I know of one patient who turned to the Gerson Therapy having been told that she was suffering from terminal cancer and would not survive another course of chemotherapy. Happily, seven years later she is alive and well. So therefore it is vital that, rather than dismissing such experiences, we should further investigate the beneficial nature of these treatments.
HRH The Prince of Wales (2004)
I was reminded of this embarrassing (because displaying profound ignorance) quote when I looked at the website of the ‘GERSON SUPPORT GROUP UK‘ where it is prominently cited. Under the heading ‘SCIENCE & CLINICAL RATIONAL’ the site offers a long article about the Gerson therapy (GT). Allow me to show you a few quotes from it:
Dr Max Gerson’s therapy is based on the belief that insufficient nutrients within the cells and an accumulation of toxins in the tissues lead to a breakdown in healthy cellular function which, if left unchecked, can trigger cancer.
That is interesting, I find, because the statement clearly admits that the GT is not an evidence-based therapy but a belief-based treatment.
The therapy that he developed uses a restrictive, plant-based diet and specific supplements to boost healthy cellular function; and various detoxification procedures, including coffee enemas, to eliminate waste products.
The claims hidden in this sentence remain unproven. There is no evidence that cellular fuction is boosted, nor that the procedures eliminate toxins.
… we only need to look at communities across the globe which exist in a pre-industrialised state to see that, whilst they might be more likely to die from pneumonia or tuberculosis, rates of degenerative illness are a fraction of those in the ‘developed‘ world. The age-adjusted death rate from breast cancer is less than 2 per 100,000 of the population in Thailand, Sri Lanka and El Salvador and around 33 per 100,000 in the UK, US, The Netherlands and numerous other affluent, Western countries.
Correlation is not causation! Pre-industrial societies also watch less TV, eat less ice-cream, read less fashion magazines, etc., etc. Are these habits also the cause of cancer?
… migrant studies show that within two generations the cancer rates of migrants increase rapidly towards Western rates, again underlining the assertion that cancer is caused primarily by diet and lifestyle rather than ‘faulty’ genes.
In no way is this an argument for eating raw vegetable and taking your coffee via the rectum.
In the German scientific golden age of the 1920s and 30s…
Golden age for what, for fascists?
Gerson had used a restricted diet to cure himself of migraines. He then helped another patient to reverse tuberculosis, and many others to reverse a variety of degenerative illnesses, all by similar means. He later developed his therapy to the point where he was able to help individuals reverse cancer.
In this case, Max Gerson was ignorant of the fact that experience and evidence are two fundamentally different things.
Max Gerson developed his therapy in an iterative way, starting with a restrictive plant-based diet, adding vitamins, minerals and enzymes to encourage the oxygenation of the cells and then introducing the coffee enemas to aid detoxification of waste products. What is fascinating is that science has subsequently explained the mechanism of action behind some of his theories. (See Biochemical Basis to the Therapy).
Science has not explained the mechanism of action, not least because the action has never been verified. There are no robust clinical trials of Gerson’s therapy. Evidently, 100 years were not enough to conduct any – or perhaps the proponents know only too well that they would not generate the results they hoped?
Equally interesting is that in 2012 Dr Thomas Seyfried published the results of many years research in Cancer as a Metabolic Disease.
Really? On Medline, I find only two cancer-related papers for Seyfried T. 2012:
Thus, nearly a century after their original proposition that the fundamental cause of cancer was faulty cellular metabolism, it seems that doctors Otto Warburg and Max Gerson might be vindicated.
No, to ‘vindicate’ a therapeutic suggestion one needs several rigorous clinical trials. And for the GT, they remain absent.
So, what does the GT amount to?
- proponents had ~100 years to produce evidence;
- they failed to do so;
- thus the therapy is at best unproven;
- it is also biologically implausible;
- moreover, it is expensive;
- crucially it is not free of serious adverse effects;
- it is promoted only by those who seem to make money from it.
The only controlled clinical trial of a Gerson-like therapy that I know of is this one (rarely cited by Gerson fans):
Conventional medicine has had little to offer patients with inoperable pancreatic adenocarcinoma; thus, many patients seek alternative treatments. The National Cancer Institute, in 1998, sponsored a randomized, phase III, controlled trial of proteolytic enzyme therapy versus chemotherapy. Because most eligible patients refused random assignment, the trial was changed in 2001 to a controlled, observational study.
All patients were seen by one of the investigators at Columbia University, and patients who received enzyme therapy were seen by the participating alternative practitioner. Of 55 patients who had inoperable pancreatic cancer, 23 elected gemcitabine-based chemotherapy, and 32 elected enzyme treatment, which included pancreatic enzymes, nutritional supplements, detoxification, and an organic diet. Primary and secondary outcomes were overall survival and quality of life, respectively.
At enrollment, the treatment groups had no statistically significant differences in patient characteristics, pathology, quality of life, or clinically meaningful laboratory values. Kaplan-Meier analysis found a 9.7-month difference in median survival between the chemotherapy group (median survival, 14 months) and enzyme treatment groups (median survival, 4.3 months) and found an adjusted-mortality hazard ratio of the enzyme group compared with the chemotherapy group of 6.96 (P < .001). At 1 year, 56% of chemotherapy-group patients were alive, and 16% of enzyme-therapy patients were alive. The quality of life ratings were better in the chemotherapy group than in the enzyme-treated group (P < .01).
Among patients who have pancreatic cancer, those who chose gemcitabine-based chemotherapy survived more than three times as long (14.0 v 4.3 months) and had better quality of life than those who chose proteolytic enzyme treatment.
Considering all this, I believe, it would be hard to name a cancer quackery that is less credible than the GT.