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What Gerson therapy is

Gerson therapy is an alternative therapy diet, which means it is usually used instead of conventional treatment for cancer.

You might also hear Gerson therapy called the

  • Gerson diet
  • Gerson regimen
  • Gerson method

Gerson therapy involves a very specific diet with nutritional supplements. It aims to rid the body of toxins and strengthen the body’s immune system. It was developed in the 1920s and 30s by a German doctor called Max Gerson. He claimed that it helped cure his migraine headaches. So he went on to use it to treat other diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer. Dr Gerson died in 1959. His daughter Charlotte Gerson went on to establish the Gerson Institute in 1977. 

Available scientific evidence does not support any claims that Gerson therapy can treat cancer. In fact, in certain situations Gerson therapy could be very harmful to health. The diet should not be used instead of conventional cancer treatment.


How Gerson therapists believe it works

Gerson therapists believe that people with cancer have too much salt (sodium) in their bodies compared to the amount of potassium. They think that eating large quantities of fruit and vegetables will restore the right balance and cleanse the liver. This would allow the liver to rid the body of cancer cells. 

Medical research does not support any claims that this therapy can prevent, treat or cure cancer.


Why people with cancer use Gerson therapy

People decide to use Gerson therapy for various reasons. These include

Some people use Gerson therapy to feel more in control of their cancer and its treatment

If cancer can't be cured

Your doctor may tell you that conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, are unable to cure your cancer. But treatments may still be used to help control the cancer and control symptoms. It can be very difficult to accept the news that a cancer can't be cured. In this situation, many people look for alternative therapies, including diets such as Gerson. But there is no scientific evidence that the Gerson diet works. In fact it may cause serious health problems and could make you feel worse. 

Most Gerson therapists encourage people not to use chemotherapy while having Gerson therapy because they believe that chemotherapy damages immunity. Radiotherapy is thought by Gerson therapists to be more compatible with their treatment. 

If your Gerson therapist recommends that you stop being treated by your cancer specialist, this may mean you won’t be able to get treatments that could help to control your cancer and relieve your cancer symptoms. It could be harmful to your health. In this situation it is very important to talk to your doctor before making any decision about your treatment.

Boosting the immune system

Some people believe that certain complementary or alternative therapies can boost the immune system and help fight cancer. But there is very little scientific evidence to prove this, partly because of lack of research. Some clinical trials are looking at how certain therapies might affect your immune system. Until we have more evidence from research, we can’t be sure exactly how complementary or alternative therapies might affect the immune system.

Controlling or curing cancer

Some people believe that specific alternative therapies may help to control or cure their cancer. And there are people who promote the use of therapies in this way. Diet may play an important role in helping to prevent cancer. But there is currently no scientific evidence to prove that making drastic changes to your diet, such as Gerson therapy, will help to kill cancer cells.


Having Gerson therapy

The Gerson diet is a very strict low salt, organic fruit and vegetable diet. Each day you will need to

  • Drink 20 pounds (about 9 kilos) of crushed fruit and vegetables (one glass of juice hourly, 13 times each day)
  • Have 3 or 4 coffee enemas and perhaps also castor oil enemas
  • Take potassium and other supplements, including vitamin B12, pancreatic enzymes and thyroid supplements

The enemas cleanse the bowel. Therapists believe this removes toxins from the body by stimulating the bowel, liver and bile ducts. They claim that if your body is free from toxins, it will be able to recognise and kill cancer cells. 

You can have Gerson therapy by staying in a clinic, or you can do it yourself at home.

The Gerson Institute refers people to clinics licensed by them. Their most popular one is in Mexico and there is also one in Hungary. There is no guarantee that either clinic has the medical facilities needed to cover any emergencies that could arise. But Gerson therapists advertise their clinics as very safe, relaxing and caring places to be.

You can find out more on the Gerson Institute website.

You may stay at the clinic for a couple of weeks and then go home to continue the treatment. Or you can order a home therapy deal on the internet. Treatment can continue for anywhere from a few months to a few years. It is important to realise that having this therapy at home takes a huge amount of time, energy and commitment. It can be almost a full time job.

People who go to these clinics sometimes do say that they feel psychologically better. But while these places may be very relaxing and caring places to be, the possible side effects of Gerson therapy are a cause of concern.

There are many sites on the internet advertising or promoting Gerson therapy, but they are not supported by any reputable scientific cancer organisations. Our advice is to be very cautious about believing information or paying to take part in any type of alternative cancer therapy over the internet. 

You may find it useful to read our section about searching for information on the internet.


Side effects

In some situations the Gerson diet can cause some very serious side effects and is potentially harmful. 

Coffee enemas remove a lot of potassium from your body and have been known to cause

  • Infections
  • Dehydration
  • Fits
  • Salt and other mineral imbalances in the body
  • Heart and lung problems, even death

Regular, long term use of enemas can weaken the bowel muscle. This can cause constipation and inflammation of the bowel (colitis).

Other reported side effects of Gerson therapy include

  • Dizziness and weakness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea and sickness
  • Aching, fever and sweating
  • Cold sores

Some elements of the Gerson diet are definitely healthy, for instance eating low fat food and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. But taking this to the extreme and eating very large quantities of one food group in a certain way (juicing), without balancing it with other food groups, isn’t a healthy diet. It can be very harmful for people who are already weak and ill.

If you are thinking of using a diet such as the Gerson diet it is very important to discuss this with your doctor before you start. 

You can read about the safety of alternative therapy diets.


Research into Gerson therapy

There is no evidence to show that Gerson therapy works as a cure for cancer. A review in the USA by the National Cancer Institute in 2010 found no evidence that it helped people with cancer.

A UK study of 6 patients in the UK in 2007 found that this type of therapy seemed to help people feel better emotionally and reduce their need for painkillers. But the number of patients is very small and so these findings may not be reliable.

It is difficult to draw conclusions from the research that has been done so far. This is because record keeping in the studies was generally quite poor. It is also partly because the therapy itself is very complex and goes on over months or years. During this time, people are often having conventional treatment for their cancer, varying their food and drink intake, and being exposed to various environmental factors that may or may not have an effect.

Some people who promote the Gerson diet give only anecdotal evidence. This means that they use stories about an occasional person getting better as evidence that the therapy works. But scientists and cancer doctors agree that this is not enough evidence to prove that a therapy works. We can't know what other treatments or interventions people may have used, or even if the diagnosis and medical history provided is reliable for a single person. Before we can be sure of the true benefit of any treatment, we need to compare new treatments with accepted and proven ones within a properly organised series of clinical trials.


The cost of Gerson therapy

Gerson therapy can be very expensive. It is important to make sure that you have considered the ongoing cost of a treatment before you start taking anything.

If you are thinking of having Gerson therapy at home you will need to buy a special juicer and possibly a water filter. You will also have the ongoing costs of the organic fruit and vegetables, coffee and supplements.

If your treatment involves going to a special clinic in another country, you will have to pay for flights and accommodation as well as the treatment. Depending on the treatments involved, each person can pay more than £4,000 a week.


Things to consider

You will make your own decision about using any alternative cancer therapy. But we recommend that you don't use alternative therapies in place of conventional treatments. Giving up conventional cancer treatments and symptom control methods could be very harmful for your health. 

You need to talk to your own specialist about any alternative or complementary therapies that you want to try. It is also very important to find out all you can about the therapy before deciding to use it. 


Useful organisations

Some of the complementary therapy organisations can offer information about Gerson therapy.

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Updated: 12 January 2015