The Gerson Diet and coffee enemas

The Gerson Diet and coffee enemas

Saul Green

The use of diets and coffee enemas to treat cancer is based on the teachings of Max Gerson, a German MD who practiced about 75 years ago when the biology of cancer was virtually unknown. He believed that cancer was a degenerative disease that developed when aerobic energy metabolism in the liver and intestine was converted to anaerobic metabolism by “poisons” from processed foods.

An Old Idea

The idea that purges could rid the body of its “corrupt humors” has been practiced by “healers” since the fifth century. Proponents promoting coffee enemas still believe that “an unpoisoned body” possesses reserves that can recognize and destroy cancer. Gerson’s treatment requires patients to have a prolonged period of detoxification with coffee enemas and to adhere, for life if possible, to a diet of juices from raw fruits, vegetables, and calf liver, all produced without pesticides or fertilizers and prepared without sugar, starch, salt, or artificial coloring.

Proponents of the Gerson treatment allege that normal cells depend on oxygen and oxidizing enzymes to maintain aerobic metabolism. When this system is poisoned by “toxins” in processed foods, it falls back into anaerobic metabolism, produces inferior energy, and becomes cancer. Detoxification is accomplished with enemas containing coffee because coffee stimulates liver bile production and activates an enzyme, glutathione-s-transferase, which neutralizes the free radicals in the blood. The coffee enema causes the toxin-laden bile to be flushed out of the gallbladder into the intestines and through the colon to be excreted. Gerson has stated that for a patient to be healed,” the patient’s body must be detoxified. After detoxification, he says, the essential organs will destroy the cancer by an inflammatory allergic reaction. Healing is activated by the special diet of natural nontoxic foods that include “ionized minerals of the potassium group, juices of green leaves and raw calves liver, thyroid extract, and iodine.”[1]

Litany of Errors

Over the last 30 years the scientific literature has shown that: carcinogens are not respiratory poisons; most respiratory poisons are not carcinogens; oxygen does not inhibit the growth of cancer cells either in vitro or in vivo; the absence of oxygen does not induce or accelerate cancer growth; effective anticancer drugs are the ones that affect DNA synthesis and not fermentation; energy from fermentation is not inferior by any measure; tumors increase oxidative metabolism of fats and carbohydrates to gain energy; and there is no evidence of the “poisoning” of aerobic metabolism in tumor cells.[2]

The hepatology literature does not show that bile is a vehicle for toxin removal. A primary function of bile is to move metabolites from the liver to body tissues. To conserve bile and to ensure that the metabolites it carries are not lost during transit through the intestine, more than 95% of the bile entering the intestine is reabsorbed and returned to the liver before it reaches the colon. If Gerson’s postulate were true, toxins carried in the bile would not be excreted but would recirculate through the body endlessly.[3]

Coffee does not stimulate bile production; it causes release of bile from the gallbladder. Bile does not contain glutathione, and glutathione is not a precursor for bile formation.[4]

In the short term, the action of an enema causes an insignificant loss of bile from the intestine. But the amount of bile lost from frequent enemas over a period of months is appreciable. Under such circumstances, severe nutritional consequences associated with malabsorption can and do result.[5]

The pathogenesis of inflammation and its role in the immune system have been defined in studies showing that inflammation suppresses fat metabolism and cellular oxidations, and increases the rate of glycolysis, tissue wasting, septic shock, and hemorrhagic necrosis in all cells, normal and malignant. Proponents of the Gerson treatment have never shown that there is a “healing” inflammatory process that focuses specifically on tumor cells.

Finally, Gerson proponents have never identified the “poisons” in processed foods and have never shown them to be present in voided enema fluids or that an all-natural diet of the juices of raw fruits, vegetables, and calf liver can stimulate any kind of “healing.” All the evidence in the scientific literature today indicates that mutagenesis, and not the interference with oxidative metabolism, is the cause of cancer.[6]


[1.] Green S. The Gerson treatment for cancer. JAMA. 1992;268:3224-3227.

[2.] Aisenberg A. The Glycolysis and Respiration of Tumors. New York, NY: Academic Press; 1961:150-157.

[3.] Arius IM. The Liver: Biology and Pathobiology. New York, NY: Raven Press; 1982:429-465.

[4.] Chasseaud LF. The role of glutathione and GST in the metabolism of chemical carcinogens and other agents. Adv Cancer Res. 1979;29:175-274.

[5.] Eisele JW, Reay DT. Deaths related to coffee enemas. JAMA. 1980; 1608-1609.

[6.] Joklik WK, et al. Immunophathology. In: Zinsser Microbiology. 18th ed. Norwalk, CT: Appleton-Century-Crofts; 1984:367-387.

Saul Green, Ph.D., a biochemist retired from Sloan Kettering Institute in New York City, is president of Zol Consultants, inc., 340 W 57th St., Suite 8J, New York, NY 10019.(212-957-8029). He is a board member of the National Council Against Health Fraud, an advisor to the American Council on Science and Health, and a member of the Alternative and Complementary Methods Advisory Group of the American Cancer Society.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Prometheus Books, Inc.

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