"There is no cancer in normal metabolism," wrote Max Gerson, M.D. ( 1881-1959). A pioneer of what is today known as nutritional metabolic therapy, the German-born physician, who lived in the United States for twenty-three years, believed that cancer cannot occur unless the functions of the liver, the pancreas, and the immune system as well as other body functions have degenerated. Cancer, in his theory, results from faulty metabolism due to poor nutrition and long-term exposure to pesticides, chemical fertilizers, air and water pollution, and other irritants that increasingly saturate the environment.
The Gerson therapy combines vigorous detoxification with nutrition aimed at restoring the body's natural immunity and healing power. Believing cancer to be a systemic rather than a localized disease, Gerson emphasized the rebalancing of the cancer patient's entire physiology. The therapy is thought to reverse the conditions necessary to sustain the growth of malignant cells. To rebuild the patient's healing mechanism, a twofold attack is mounted: a detoxification program helps the body eliminate toxins and waste materials that interfere with healing and metabolism; and a low-fat, salt-free diet floods the body's cells with easily assimilated nutrients that strengthen the natural immune defenses.
The diet, the core of the therapy, includes organically grown fresh fruits and vegetables and thirteen glasses of freshly squeezed juices daily, taken at hourly intervals. The emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables means the patient receives high levels of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and other antioxidants that scavenge free radicals. Patients also receive supplements such as thyroid extract, potassium iodide, liver extract, pancreatic enzyme, and niacin. No meat is allowed. Animal protein is omitted for the first six to twelve weeks, then kept to a minimum. The diet is largely fat-free but includes some yogurt, pot cheese, cottage cheese, and churned buttermilk as well as linseed oil, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that these fatty acids kill human cancer cells in tissue cultures without destroying normal cells in the same culture.
The key detoxification method is the coffee enema, which patients are taught to self-administer several times daily. Through his wore with cancer patients, Gerson came to the conclusion that many patients on a radical detoxification program died not of the cancer itself, but rather from the liver's inability to absorb the toxic breakdown products of the rapidly dissolving tumor mass. Coffee enemas, long a part of more orthodox medicine, seemed to him a logical component of a detoxification program. Caffeine taken rectally is believed to stimulate the action of the liver, increase bile flow, and open the bile ducts so that the liver can excrete the toxic products of tumor breakdown more easily.
Although coffee enemas may sound bizarre, and are distasteful to some, many cancer patients taking them report increased energy, improved appetite, relief from nausea, and a marked decrease in pain. Coffee enemas have been used by a number of other metabolic and immunotherapeutic practitioners, notably William Kelley (Chapter 18).
As a further aid in detoxification, some patients take castor oil orally and by enema every other day.
Max Gerson, a refugee from Nazi Germany with impeccable scientific credentials, was an eminent if controversial figure in Europe because he successfully treated tuberculosis, migraines, arthritis, and cancer by means of his salt-free vegetarian diet. One of Gerson's patients was Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Prize-winning doctor-missionary. Through a prescribed nutritional program, Gerson enabled Schweitzer, at the age of seventy-five, to control his diabetes so well that he stopped taking insulin. Gerson also cured Schweitzer's wife of apparently terminal tuberculosis. Schweitzer wrote of the nutritional healer: "I see in him one of the most eminent medical geniuses in the history of medicine..
But in the United States, where he emigrated in 1936, Gerson was persecuted and harassed by the medical establishment. Because of his unorthodox cancer therapy, Gerson was expelled from the New York Medical Society and deprived of his hospital affiliations. His therapy was prominently featured on the American Cancer Society's Unproven Methods blacklist, where it remains today, even though his anticancer diet is quite similar to the preventive diet now endorsed by the ACS, the NCI, and the American Heart Association.
Over the years, the Gerson therapy has yielded an impressive number of long-term cancer survivors, all of whom had well-documented illnesses. A current brochure gives the mini-case histories of thirty-six cancer patients, reportedly termed "incurable" by their orthodox physicians, who achieved long-term remission using the Gerson regimen. The names, ages, and photographs of these "cured incurables" are given, along with the details of their illnesses and treatments. Several of these patients are featured in Max Gerson's 1958 book, A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases (see Resources), and are still alive and well-and cancer-free- over thirty years later.
Among the thirty-six cases profiled are seven survivors of cancer metastasized to the lung, which usually kills patients quickly, and three survivors of "hopeless" spreading melanoma who have lived thirty-six to forty-four years free of cancer after diagnosis. Other recovered patients include two survivors of metastasized pancreatic cancer and a fifteen-year survivor of advanced liver cancer who was given three to five weeks to live by her conventional doctor. These two forms of the disease are incurable by chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. Also profiled in the brochure are long-term survivors of inoperable brain cancer, uterine cancer spread into the pelvis, metastasized breast cancer, prostate cancer, recurring bone cancer, and colon cancer.
Dora Sherken, now in her late eighties, was brought unconscious by ambulance to Dr. Gerson at Gotham Hospital, New York City, in March 1944. Doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital had diagnosed her in June 1943 with an exceptionally large tumor of the pituitary gland that left her blind in the right eye, with the left optic nerve and surrounding bones partially destroyed. Dora, who lived in Brooklyn at the time, had noticed a progressive loss of vision in both eyes during 1941 and 1942. At Mount Sinai, she had been given X-ray treatments, which were ineffective. Told by many doctors that she had six months to live and would shortly go totally blind, Dora was advised to have surgery to remove the large tumor mass pressing on the optic nerve. She refused, having seen the adverse aftereffects in other hospitalized patients who underwent neurological operations.
Under Dr. Gerson's care, Dora remained unconscious during the first week of treatment, which began immediately. Teaspoon by teaspoon, day and night, she was induced to take fruit and vegetable juices. She was also given many enemas. After one week, she regained full consciousness. At the end of two months, she was feeling fine, was able to do housework, and had improved visual acuity. At the end of eight months, she resumed her part-time job as a secretary to her husband. Tests taken in 1945 indicated that her cancer was in remission. Dr. Gerson's treatment had saved her life and also saved the remaining vision in her left eye, allowing her to resume her active schedule.
Dora followed a strict Gerson regimen for seven years. Her husband assisted with the food preparation and gave Dora her liver-extract and vitamin injections as required. "My mother has a tremendous will to live, and once she decided to go on the Gerson diet, she never once cheated or went off it," recalls Diane Rosen, Dora's daughter. After seven years of strict adherence to the protocol, Dora gradually did go off it and has remained in good health. Two CAT scans in 1980 showed her brain, bones, and pituitary completely cancer-free.
Gregory Grover, at age fifty-six, was diagnosed by X-rays in October 1966 with an advanced, aggressive tumor in the bladder. The tumor, rated Stage III to IV, was removed, but doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles advised him to have his bladder removed also. They told him that even if the operation went well, he had only a 50 percent chance of survival, and that if the bladder was not removed, he had a 5 percent chance of survival.
Refusing further surgery, Grover started the Gerson therapy in January 1967. "I followed it 100 percent, by the book, with no deviations through the end of 1968." After he had been on the program one year, he had a cystoscopy performed at UCLA. According to Grover, the urologist was amazed to discover that his patient was completely cancer-free. "'How do we account for this?' the assisting physician whispered to the urologist as he did the cystoscopy," recalls Grover, who is now in his eighties, still in remission, and quite active.
Almost all types of cancer are said to respond to the treatment. The types that respond particularly well, according to personnel at the Gerson Institute, are melanoma and lymphoma. The Gerson therapy has not been effective in leukemia, in the opinion of various alternative therapists. Chemotherapy gives at least a 50 percent five-year survival rate with leukemia.
During his lifetime, Max Gerson claimed a 30 percent rate of remission in his terminal patients. The current patient literature states that "the Gerson Therapy is able to achieve almost routine recoveries in early to intermediate cancers. Even when the disease is advanced and incurable by conventional standards (i.e., involves the liver or pancreas or multiple internal sites) excellent results are possible." The patient literature also claims that for cancer patients with additional afflictions (for example, arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes), the treatment "usually heals the body of all diseases simultaneously." Norman Fritz, vice president of the Gerson Institute, stated in "Cancer? Think Curable! The Gerson Therapy," by S. J. Haught (see Resources), that the Gerson treatment "can save about 50 percent or more of advanced 'hopeless' cancer patients" and that "the percentage who recover can exceed 90 percent for early cancers and some 'early terminal' cancers."
These claims should be taken with great skepticism, as should all such claims in the alternative cancer field. (A figure of 80 percent or greater for five-year survival seems to be a favorite among alternative practitioners.) The reality appears to be that remission remains the exception rather than the rule with Gerson patients, according to Michael Lerner in his study Varieties of Integral Cancer Therapy.1 Lerner cites a resident of a Gerson halfway house in the San Diego area who reported that during her stay of several months, she observed one of the approximately twenty patients in residence make a significant recovery. This story, of course, is anecdotal, but even if roughly accurate, the 5 percent recovery rate is a far cry from the claims made by the Gerson clinic.
Another evaluation of the Gerson treatment's efficacy comes from Steve Austin, a naturopathic physician who recently completed a survey tracking twenty-one Gerson cancer patients over a five-year period.2 Austin, who teaches nutrition at Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon, visited the Gerson clinic in Mexico in 1983 and, at random, asked approximately thirty cancer patients for permission to follow their progress. He was able to track twenty-one of these patients over a five-year period, or until death, from 1983 to 1988, through annual letters or phone calls. At the end of the five years, only one of the twenty-one patients was still alive. All the rest had succumbed to their cancers. This also suggests a recovery rate of around 5 percent.
Austin, who plans to publish his study, comments, "The patients tracked had a wide variety of cancers. Many appeared to do well when they were at the Gerson clinic, but when they went home they died 'on schedule.' I was favorably predisposed, even prejudicially so, toward the Gerson therapy, because you hear so many remarkable stories about recovered Gerson patients in alternative cancer circles. But the reality turned out to be different. The Gerson staff may be out of touch with the ultimate results of the therapy. They see patients doing well while they're at the clinic, something I observed myself. When these people go back home, however, most of them go downhill. The data admittedly are based on a very small sample, but they suggest that the therapy does not work as well as its advocates claim."