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Gerson Therapy

The Gerson therapy is a dietary regimen that was developed by Dr. Max Gerson in the 1920s and 30s. It began as a personal protocol to solve the doctor’s own problems with migraines, but evolved into a therapy for degenerative diseases and eventually became recognized in alternative circles as an intervention to treat cancer.

Overview of The Gerson Therapy for Cancer

The Gerson therapy is a dietary regimen that was developed by Dr. Max Gerson in the 1920s and 30s. It began as a personal protocol to solve the doctor’s own problems with migraines, but evolved into a therapy for degenerative diseases and eventually became recognized in alternative circles as an intervention to treat cancer.

The Gerson therapy is reported to have helped many cancer patients restore health. However, there is currently no scientific evidence to support these claims. The benefits are anecdotal and only documented in case reports (small-scale observational studies).

Dr. Gerson believed that cancer was a metabolic disease caused by the accumulation of toxins in the body, which damage healthy cells, impair organ function, and lead to metabolic dysfunction. The Gerson therapy uses intensive detoxification methods that are reputed to remove waste, regenerate the liver, activate the immune system, restore the body’s vital defenses and balance enzyme, mineral, and hormone systems [1].

The protocol is based on the philosophy that the body has an extraordinary ability to heal itself under the right conditions. The Gerson therapy consists of three main parts: diet, supplements, and detoxification support [2].


The specialized diet is plant-based and organic. It is naturally high in vitamins, minerals, enzymes, micro-nutrients and extremely low in sodium, fats and proteins. Fresh pressed juices provide high-quality nutrition and are a staple of the diet. By juicing, a typical patient will consume the nutrients and enzymes from up to 15 pounds of fresh produce per day. In addition to the Gerson juices, patients also have 3 plant-based meals per day [1].


The regimen includes specific vitamins and minerals such as potassium solution, Lugol’s iodine, pancreatic enzymes, B vitamins, vitamin A, C, and niacin, flaxseed oil, and pepsin. The therapy previously included raw calf liver juice injections, which Gerson believed offered support and regeneration to the liver, but this is no longer used as it was made illegal by the FDA in 1989 due to bacterial contamination risks [3].


Regular coffee enemas (4+/day) are the final component of the protocol. Coffee enemas are believed to dilate the bile ducts in the liver, allowing the liver to release waste products more quickly into the intestine and support the elimination of toxins from the body [3].

There is currently no scientific research on the specific components of this treatment regimen, therefore safety and efficacy of the protocol is unknown.

Historical Perspective of The Gerson Therapy for Cancer

Dr. Max Gerson developed the Gerson therapy in the 1920s and 30s in Germany. He first devised the therapy to help manage his own debilitating migraines, but eventually his approach would become a treatment for serious degenerative diseases, and most famously, cancer [1].

His inspiration for developing the Gerson therapy came from his study of the history of medicine and respect for Paracelsus who proposed that diet should be the cornerstone of medical treatment [3]. One of Dr. Gerson’s early patients who followed his “migraine diet” discovered that it had resolved his skin tuberculosis. Under the supervision of famed thoracic surgeon Ferdinand Sauerbruch, Gerson set up a skin tuberculosis treatment program at the Munich University Hospital [1].

Dr. Gerson carried out a successful clinical trial in which 446 out of 450 skin tuberculosis patients treated with the Gerson diet recovered completely [1]. His most famous patient was perhaps the wife of Albert Schweitzer, a Nobel Peace Prize winning philosopher, humanitarian and physician. Dr. Gerson is said to have cured her of lung tuberculosis [3]. The respect and praise he received from Schweitzer brought the therapy into the limelight and garnered the attention of the medical community [3].

Dr. Gerson went on to experiment with his diet and successfully applied it to many other conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, and eventually cancer. In 1938, Dr. Gerson started a medical practice in New York City, USA where he claims to have successfully treated hundreds of cancer patients [1].

Initially, Dr. Gerson did not believe that his diet would work as a cancer treatment in its own right, but rather as a supportive dietary approach. However, in 1958, after treating cancer patients with his regimen for over 15 years, he published his complete theory, including the results of 50 case studies [8]. He declared that his protocol was an “effective treatment for cancer, even in advanced cases” [5].

Nevertheless, there was controversy surrounding the efficacy of the Gerson therapy throughout Dr. Gerson’s life. Articles from the Journal of the American Medical Association came to the conclusion that the therapy was of no value [9] [10]. The National Cancer Institute cast a shadow of doubt over Dr. Gerson’s case studies stating that basic criteria for demonstrating clinical benefit were not met [11].

Dr. Gerson passed away in 1959 without leaving a systematic way of offering his treatment. However, his daughter Charlotte Gerson Straus continued to give lectures about the Gerson therapy and went on to set up the Gerson Institute in 1979. To this date The Gerson Institute maintains licensing programs so treatment facilities can offer the Gerson therapy to patients [3].

Research about The Gerson Therapy for Cancer

There is currently no peer-reviewed scientific research on the Gerson therapy. To date there have not been any animal or human studies carried out on the approach. Clinical trials would be required in order to ascertain if the Gerson therapy could be recommended for cancer patients.

However, there are case studies published by Dr. Gerson himself and also from the Gerson Institute, which document positive results and report that patients have completely healed while undergoing the therapy.

Dr. Gerson’s own published research paper from 1978 states that 30 years of experimentation has led to an effective holistic cancer therapy, which has successfully treated many cases of advanced cancer [5].

In 1995 The Gerson Research Organization published an analysis of survival rates of melanoma patients treated with the Gerson approach. The results showed considerably higher 5-year survival rates compared to averages reported in the scientific literature. For stage III patients the 5-year survival rate was 71% compared with standard rates of 27% to 42%. The 5-year survival rate for stage IV patients was 39% compared with 6% in the published literature [3] [6].

A case study from 2007 on six people with aggressive forms of metastatic cancer showed (despite the presence of some confounding variables) that the patients benefited both physically and psychologically from the Gerson therapy. They survived longer than expected and had an improved quality of life [7].

Given that no controlled studies on the use of the Gerson therapy in cancer patients have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, there is not sufficient scientific evidence to support claims that the therapy is an effective cancer treatment. Further research is still needed [3].

Potential Applications of The Gerson Therapy for Cancer

The Gerson therapy has been applied for patients with many different cancer types, including advanced cases of metastatic cancer. However, The Gerson Institute states that brain cancer and pancreatic cancer after chemotherapy do not respond well to the therapy. The Gerson Institute claims that the therapy has achieved good results with the following cancer types:

  • Melanoma
  • Lymphoma
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

There is not currently any published scientific research on the Gerson therapy to be able to outline any scientifically validated benefits for cancer patients or determine any potential therapeutic applications for the diet. However, from case reports and studies published by Dr. Max Gerson and The Gerson Institute, the potential benefits of the regime are listed below.

  • Eliminate toxins from the body
  • Provide high levels of nutrients and antioxidants
  • Improve organ function (especially liver and kidney)
  • Boost the immune system
  • Support mental and physical wellbeing
  • Remove excess sodium from the body
  • Restore damaged cells to a healthy normal state
  • Heal damaged tissues
  • Support the natural healing of a diseased system
  • Help to restore healthy metabolic function
  • Increase survival rates
  • Improve quality of life

How the therapy is believed to work:

The Gerson therapy’s all-encompassing holistic approach sets it apart from most other cancer treatment methods. It aims to restore the body’s incredible innate ability to heal itself, rather than treating the symptoms of any specific disease [1]. It is rooted in the belief that cancer is a disease of the entire organism. Dr. Gerson believed that the manifestation of a tumor is merely a symptom of a systemic imbalance in a diseased body [3].

Dr. Gerson believed that cancer was caused by a combination of damaging factors, notably the accumulation of toxins, which in turn results in the breakdown of the entire metabolic system. The goal of the Gerson therapy is to restore normal metabolic function and keep the metabolism in balance [3].

Dr. Gerson discovered that cancer patients often presented with severely degenerated organs, especially the liver. He attributed this to an increase in toxic materials, such as tumor breakdown products, which needed to be cleared from the body via the liver. Dr. Gerson’s regimen therefore focuses heavily on supporting liver detoxification and restoring optimal liver function.

An integral part of the therapy is an abundance of potassium in the diet and tight restrictions on sodium. Gerson studied early cancer cell biology and realized that healthy cells had a high ratio of potassium to sodium, while diseased cells had a low ratio of potassium to sodium [3]. When patients began the diet they excreted large amounts of sodium in their urine and the cells in the patients’ bodies, which had initially been bloated, began to shrink as the fluid was released. Dr. Gerson came to the conclusion that the diet was correcting tissue damage caused by excess sodium [3].

This hypothesis was later echoed by the findings of laboratory studies carried out by Gilbert Ling on the function of sodium and potassium in living cells [4]. According to Ling’s research using frog muscle cells, the proteins of a cell are able to exist in two different configurational states: either healthy or damaged. In a healthy cell the proteins have a normal structure and a strong affinity for potassium rather than sodium [4]. However, in a damaged cell the protein structure is altered. Proteins lose their affinity for potassium and their ability to structure water. The result is that potassium leaves the cell and is replaced by sodium. The cell then swells up with water [4].

Studies by Ling have shown that high potassium and low sodium environments can restore damaged cell proteins to their normal healthy state. This is believed to be the mechanism of action by which damaged tissues are repaired when a patient follows the Gerson regimen [4]. However, this hypothesis on the mechanism of action of the Gerson therapy is not backed up by any clinical research in humans to confirm if it is accurate or not.

Risks and Side Effects of The Gerson Therapy for Cancer

Patients may report benefits from the Gerson therapy, but there are potential risks and some reported side-effects. The cases reported where patients have experienced side-effects are mainly related to highly frequent or contaminated coffee enemas, which can cause:

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Infections
  • Heart and lung problems
  • Mineral imbalances
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Aching, fever and sweating
  • Dizziness and weakness

There have been a handful of cases where quite severe adverse effects have been reported, but these cases are rare. It is always advised to speak to your doctor before starting any new dietary regime.

Frequently asked questions about Gerson Therapy

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The Best 11 Integrative Cancer Treatment Centers that offer Gerson Therapy

References of Gerson Therapy


[1] The Gerson Institute. How it Works.

[2] National Cancer Institute. Gerson Therapy (PDQ®) – Patient Version.

[3] National Library of Medicine. Gerson Therapy (PDQ®) - Health Professional Version.

[4] Freeman W. Cope, M.D. A medical application of the Ling Association-Induction Hypothesis: the high potassium, low sodium diet of the Gerson cancer therapy. Gerson Research Organization. September 8, 1978.

[5] Gerson M. The cure of advanced cancer by diet therapy: a summary of 30 years of clinical experimentation. Physiol Chem Phys. 1978;10(5):449-64. PMID: 751079.

[6] 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 Sep;1(4):29-37. PMID: 9359807.

[7] Molassiotis A, Peat P. Surviving against all odds: analysis of 6 case studies of patients with cancer who followed the Gerson therapy. Integr Cancer Ther. 2007 Mar;6(1):80-8. doi: 10.1177/1534735406298258. PMID: 17351030.

[8] Gerson M: A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases and The Cure of Advanced Cancer by Diet Therapy. The Gerson Institute, 2002.

[9] Gerson's cancer treatment. JAMA 132 (11): 645-6, 1946.

[10] CANCER and the need for facts. J Am Med Assoc. 1949 Jan 8;139(2):93-8. PMID: 18101918.

[11] US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment: Unconventional Cancer Treatments. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990. OTA-H-405.

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