerson treatment centres licensed by the Gerson Institute in the world (one in Mexico and one in Hungary).The Gerson Institute offers training to a variety of different health practitioners to enable people to become licensed Gerson Practitioners.

Costs

The treatment at the Mexico clinic costs $5,500 per week (the cost is 5,500 Euro in Hungary) and usually lasts around two to three weeks.4,5 The weekly fee is inclusive of accommodation, meals and treatment. People are encouraged to continue the therapy for approximately two years at home. This involves ongoing expense including regular telephone consultations with a private physician, juicing equipment, large quantities of organic vegetables and the cost of supplements. In total the Gerson therapy consumes large amounts of time, money and other resources and only dedicated individuals will be able to stick to the demands of the therapy.

Citation

Helen Cooke, Helen Seers, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Gerson therapy [online document]. http://www.cam-cancer.org/CAM-Summaries/Dietary-approaches/Gerson-therapy. August 21, 2013.

Document history

Assessed as up to date in August 2013 by Barbara Wider.
Most recent update and revision in September 2012 by Helen Cooke.
Fully revised and updated in August 2011 by Helen Cooke.
Fully revised and updated in November 2009 by Helen Cooke.
Summary first published in July 2005, authored by Helen Seers and Helen Cooke.

References

  1. Gerson Institute Homepage [online]. 2012. [accessed 2012 August 31] Available from: URL:http://gerson.org/Programs/findgersonclinic.htm
  2. Gerson, C & Walker, M. The Gerson Therapy. 60 years of proven success! Kensington Publishing, USA; 2001.
  3. Green S. A critique of the rationale for cancer treatment with coffee enemas and diet. JAMA. 1992; 268: 3224-3227.
  4. Revill, J. Now Charles backs coffee cure for cancer, Observer, June 27 2004.
  5. Personal communication with H. Strauss, representative of the Gerson Institute, 16th August 2004.
  6. Moss RW, Moss RW. Patient perspectives: Tijuana cancer clinics in the post-NAFTA era. Integrative Cancer Therapies. [Historical Article]. 2005 Mar;4(1):65-86
  7. Lowell, J. The Gerson Clinic. Nutrition Forum. 1986; 3(2):9-12.
  8. Hildenbrand, GL, Hildenbrand, LC, Bradford, K, & Cavin, SW. Five-year survival rates of melanoma patients treated by diet therapy after the manner of Gerson: a retrospective review. Altern Ther Health Med. 1995; 1:29-37.
  9. Ernst, E. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach, Mosby, London; 2001.
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, National Cancer Institute Statement, "Unproven Methods: The Gerson Therapy," February 5, 1987.
  11. Gerson, M. A Cancer Therapy. Results of Fifty Cases, 6th Ed. Bonita, CA: Gerson Institute, 1999.
  12. Avery, RJ, Office of Cancer Communications, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, letter to G. Dego, University of London, August 24, 1982.
  13. Austin, S, Dale, EB, & DeKadt, S. Long-term follow-up of cancer patients using Contreras, Hoxsey and Gerson therapies. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. 1994; 5(1):74-76
  14. Reed A, James, N, & Sikora, K. Mexico: juices, coffee enemas, and cancer. Lancet, 1990; 336 (8716):677-678.
  15. Molassiotis A, Peat P. Surviving against all odds: analysis of 6 case studies of patients with cancer who followed the Gerson therapy. Integrative Cancer Therapies. [Case Reports]. 2007 Mar;6(1):80-8.
  16. National Cancer Institute. NCI best case series criteria for optimal case studies [website]. http://www.cancer.gov/cam/bestcase_intro.html [accessed 2012 August 31].
  17. Cassileth B. Gerson regimen. Oncology (Williston Part) 2010; 24(20): 201.
  18. Eisele, JW, & Reay, DT. Deaths related to coffee enemas, JAMA. 1980; 244: 1608-9.
  19. Anonymous. Questionable methods of cancer management: 'nutritional' therapies. CA Cancer J Clin. 1993; 43(5):309-19.
  20. Tobian, L. Dietary sodium chloride and potassium have effects on the pathophysiology of hypertension in humans and animals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1997; 65: S606- S611.
  21. Gerson Institute, "Raw Liver Juice Has Been Discontinued," Memo, October 3 1989.
  22. Ginsberg, MM, Thompson, MA, Peter CR, et al., "Campylobacter Sepsis Associated With 'Nutritional Therapy'--California," M.M.W.R. 1981; 30(24): 294-295.
  23. National Cancer Institute. Gerson Therapy (PDQ http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/gerson/HealthProfessional/page1 [accessed 2012 August 31]