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What Gerson therapy is

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

You might also hear Gerson therapy called the

  • Gerson diet
  • Gerson regime
  • 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 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, Gerson therapy can be very harmful to your health. Coffee enemas have been linked to serious infections, dehydration, constipation, colitis (inflammation of the colon), and electrolyte imbalances. In some people, particular aspects of the diet such as coffee enemas have been thought to be responsible for their death. 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. There is no medical research to support any claims that this therapy can prevent, treat or cure cancer. In fact Gerson therapy can have some serious side effects and is potentially very harmful.


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 are unable to cure your cancer. But treatments to help control your symptoms are still possible. It can be very difficult to accept the news that there is no further active cancer treatment available for you or a loved one. 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 and it could be harmful.

Most alternative therapies have not been scientifically proven to prevent, treat or cure cancer. Alternative therapies are often promoted as having benefits without any scientific evidence to back these claims up. These therapies can cost a lot of money with no guarantee that they will really help you. In fact they might cause serious health problems and make you feel worse. Most Gerson therapists do not encourage people to use chemotherapy while they are 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 relieve your cancer symptoms. We don’t believe that any reputable therapist should tell you not to see your cancer specialist.

There is more general information about why people with cancer use complementary and alternative therapies in this section.

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. There are clinical trials investigating how certain therapies might affect your immune system. Until we have more evidence from research such as this, we can’t be sure exactly how complementary or alternative therapies affect the immune system.

Controlling or curing cancer

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


Research into Gerson therapy

There is no evidence to show that Gerson therapy works as a cure for cancer.

There is some evidence from British investigations that this type of therapy can help people feel better emotionally and reduce their need for painkillers. But the numbers of patients looked at in these studies were very small, so these findings may not be reliable.

The MD Anderson Cancer Centre in America reviewed the medical literature on Gerson Therapy. They found only 7 studies that had been published or presented at conferences. None of these studies were randomised, controlled clinical trials. You can read the full report of the MD Anderson literature review on Gerson therapy on their website.

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 a variety of environmental factors that may or may not have an effect.

Some people who promote the Gerson diet give only anecdotal evidence. They use stories about the 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 individual.  Before you can be sure of the true benefit of any treatment, you need to compare new treatments with accepted and proven ones within a properly organised series of clinical trials.


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 Hawaii. 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 may stay at the clinic for a couple of weeks and then be sent 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. Gerson therapists usually recommend 2 years of treatment for people with cancer. It is important to realise that having this therapy at home takes a huge amount of time, energy and committment. 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, their safety and the possible side effects of Gerson therapy is a cause of concern.

There are many sites on the internet advertising or promoting Gerson therapy, but none of them are 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

The Gerson diet can cause some very serious side effects. 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.

Always check with your doctor before you start taking any type of complementary or alternative treatment. There is information about the possible harmful effects of complementary and alternative therapies, including the safety of alternative therapy diets, in this section of CancerHelp UK.


The cost of Gerson therapy

Gerson therapy is very expensive. Alternative therapies advertised on the web are almost always costly. Make sure you have considered the ongoing cost of a treatment before you start taking anything. Remember also that 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 over £2,500 a week. So if you do it for a year, it could cost you £130,000.

If you are thinking of having Gerson therapy at home there are also costs involved. As well as the initial cost of a special juicer and possibly a water filter, there are the ongoing costs of the organic fruit and vegetables, coffee and supplements.


Things to consider

At the end of the day you will make your own decision about using an alternative cancer therapy. But we don't recommend alternative therapies in place of conventional treatment. There is no scientific or medical evidence to back up the use of alternative therapies. If you have cancer, using unproven methods instead of conventional medical treatment can be very harmful for your health.

You should 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. Look in our about complementary and alternative therapy section for more information about why you should tell your doctor if you are using any type of therapy.

Whenever we put up information on alternative treatments that have not been properly tested, we receive angry emails that say we are trying to prevent people with cancer from getting effective treatment. This is not what we want to do. We are concerned that potential cures, like this one, are often sold for a great deal of money with no scientific evidence to prove they help. In some cases they can be very harmful.

It is understandable that you and your loved ones will try anything if you think it might help treat or cure your cancer. But some alternative 'therapies' are just money making businesses targeting people who are ill and very vulnerable. Our message is

  • Be careful
  • Make sure you look into the information that is available
  • Talk to your cancer doctor before you give money for any therapy, whether it’s conventional, complementary or alternative

Useful organisations

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

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