THE GERSON THERAPY is one of the oldest and best known of the alternative cancer therapies. Dr. Max Gerson was born in Germany in 1881. As a medical student, he suffered from severe migraine headaches, which sometimes kept him in bed for days. Even though he was told that migraines were unbeatable, he found that he could control them by avoiding certain foods and eating a low-salt, primarily vegetarian diet, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
After medical school he became director of a special department of tuberculosis at the Munich University Hospital, under the sponsorship of the renowned Dr. Ferdinand Sauerbruch, who developed open-chest surgery and was an authority on tuberculosis.
In the late 1920s Gerson began successfully treating tuberculosis patients with the dietary regime he used for migraines, and, naturally, his work came to Dr. Sauerbruch's attention. Dr. Sauerbruch announced in a number of the world's leading scientific journals that Gerson's dietary therapy was a cure for skin tuberculosis.
Gerson's most famous patient, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, came to him at the age of seventy-five suffering from life-threatening diabetes. After a successful course of dietary treatment, Schweitzer returned to work at his African hospital, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and worked past the age of ninety. Dr. Schweitzer wrote, "I see in him [Dr. Gerson] one of the most eminent geniuses in the history of medicine. Many of his basic ideas have been adapted without having his name connected with them. Yet he has achieved more than seemed possible under adverse conditions. He leaves a legacy which commands attention and which will assure him his due place. Those whom he cured will attest to the truth of his ideas." (8)
In 1933 the prewar political climate in Germany compelled Gerson to emigrate to the United States, where he established a medical practice in New York City. He began applying his dietary therapy to the treatment of cancer, spending the last 20 years of his 50-year medical career in New York and becoming world famous for treating thousands of cancer patients whose cases were deemed hopeless after conventional treatment failed.
In 1958 he published A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases (8), which detailed the successful treatment of many different types of cancer. Some of these patients are still alive today, providing living testimony to the success of the therapy.
Opposition and Simple
Because Gerson's treatment for cancer was so controversial, most scientific journals were not receptive to his ideas. However, he did manage to get his work published in some journals in the United States and Europe. (3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
A 1946 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association criticized Gerson for "promotion of an unestablished, somewhat questionable method of treating cancer." (9) In 1957 the American Cancer Society's Committee on Unproven Methods of Cancer Management spoke out against him, stating that "Gerson's thesis that regression of cancer can result from dietary treatment and 'detoxification' is unconfirmed." (7)
Based on a charge that comments made during a radio broadcast in 1946 constituted personal advertising, Dr. Gerson's membership in the Medical Society of the County of New York was suspended in 1958 after a lengthy investigation. Despite this he continued to treat cancer patients, with success.
Dr. Gerson died in 1959, still fighting to get his ideas accepted. At the time of his death he had succeeded in documenting and explaining his therapy, but there was no one to carry on his work. Then in 1977 Gerson's youngest daughter, Charlotte Gerson Straus, and Norman Fritz co-founded the Gerson Institute, which provides an information and referral service for interested patients. The Gerson Institute is located in Bonita, California, and the Gerson Therapy is administered at the Centre Hospi-talario Internacional del Pacifico (CHIPSA), in a suburb of Ti-juana, Mexico.
Mechanism of Action
Dr. Gerson based his regimen on the theory that toxins and electrolyte imbalances in the cells cause cancer and help to maintain the continued existence of tumors. To detoxify the body and restore electrolyte balance, patients are placed on a strict vegetarian diet, with regular servings of freshly prepared fruit and vegetable juices. Gar Hildenbrand, executive director of the Gerson Institute, points out that he and other contemporary proponents of the Gerson Therapy do not identify strongly with Gerson's explanations, which were based on the scientific understandings available in the 1950s. At this point they rely more on the observed effectiveness of the treatments and less on theoretical explanations.
Each day patients consume approximately twenty pounds of fresh, organically grown produce, most of which is processed into thirteen freshly prepared juices that must be consumed at hourly intervals throughout the day. Supermarket produce is considered to be too toxic and nutritionally deficient to be used.
The Potassium-Sodium Balance
In the years following Dr. Gerson's death, scientific research in a number of areas has provided explanations of and support for some of the fundamental principles of the Gerson Therapy, including potassium supplementation, sodium restriction, thyroid supplementation, protein restriction, and the use of coffee enemas for detoxification.
The primary focus of the Gerson Therapy is the restoration of the balance between cellular water and salt through potassium supplementation (in the form of potassium gluconate, phosphate, and acetate salts) and strict avoidance of sodium intake. Several papers published since Gerson's death provide a possible theoretical rationale for this aspect of the Gerson Therapy. (2, 15, 16)
The research of Freeman Cope, M.D., has been the most important in explaining the potential value of Gerson's high-potassium, low-sodium regime. Dr. Cope was a salt and water biophysicist, and has been called the father of modern supra-molecular biology.
As summarized in a lecture by Gar Hildenbrand (11), Dr. Cope's work demonstrated that by controlling the types of salts and the water content at the cellular level, one can improve cellular function, regulate cellular energy production, and restore cellular integrity.
The Tissue Damage Syndrome
Dr. Cope also studied the effect of damage to individual cells. (1) He found that, regardless of the type of injury, all cells initially respond by losing potassium. This is followed by an increase in the level of sodium in the cell, which causes water to flow into the cell, producing cellular edema. As the cell swells with the excess water, the environment inside the cell becomes unfavorable for energy production. This is called the tissue damage syndrome.
Gerson's dietary regime is designed to restore electrolyte balance on a cellular level. As the Gerson diet causes the sodium level in the body to drop and potassium levels to increase, the water content of the cells is lowered and the cells can begin to repair themselves.
Advanced cancer is a type of injury that can produce the tissue damage syndrome, causing cellular edema, an increase in total body water, and a decrease in cellular energy production. Researchers working on a National Cancer Institute grant found that "gross weight changes in patients with advanced cancer may be minimal, even when large amounts of body fat are being lost. Under these conditions it has been shown that there may be a great gain of total body water even though there may be no detectable edema." The Gerson program works to reverse the cellular edema that develops in the tissues surrounding tumors and help those cells to return to normal.
In a 1949 paper Gerson described other agents that he added to his therapy, including thyroid extract, potassium, digestive enzymes, niacin, vitamin C, and Lugol's solution. (4) Lugol's solution is a strong Iodine solution containing 5 grams of Iodine and 10 grams of potassium Iodide in 100 milliliters of water. It is designed for thyroid stimulation and potassium supplementation. Other fluid intake is kept to a minimum, and drinking alcohol, tea, or coffee is strictly forbidden.
The thyroid gland regulates metabolism by releasing hormones that control the production of energy in the mitochondria in cells. The mitochondria are small parts of a cell called organelles, or "little organs," which produce almost all the energy that drives cellular activity.
We can understand the importance of the mitochondria by thinking of the cell as a complete industrial city. The mitochondria are the power plants that provide energy for the city. When the cell becomes swollen with water, it is as if the sewer system in the city has backed up, interfering with power production. Without sufficient energy, the city cannot clean out the backed-up sewers, so waste material accumulates and all productive activities of the city are slowed down or stopped. This is what happens on a cellular level as a result of the tissue damage syndrome.
Gerson used relatively high doses of thyroid extract in his treatment program. When thyroid extract is given in significant dosages, it causes the mitochondria to replicate and signals them to produce more energy. This increase in energy production helps with the elimination of waste from the cell and speeds up the restoration of all cellular functions.
Gerson had discovered the stimulating effect on the immune system by protein restriction in his tuberculosis patients in the 1930s, noting that restricting dietary protein caused increases in T-lymphocyte activity. (8) Eventually he discovered that by restricting the protein intake of his cancer patients for a period of six to eight weeks, he could cause the body to eliminate even more sodium from damaged cells. Recent research supports Gerson's observation that protein restriction will stimulate the production ofT-lymphocytes and enhance immune functioning. (10)
The Coffee Enema
The most controversial element of the Gerson Therapy is the regular use of coffee enemas. The Gerson therapy excludes drinking coffee, but, in fact, uses caffeine in another way. Gerson discovered that the use of coffee enemas could substantially accelerate the detoxification process. In the early phase of therapy, coffee enemas are administered approximately every four hours to help relieve pain, nausea, and other symptoms accompanying detoxification. Although this treatment is controversial, there is an explanation for its possible effectiveness, since the rectal administration of caffeine has a very different effect than when it is consumed orally.
In an interview Gerhard Wolter, M.D., outlined the rationale for giving coffee enemas. He explained that when coffee is given in the form of an enema, the caffeine is absorbed through the rectal mucosa and is transported directly to the liver, where it causes a dilation of the bile ducts. This increases the elimination of toxins from the liver. Occasionally a "healing crisis" is produced by an overload of toxins being released into the duodenum and small intestines. In these cases, large amounts of peppermint tea can be used to dilute and wash the noxious bile out of the intestines. (11)
Recent research shows that certain chemicals in coffee called palmitates stimulate an important liver enzyme called glutathione-S-transferase, which is capable of removing a variety of free radicals from the bloodstream. A coffee enema increases the glutathione-S-transferase enzyme activity in the liver from 600 percent to 700 percent above normal. During the time that the coffee enema is being held in, all the blood in the body passes through the liver at least five times, since all the blood in the body goes through the liver every three minutes.
Other chemicals in coffee, including caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline, cause blood vessels and bile ducts to dilate, increasing the elimination of toxic bile. Additionally, some of the water absorbed through the intestinal wall goes directly to the liver, diluting the bile and increasing the bile flow.
A choleretic is any substance that causes bile flow. The coffee enema is the only pharmaceutically effective choleretic noted in the medical literature that can be safely used many times daily without toxic effects. (11)
The British Study
In December 1989 a team of British doctors visited the Gerson hospital in Mexico as professional observers. The team, consisting of Drs. Nicholas James, Alison Reed, and Karol Sikora, came on a grant from a major medical insurance company in Great Britain, the British United Provident Association (BUPA). The team conducted two separate studies: a review of possible cures on record and a psychological profile of inpatients who were undergoing therapy at the time the team visited.
The results of their visit were published in the respected British medical journal Lancet. (13) The authors reported that patients felt they had a high degree of control over their health, which may have explained their high ratings for mood and confidence. Also, strikingly low pain scores and analgesic requirements were noted in all patients, despite the presence of extensive metastatic disease.
The Austrian Study
An exploratory study of a modified Gerson regimen is currently being conducted by Peter Lechner, M.D., in Graz, Austria. The patients in these trials are undergoing regular chemotherapy for their cancers, in addition to the modified Gerson program. They are being compared with patients in the same hospital who are undergoing the same chemotherapy, without the Gerson additions. Lechner reports that patients require less pain medication, are in better psychological condition, and experience less severe side effects than do the patients not receiving Gerson Therapy. (14) Although he notes that his conclusions are only subjective, he observes that patients with breast and colon cancers that had metastasized to the liver seem to benefit more than others and that those patients "seem to live longer, and their quality of life is apparently better."
Gerson Institute Best-Case Review
A study to document long-term survivors and possible tumor remissions among patients receiving the Gerson Therapy is currently being conducted under the direction of Gar Hildenbrand of the Gerson Institute. (12) This best-case review includes patients who were not "contaminated" by other therapies, having received only Gerson Therapy, as well as patients who had failed previous treatment. An uncontaminated case is one for which chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery cannot be deemed responsible for the remission.
In 1984-85 I worked for the Gerson Institute as a consultant on this project. It was my job to research the case histories and medical records of Gerson cancer patients who were long-term cancer survivors. I spent many hours recording the personal stories and case histories of patients who had been nearly killed by traditional forms of cancer therapy before turning to the Gerson Therapy for healing and new hope.
There are detailed records of cancer patients who received the Gerson Therapy and have been in remission for over twenty years. In this respect, the Gerson Therapy is the most successful alternative cancer therapy—in terms of numbers of "cured" patients to report and the length of time many of these patients have been in remission. Some of the long-term Gerson survivors alive today are patients who were originally treated by Dr. Max Gerson himself. (8)
All the original medical records have been gathered and assembled for independent, blind re-evaluation. The Gerson-Institute is currently awaiting appropriate funding to complete the final re-evaluation. The Gerson people feel strongly that when this study is completed, it will prove that the Gerson Therapy has been responsible for a good number of well-documented cancer cures.
According to staff members at the Gerson Institute, ozone treatments, hydrogen peroxide, intravenous GKI drip (glucose, potassium, and insulin solutions), live cell therapy, castor oil, clay packs, bacteriophage virus vaccine, and laetrile have been added to the Gerson protocol in recent years.
Toxicity and Side Effects
Two aspects of the Gerson Therapy have been noted as possible causes of adverse effects: the use of raw calfs liver juice and the administration of coffee enemas. Initially raw calfs liver juice was a part of the Gerson Therapy. However, in October 1989, this part of the therapy was discontinued due to the difficulty in obtaining raw calf's liver without bacterial contamination. Patients now take desiccated liver tablets.
Where the coffee enemas are concerned, the caution seems to be unwarranted. Although the literature refers to the possible creation of serious fluid and electrolyte imbalances, no such cases have been reported for patients undergoing the Gerson Therapy.
The Gerson Therapy is time consuming, requiring the juicing of fresh fruits and vegetables every hour and the regular administration of coffee enemas. It is also restrictive, requiring an organic, vegetarian diet. The Gerson Institute encourages patients to have a support person who can help in the administration of the therapy.