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Gerson Therapy and `toxins’

Last week I had a particular reason to have a look at Gerson Therapy. For the uninitiated, this is a draconian regime based on extreme nutrition and other bizarre interventions such as coffee enemas and vitamin megadoses. It is widely claimed to be able to treat cancer. It’s a favourite ploy of quacks to explain that, when the patient gets worse instead of better, it is a sign that the treatment is working. For homeopaths it’s the `aggravation’, and for the Gerson brigade it’s this:

In all probability the patient will experience so-called flare-ups or detoxifying reactions. These reactions are part of the body’s way of healing itself. They bring weakness, flu-like symptoms, loss of appetite and other unpleasant effects, but there are tried and tested ways of dealing with these and afterwards the patient usually feels remarkably well. During flare-ups large amounts of toxins are eliminated from the body through all the normal channels.

This is a pretty clear claim. If these toxins are in `large amounts’ they should be very easy to detect should they not? So I thought I would ask the Gerson Support Group, which is a UK registered charity:

I was diagnosed with myeloma some years ago, and while it’s only smouldering at present I am interested in what I can do to ensure it stays that way. The matter of toxins caught my eye on your website. Can you give me examples please of specific toxins that the Gerson therapy can clear from the body? That would be helpful for the next time I talk to my haematologist.

Here is their reply:

I think the best thing would be for you to contact the Gerson Institute http://www.gerson.org They will no doubt be able to give you many more specifics than I’d be able to do (I am not a practitioner).
With all good wishes,
Chloe Gwynne

I don’t usually attribute quotes to individuals, but it’s important to know that Chloe Gwynne is a trustee of the charity. I would have expected a trustee to know a bit more about what the charity is doing. Anyway I took her advice and asked the Gerson Institute the same question. Here is their reply:

Thank you for contacting us at the Gerson Institute about your inquiry. Toxins can be found everywhere these days. Especially many personal care products, cleaning supplies that contain toxic and harmful substances. The following list is of standard personal care products.

Any products containing baking soda or sodium
Deodorants and antiperspirants
Hair dye/coloring
Lotion
Make-up
Nail polish
Perfumes
New plastic shower curtain (PVC/Phthalates)

Keep in mind that these are not the only personal care products than can be used. You are encouraged to utilize The Environmental Working Group’s data base to research your preferred products. (www.ewg.org/skindeep.com).

A typical household contains more than 60 hazardous chemicals. Check your home, eliminate as many contaminants as possible and replace toxic products with healthier alternatives. Unfortunately, manufacturers of cleaning products and personal care items in the United States are not required to test their products for safety. As a result, many products contain ingredients that are known to be hazardous to human health and the environment. Companies are also allowed to hide information about most of their ingredients from consumers. For your safety, choose products that provide a complete list of ingredients and are 100% organic.

Some things to avoid:

Plastic
Microwave ovens
Non-stick cookware
Pressure Cookers

Can you see anything here about the toxins that come out of the body? No neither can I. But there is another extremely important point that has been missed. I do actually have smouldering myeloma, it was diagnosed about 10 years ago, and anyone who professes to know anything about cancer should have said THERE IS NO NEED TO DO ANYTHING. Smouldering means that the clone of abnormal cells is present, as is the paraprotein that should not be there, but that’s it. No symptoms, no bone lesions, no other abnormal lab tests. I get blood tests every six months and everything stays just the same. The Gerson Therapy has documented harms and anyone recommending it for me is highly irresponsible. You know me, I’m not easily put off, so I pressed further:

I’m afraid my question wasn’t clear. I am not asking where the toxins come from. I am asking how you can know which toxins are being removed from the body by the Gerson Diet. This would require lab tests to identify the toxins in for example urine. Firstly you would have to measure the level before treatment, identify what they are, and then see how the levels changed after treatment. You claim that some patients experience adverse symptoms when treatment starts, which is related to clearance of toxins. How do you know this? Can you give me the chemical name of even one such toxin that you have shown to be removed by your treatment?

I don’t think that could be clearer. But apparently not to the Gerson Institute:

I certainly understand your question of how a patient can know which toxins are being removed from the body by the Gerson Therapy. However, it is not common practice for Gerson Practitioners to monitor every possible toxin that could be leaving the body. In some cases of patients with suspected heavy metal exposure, they occasionally have heavy metals tested.

However, I encourage you to understand that there are other signs of toxicity and disease that can present in blood tests outside of specific toxin panels. Signs of inflammation, low metabolism, poor kidney or liver function, and immune function can all give a Gerson Practitioner much more information on how a patient is responding to the Gerson Therapy than any specific toxin blood test. These tests (Complete Blood Count and Comprehensive Metabolic Blood Panel) are taken on a monthly basis and monitored by a patient’s practitioner in order to adjust their daily protocol.

We do know that patients experience healing reactions, some of them we theorize to be associated with the removal of toxins (hemorrhoids, diarrhea, nausea, etc.) which often are symptoms related to an irritated digestive tract. This concept is theorized not by testing for toxins, but by monitoring the other blood tests previously mentioned. Liver and kidney function are good indicators of how well the body is removing toxins, and the immune system may reflect these changes as well by increasing levels such as white blood cell counts or lymphocyte levels. In reality, these symptoms may not be caused specifically by a toxin or set of toxins, but they are certainly a sign of transition in immune system function. Additionally, other tests often reflect healing reactions as well such as tumor marker tests and autoimmune markers. Many patients have reported very high spikes in these values if tested during a healing reaction followed by a drastic drop to lower than the previous downwardly trending values.

In regards to your question about detoxification from specific toxins, mercury is the most common heavy metal patients report issues with and has been tested while on the Gerson Therapy. Some patients have had other more elaborate heavy metals tested for, but this is often not a focus unless a patient reports symptoms of this type of toxicity.

I encourage you to consider that the entire Gerson Therapy concept is a metabolic therapy. This means that the entire treatment focuses on restoring proper metabolism to a primarily oxidative metabolism. Many of these concepts are discussed in-depth within Dr. Max Gerson’s book, A Cancer Therapy: Results of 50 Cases. I encourage you to read this book to better understand the concepts behind the Gerson Therapy.

I am wondering why, if practitioners claim that toxins are removed in `large amounts’, they don’t test for them. Looks like guesswork. to me. I had one last go:

Thanks for your detailed reply, but you still haven’t answered my question directly. For example you say that mercury “has been tested while on the Gerson Therapy”. Have the methodology and results of these tests been published? If so, where? Surrogate markers are not what I’m looking for. If I am to commit to this expensive and onerous programme I need to be sure that the underlying science is solid.

…which brought this evasive response:

As I previously stated, you are welcome to read Dr. Gerson’s book, A Cancer Therapy: Results of 50 Cases, which thoroughly explains the scientific concepts behind the Gerson Therapy. These do not focus on removal of toxins, but instead focus on changing the entire body’s metabolism. This uses the metabolism to correct the cellular disfunction (sic) leading to development of cancer as well as support proper immune function in order to break down tumors. I hope that you begin to understand this is why there are no specific tests done on toxins unless heavy metal toxicity is suspected.

I encourage you to take this research into your own hands using PubMed if you so desire in-depth understanding of removal of toxins from the body. However, as I mentioned this is not the foundational concept of the Gerson Therapy and I’ve included a few documents to start you off. I also encourage you to read the following study outlining more recent research on the connection between sodium and potassium: A medical application of the Ling association-induction hypothesis: the high potassium, low sodium diet of the Gerson cancer therapy.

If you do not feel confident using the Gerson Therapy, I encourage you to reach out to a naturopathic doctor who can guide you in choosing an appropriate treatment or work with you on an integrative method using a mix of conventional and natural treatment options. If you need assistance finding a naturopathic doctor, you can search for one in your area at: http://www.findanaturopath.com. Wishing you the best of health using the treatment you feel most confident in implementing.

Do I detect a note of exasperation here? All wisdom is in Gerson’s book apparently. I did indeed take my research into my own hands and had a look at PubMed. I have been doing this for rather a long time, since 1984 in fact so I know how to search effectively. Well it wasn’t called PubMed then, it was MedLine. Anyway would you believe that there is not a single randomised controlled trial published by M Gerson? If any of this stuff could be believed, there should be a Nobel Prize. I am advised to engage with a naturopathic doctor, ie a non-doctor. This despite my making it clear that I am under the care of a haematologist. Do naturopaths really claim to treat cancer in the USA? Yes they do. Good grief, there is even the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

You have probably already clicked the link the Gerson Institute gave to `Gerson Research’. Needless to say, it isn’t research in any meaningful sense – not peer reviewed or even published in a journal. None of the references is to a rigorous clinical trial. This sort of thing seems to be legal in the USA, but I am not sure about the UK. I certainly don’t think a registered charity should be inventing codswallop about how the body works, and discouraging vulnerable people from seeking effective treatment.

Not to mention the huge cost. The Gerson Centre in Hungary charges 6,300 euros for a two-week stay. Surely this is a marketing operation, and all Gerson groups are selling a cancer treatment in return for payment? This puts them within the scope of consumer legislation. I have found only one registered Gerson therapist in the UK, Henry McGrath. He charges £140/hour. For that the only properly recognised qualifications he can offer are in economics and theology. Good value? I don’t think so. The Gerson Support Group sells training days for patients at £129.50. Then of course there are all the approved supplies, and bundles of videos, books etc. It’s hard to think of anything more exploitative of desperate people. But we should not worry, Prince Charles endorses it so it must be OK.

So what next? There isn’t much to be done about the American source of all this gibberish, but I have put the Gerson Support Group on notice that I will refer them to the Charity Commission unless they stop misleading people and start operating for the public benefit, as charities are obliged by law to do.

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  2. This isn’t a particularly scientific analysis. It is not a prospective study, just a look at a large number of complaints and what happened to them.

The dataset comprises 74 complaints I have made to the ASA about misleading health-related claims, between July 2014 and January 2019. All but two related to advertisers’ own websites; one was a magazine ad, and another involved a paid-for ad by a chiropractic clinic on a local newspaper website. Here is how they were distributed (in no particular order): Continue reading

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Here in Salisbury we have a homeopathy college. I’ve mentioned it before, as it hires premises from St Thomas’s church, which sees no problem with telling lies about how the body works. I noticed that the college was running an open day, to recruit more students. The event was today, so I booked in. Continue reading

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