Gerson Therapy

This is a classic alternative cancer therapy based on a radical diet, nutritional manipulation, and coffee enemas for “detoxification”. The proponents of this therapy have presented case histories that sound credible to me for the most part, although the amount of detail presented does not allow a definite conclusion to be drawn. I have not investigated these cases personally, and cannot vouch for them. In addition, even assuming that these hopeful case histories are valid successes, this does not tell you how many failures there are. So even if you believe in these cases, you can’t tell how often the treatment is successful. Thus, there is no rational basis to substitute this therapy for conventional therapy that may be curative, if such therapy exists.

The Gerson therapy requires an enormous effort and commitment on the part of the patient. Doing it is said to be almost a full time job.

It does appear, based on the case histories, that they have an unusual number of successes in melanoma. The Gerson Institute recently published a major retrospective study on melanoma in an alternative therapy journal. They reviewed all of the records at the Gerson Clinic and checked on the survival of patients with melanoma. They found for stage I and II, and especially stage III that survival was substantially better than historical averages for similar patients. Stage IV patients who had metastases in the internal organs did not do well, but patients with more superficial metastases seemed to do better, although no formal comparison was made. This study will probably not receive much attention from conventional medicine because it is a historical comparison rather than a randomized study. This means that it is possible that some bias or difference in the patients themselves compared to the patients in the standard group might account for the difference. The authors of the study themselves mention other studies that show attending a support group improves the outome in melanoma. Perhaps just taking the initiative to go to the Gerson clinic and make the very considerable effort this therapy requires accounts for the results. I would feel more comfortable if there were prior evidence showing that the Gerson therapy can cause measurable melanoma tumors to shrink – the apparent survival advantage would be much more credible in the context of a proven biological effect of the therapy. I certainly don’t fault the Gerson Institute for publishing this, but I don’t think it is enough by itself to prove the case.

Recently there has been a split within the Gerson movement, apparently as a result of a disagreement, and there are differences in the therapy as practiced by each faction. Naturally, I’m not taking sides on who, if anyone, is “right” or “better”. Both sides have their own web page, so you can decide for yourself.

The Gerson Research Organization has compiled an extensive bibliography on the Gerson therapy including full length papers on line.

The Gerson Institute has put together a very informative home page which is well worth a visit. Their page includes case histories as well as the full text of the melanoma study.

On the negative side, an article in the Journal of Natropathic Medicine followed patients who went to the Gerson clinic and to two other alternative cancer clinics for four or five years. Of the 18 Gerson patients, all died, except one who had stage III lymphoma. This certainly suggests that efficacy of this treatment against advanced cancer is low, but the study did have some major flaws. All of the information was reported by the patients themselves, rather than by checking medical records. 20 Gerson patients were not reported on because they were lost to follow-up. And no attempt was made to assess compliance with treatment. This could be very significant here, since the Gerson therapy is so demanding. It is quite possible that the lack of success is due to a high rate of non-compliance with treatment. If so, then the negative result recorded here would not apply to patients who follow the treatment plan. Certainly you should consider whether you could actually do it before choosing this as a treatment. And compliance problems are only a possible explanation for the failure reported by this study. It is also quite possible that the rate of success is low or zero.


Austin S., et. al. Long term follow-up of cancer patients using Contreras, Hoxey, and Gerson therapies. J. Naturopathic Med. 1994 5(1):74-6

This CancerGuide Page By Steve Dunn. © Steve Dunn
Last Updated: June 13, 1999