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Gerson therapy

Gerson therapy involves a very specific diet with nutritional supplements.

What Gerson therapy is

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

It aims to rid the body of toxins and strengthen the body’s immune system.

There is no scientific evidence that Gerson therapy can treat cancer. In fact, in certain situations Gerson therapy can be very harmful to your health. The diet should not be used instead of conventional cancer treatment.

You might also hear Gerson therapy called the:

  • Gerson diet
  • Gerson regimen
  • Gerson method

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.

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

Some people with cancer choose to have Gerson therapy even though there is no scientific evidence that it works and can sometimes make them feel worse. These are some possible reasons.

You may have been told by your doctor that conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy cannot cure your cancer. It can be very difficult to accept that 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. 

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 will help to kill cancer cells.

Talk to your doctor before making any decisions about following an alternative diet. 

Some people use alternative or complementary therapy to feel more in control of their cancer and its treatment.

Some people believe that alternative or complementary therapies can boost the immune system. That way it helps to fight their cancer.

Laboratory studies on Essiac showed that it had antioxidant features. That means it can protect cells from damage. It also showed that it had some effect on the immune system. But there is not enough scientific evidence to say it can work as a treatment for cancer.

A study on mice in 2007 showed that Essiac did not affect the immune system.

We need more evidence from research to be sure exactly how Essiac might affect the immune system.

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.

Gerson therapists advertise their clinics as very safe, relaxing and caring places to be. But there is no guarantee that their clinics have the medical facilities needed if any emergencies arise.

People who go to these clinics sometimes say that they feel better psychologically. 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.

You might 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 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.

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. 

Gerson therapy side effects

In some situations the Gerson diet can cause some very serious side effects and is potentially harmful. It is very important to speak to your doctor first if you are thinking of using the Gerson diet.

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
  • constipation and inflammation of the bowel (colitis) from regular, long term use of enemas which can weaken the bowel muscle

Other reported side effects include:

  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea and sickness
  • abdominal cramps
  • aching, fever and sweating
  • cold sores
  • dizziness and weakness

Research into Gerson therapy

There is no evidence to prove that Gerson therapy works as a cure for cancer. We need more research to compare it with accepted and proven treatments within properly organised clinical trials.

A review in the USA by the National Cancer Institute in 2010 found no evidence that it helped people with cancer.

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

It is difficult to be sure if there is any benefit from using Gerson therapy from the research that has been done so far.

This is because:

  • record keeping during studies has been quite poor
  • it is a complex therapy that can go on over months or years
  • we can’t know what other factors might or might not affect the outcome during this time, including the environment or other treatments and diets
  • some promoters give only anecdotal evidence, meaning that they use an example of an occasional person getting better as evidence

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.

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

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

The safety of Gerson therapy

Some elements of the Gerson diet are healthy, like 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 healthy. In fact it can be very harmful for people who are already weak and ill. There are also many harmful possible side effects.

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.

It is up to you to decide whether you want to use any alternative therapy. But we do not recommend that you use them instead of your conventional treatments. Stopping your conventional cancer treatments and methods of symptom control methods can be very harmful.

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

Useful organisations

We don’t know of any specific Gerson therapy organisations or websites in the UK. But we have a list of international organisations and websites that you could use to look for more information.

Last reviewed: 
12 Jan 2015
  • Gerson regimen. B.Cassileth. Oncology (Williston Park). Feb, 2010. Vol 24, (2):201.

  • Surviving Against All Odds: Analysis of 6 Case Studies of Patients With Cancer Who Followed the Gerson Therapy. A. Molassiotis and other. Integrative Cancer Therapies, March 2007. Vol 6, (1), 80-8.  

  • Complete Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies (2nd Edition)
    American Cancer Society, 2009

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