The Gerson Therapy: A Personal Experience


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After long resistance, the medical profession now acknowledges that a healthy diet can help to prevent cancer, but insists that once the disease has struck, nutrition has no role to play. Beata Bishop Dip.TP.Psych, D.Psy.Astr, having recovered from metastasised malignant melanoma on the nutrition-based Gerson therapy, begs to differ

It was in the autumn of 1979 that my world collapsed when I was told that an odd-looking mole on my right shin was a tumour, and that I was suffering from the fastest-spreading and worst type of skin cancer, namely malignant melanoma. The diagnosis was shattering. So was the urgency with which the consultant arranged for major surgery, involving a wide excision of my right leg and a skin graft taken from my left thigh. When I asked why he had to remove such a huge area surrounding such a small tumour, he used the analogy of creating a firebreak in order to contain a forest fire. I saw no connection between a burning forest and my right leg, but was in too much pain to argue.

The firebreak didn't work. After a year of pain and discomfort, a routine check-up revealed a hard lump in my right groin. By then I had established that if melanoma spread from its original site, there was no hope of a cure. My painfully reconstructed world collapsed again. The consultant - a kind, caring man - looked grim when he suggested more surgery at once. Was there no other way? None. And if I refused the operation? He gave me a very short time to live. I felt that the giant vacuum cleaner of orthodox medicine was about to suck me in and destroy my right to choose unless I fled fast, to make up my mind in peace.


Having talked things over with my two closest friends and done a lot of hard thinking, I decided to refuse another operation. After all, the first one only removed a lot of my leg but left the cancer behind, so why should a second operation, stripping out my lymph glands and whatever else seemed suspect, do any better? Despite my consultant's verdict, I felt that there must be another way, and set out to find it.

To this day, cancer patients often ask me how I had the courage to break away from orthodox medicine. My totally honest answer is always the same: I didn't have the courage to stay with it. I had always been attracted to alternative approaches that dealt with the cause, not just the effects of physical complaints; I was familiar with the healing power of homeopathy and medicinal herbs; at that critical moment I just hoped that there would be a gentler and better answer to my cancer than further mutilation with no hope of recovery.

Through one of those so-called coincidences that often seem pre-ordained, a friend's friend asked a simple question: “Why don't you try the Gerson therapy?” and told me where I could find out about it. After this, one thing swiftly led to another. First of all I met Margaret, the American granddaughter of Dr Max Gerson, the German physician who developed his unorthodox, nutrition-based therapy that was claimed to heal cancer. She asked me to read her grandfather's book and get in touch again if I was still interested.


I had never read so avidly and so fast as I did with A Cancer Therapy - Results of Fifty Cases (Gerson Institute), Dr Gerson's revolutionary book, published in the USA. Reading it was like listening to a wise, quiet voice, explaining a totally new approach to cancer and to a lesser extent, to other chronic degenerative diseases. It also made it painfully clear why orthodox methods of treating cancer so often failed to bring the desired results.

When people ask me these days why I decided to follow this obscure, difficult therapy - was it because I believed in it? - I reply that belief had nothing to do with it. I chose it because it was so blindingly and convincingly logical, and its approach to the causes of malignant disease made such sense. Let me sum up its essence.

According to Dr Gerson, cancer is a disease of the whole organism, and particularly of the digestive system. The tumour itself is not the disease, only its symptom. Underlying it is a severely toxic body with a dysfunctional immune system, the result of long-term faulty nutrition and a harmful lifestyle. Therefore it is futile to concentrate on simply removing or destroying the tumour with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy and leave it at that. If the toxic, debilitated organism is not restored to optimum functioning, there is nothing to stop the cancer from recurring.

In other words, cancer is not a thing, i.e. the tumour, but a process. And to stop the process, the body needs to be detoxified and at the same time built up to full strength so that it can heal itself. Both vital tasks are fulfilled by a precisely designed and demanding nutritional therapy, based on a strictly organic vegetarian (and briefly vegan) diet, reinforced by supplements, and supported by frequent coffee enemas and castor oil therapy to aid detoxification. It's a daunting discipline that has to be followed, albeit with decreasing severity, for some two years or more, before a complete “cure” can be hoped for.

My head swam as I read on. Clearly, you needed to be pretty tough, in mind if not in body, to embark on this method and stick with it. Did I have the guts (oh, mot luste, since the guts were star players in Dr Gerson's scenario), to do it? Yes, said my inner voice that's so much wiser than the rest of me. And that was that.


Dr Gerson began to experiment with diets as a young doctor, in an attempt to relieve his severe migraines. After several false trials he found that a saltless and fatless vegetarian diet solved the problem and he prescribed it to his migraine-stricken patients. One of them reported that besides getting rid of his migraines, the diet was also healing his lupus vulgaris (skin TB) lesions, thought to be incurable. This discovery convinced Dr Gerson that his “migraine diet” was remedying not migraines, but the whole organism which could then deal with its problems; without knowing it, he had embarked on a voyage of discovery that would eventually lead him to the development of his successful cancer therapy.

“Let your food be your medicine”, said Hippocrates, and that's what the Gerson therapy is all about. It consists of three square meals a day: a breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, a bowl of porridge with pre-soaked unsulphured dried fruit, and a banana; lunch and dinner start with a large portion of mixed raw salad, followed by a special vegetable soup, jacket potato and cooked vegetables, and fresh fruit. In addition, one glass of freshly made juice is served on the hour, every hour. Carrot and apple, carrot on its own, and a mixture of green leaves, apple and red cabbage alternate throughout the day. These juices, full of vitamins, minerals, and, above all, enzymes, are the key element of the therapy, and also its heaviest chore, as each one must be made fresh and drunk at once, before the enzymes lose their power. Everything that passes the patient's lips must be organic. And there's a long list of forbidden foods, including salt, alcohol, fat, sweets, preserved and refined foods, nuts, spices, meat, eggs, poultry and sprouts.

The medication consists mainly of natural substances that aid digestion. Acidoll (a capsule containing betaine HCl and pepsin) is taken before meals. It aids digestion, which is normally below par in cancer patients. Niacin and pancreatin are taken before, during and after meals respectively. A solution of potassium compound salts is added to most juices, to restore the body's correct sodium-potassium balance that, in cancer patients is invariably upset, in favour of sodium. Iodine is taken as thyroid extract and Lugol's solution (a liquid form of potassium iodide, used at half strength, to aid thyroid function). Injections of crude liver, laced with vitamin B12, are given daily. And to make up for the totally fatless regime, flaxseed oil, rich in essential fatty acids, forms part of the daily diet.


In Gerson jargon this means coffee enemas, the prime tool of detoxification. At the start of the therapy they are taken every four hours, later less frequently. Their function is to increase the production of bile, which helps the liver to shed some of its toxic load. They are also amazingly effective painkillers. Continental naturopaths have used coffee enemas since the 1920s and recent research has confirmed their usefulness.(1)

They play a big role in the management of flare-ups or healing reactions, when detoxification becomes very intense and some bile flows into the stomach, causing nausea, headaches, flu-like symptoms and weakness. Frequent enemas and plenty of peppermint tea ease the syndrome, which is pretty awful and yet must be welcomed as a sure sign that the therapy is working.
Castor oil taken orally and in enema form every other day is another “heavy duty” part of the therapy. But improvements start at once and help the patient to persevere. I, for example, got rid of my incipient diabetes mellitus after three weeks on the therapy, and after two more weeks the osteoarthritis in my right hand vanished, never to return. With results like that, one doesn't quit.

When I pursued the therapy, from 1981 to 1983, it was a lonely business, with organic supplies hard to come by. Today organics are plentiful, there are three Gerson-trained doctors in the UK, and the London-based Gerson Support Group exists to help and advise patients, run training in the practicalities of the therapy, and provide information to health professionals and lay people.

There is a Gerson hospital in Mexico, while the Gerson Institute in San Diego deals with enquiries from all over the world and sells informative books and audio and videotapes. Ideally patients should start the therapy at the hospital, but this isn't strictly necessary, provided they follow the rules faithfully. This therapy is a perfect “package”, which must be taken in its entirety; otherwise it doesn't work. It's not easy or cheap, and some daily help is necessary to cope with the incessant round of making juices, cooking food, preparing gallons of enema coffee and washing up endlessly. And, just like orthodox cancer medicine, it doesn't guarantee a cure. But much of the time it works wonderfully well. As a witty friend put it, “Once the patient recovers from the cancer and from the therapy, she should live a jolly long time.”


In his lifetime Dr Gerson was attacked, vilified and persecuted by the American Medical Establishment, which resented the success of his unorthodox therapy. Today, 41 years after his death, his pioneering use of nutritional therapy is still disregarded by the official medical world, which dismisses individual recoveries as “anecdotal evidence” and insists on large-scale clinical trials, yielding statistically significant results. The very nature of the therapy makes this impossible. Meanwhile, the incidence of cancer is rising everywhere, whilst the rate of cures lags sadly behind.

The Nobel Laureate and healed Gerson patient, Dr Albert Schweitzer, wrote this tribute to Max Gerson: “He leaves a legacy which commands attention and which will assure him his due place. Those whom he has cured will now attest to the truth of his ideas.” Which is what this article is all about.


Lechner, P. Experiences with the use of dietary therapy in surgical oncology. Aktuelle Ernaehrungsmedizin, Stuttgart 1990;.2:15.
Hildenbrand, G, et al. Five-year survival rates of melanoma patients treated by diet therapy after the manner of Gerson. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 1995;1(4).


Gerson, Max. A Cancer Therapy - Results of Fifty Cases, Fifth Edition. The Gerson Institute. 1990.
Bishop, Beata. A Time to Heal. Penguin Arkana. 1996.

Beata Bishop is a UKCP registered psychotherapist, working along Jungian and Transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the body-mind link and the vital role of nutrition in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (Penguin Arkana) describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to long-term robust health on the nutrition-based Gerson therapy.




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