Recently, a member commented on the post, Questions to Ask Your Doctor When Diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma, that Gerson Therapy might be of help to those living with melanoma. Gerson Therapy is an alternative treatment for cancer that is based on a strict diet to help rid the body of toxins and replace the balance of salts and potassium in your system. There are a number of concerns with this type of therapy.
The Gerson Therapy is a diet based program. It involves preparing and drinking 13 glasses of juice, one each hour, eating only plant-based foods, and taking supplements such as potassium, vitamin B-12, thyroid hormones and pancreatic enzymes. It also includes detoxifying your body of toxins using coffee enemas, sometimes five times per day. According to the website, this program helps to reduce the salt in your body and increase potassium levels, which will cleanse your liver, boost your immune system and allow your body to heal itself.
According to the Gerson Therapy website, this treatment has "had repeatedly good results with…melanoma, lymphoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Duke’s C colorectal cancer." It does not however, offer any scientific studies to back up this claim. Instead, it offers a book outlining 50 success stories and states, "We are continuing to do more research into our patient base over the past 10 years to obtain more current information."
The Gerson Therapy program
Because the Gerson Therapy requires very specialized diet restrictions, you must first learn about the program. The website indicates that the preferred method is to attend a Gerson clinic (there are two - one in Mexico and one in Hungary) for several weeks. However, they also offer a workshop in San Diego for three days and do provide online information for those who cannot attend the clinic or workshop. They do state that it is much more difficult to follow the program without attending the clinic but that some people manage. According to the American Cancer Society, attending the clinic costs around $5,500 per week. The workshop in San Diego costs $500 for the three days.
Treatment, according to Gerson.org, can last for several years. It recommends that cancer patients continue the program for at least two years. This can also be expensive. There are costs for equipment, supplies, supplements and organic foods (the amount of juice you drink is equal to 20 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables each day.) The American Cancer Society estimates that is can cost $2,000 to $4,000 for the first month of home treatment.
Besides the overwhelming cost of starting and following this treatment program, there are concerns about the possible side-effects and complications. Cancer Research UK indicates that long-term use of coffee enemas can result in dehydration, infections, constipation, inflammation of the bowel, salt imbalances in the body, heart and lung problems and possibly death (the National Cancer Institute indicates there are three deaths that might have been caused by the coffee enemas). They acknowledge that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a healthy way to eat, however, ignoring other food groups and eating only large quantities of these foods is not healthy. You should have a balanced diet. It can result in dizziness, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, cold sores and other nutritional deficiency diseases.
The verdict: undetermined
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the few studies that have been completed on Gerson Therapy or a similar diet have been retrospective studies, which means they were reviews of past cases. Two studies, completed by the NCI in 1947 and 1959 found that the diet did not have any benefit. Another study, completed in 1984 also did not find that the therapy was useful. A study completed in 1990 on a similar diet found that when combined with standard treatment, resulted in fewer side effects and the patients lived longer than usual. Another study, with only six patients, found the diet helped patients both physically and psychologically but the authors of the study recommended further clinical studies be completed because of the small sample size.
Eating healthy is an important part of any treatment plan for cancer as well as other health conditions. As with any alternative treatment, it is important to do your research before starting. You should also discuss all alternative treatments with your doctor to determine what, if any, benefit you should expect and what adverse reactions you might have.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.