Written by Helen Cooke, Helen Seers and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated February 8, 2017

Gerson therapy

Patient handout

Gerson therapy (NB - DEMO)

This patient summary is based on the professional version compiled and published by the CAM-Cancer Collaboration. It is aimed at providing reliable information to help patients make informed choices about Gerson therapy for cancer. Please always discuss your cancer treatment including complementary and alternative therapies with your cancer care providers.

Summary

  • The Gerson therapy uses a special diet, food supplements and coffee enemas to detoxify and stimulate the body’s metabolism. Proponents of the Gerson therapy have made claims that it is an effective treatment for cancer and other illnesses.
  • No substantial evidence exists in the scientific literature to support the claims that the Gerson therapy is an effective alternative therapy for cancer.
  • Some evidence exists to suggest that elements of the therapy (coffee enemas in particular) are potentially dangerous if used excessively. In addition to this the excessive demands of time, money and other resources on the patient undergoing the therapy may be extreme.

What is it?

The Gerson therapy uses an organic vegetarian diet, food supplements and also coffee enemas to detoxify and stimulate the body’s metabolism. The therapy is very complex and must be strictly followed.

What does it involve?

Treatment is initially provided by the two Gerson clinics licensed by the Gerson Institute: the Baja Nutri Care Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico and the Gerson Health Centre near Budapest in Hungary. Alternatively, the Gerson Institute provides support and advice to anyone wishing to carry out the therapy at home.

The Gerson diet is entirely organic and vegetarian and includes up to 13 glasses of fresh juices a day. Up to five coffee enemas are administered a day as they are believed to stimulate 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.

What are the providers’ claims?

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.

According its proponents the Gerson therapy is supposed to be an alternative therapy. It does not encourage the use of chemotherapy alongside its regime but regards chemotherapy as toxic and incompatible with the Gerson approach, which focuses on detoxification. The use of radiotherapy is considered more compatible with Gerson therapy.

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

How much does Gerson therapy cost?

The treatment at the Mexico clinic costs around $5,500 per week and usually lasts around two to three weeks or €6,900 for a 2-week session in Hungary. 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.

Does it work?

Based on one study of poor methodological quality and several case reports, there is no clear evidence that Gerson therapy is an effective treatment for people with cancer. No rigorous trials (randomised controlled trials) have been conducted of the Gerson therapy.

Is it safe?

There is concern that people may choose to use this regime as an alternative to chemotherapy, thereby avoiding conventional treatment. The Gerson Institute does not recommend the use of chemotherapy with the diet since the chemotherapy is seen as a poison in the body, and during detoxification the body would find difficulty in dealing with the level of toxins. Several aspects of the Gerson therapy itself have been seen as possible causes of adverse effects. These include: coffee enemas, the restrictive nature of the diet, thyroid supplements and also the now disused practice of drinking liver juice. The American Cancer Society and the US National Cancer Institute do not recommend the use of the Gerson therapy, warning that patients should not turn away from mainstream therapy to rely only on this alternative approach.

Further information

For further information and full references please view the professional version of this summary aimed at health professionals: Helen Cooke, Helen Seers, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Gerson therapy [online document].http://www.cam-cancer.org/...

Disclaimer

Provider's claims of safety and efficacy are NOT the claims of CAM-Cancer.

Cancer patients should inform and consult their MD before trying CAM.

Citation

Helen Cooke, Helen Seers, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Gerson therapy [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Dietary-approaches/Gerson-therapy. February 8, 2017.

Document history

Assessed as up to date in February 2017 by Barbara Wider
Assessed as up to date in April 2016 by Barbara Wider.

Assessed as up to date in January 2015 by Barbara Wider.
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]. 2017. [accessed 8 February 2017] Available from: http://gerson.org/gerpress/
  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. Cassileth B. Gerson regimen. Oncology (Williston Part) 2010; 24(20): 201.
  17. Eisele, JW, & Reay, DT. Deaths related to coffee enemas, JAMA. 1980; 244: 1608-9.
  18. Anonymous. Questionable methods of cancer management: 'nutritional' therapies. CA Cancer J Clin. 1993; 43(5):309-19.
  19. 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.
  20. Gerson Institute, "Raw Liver Juice Has Been Discontinued," Memo, October 3 1989.
  21. Ginsberg, MM, Thompson, MA, Peter CR, et al., "Campylobacter Sepsis Associated With 'Nutritional Therapy'--California," M.M.W.R. 1981; 30(24): 294-295.
  22. National Cancer Institute. Gerson Therapy PDQ. available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/gerson-pdq#section/all, [accessed 8 February 2017.