For several decades, the main promoter of this bizarre nutritional approach to healing has been Charlotte Gerson, daughter of its developer, Max Gerson (1881-1959), a German physician who emigrated to the United States in 1936. I have met Charlotte on at least three occasions at conferences promoting so-called alternative treatments. In 2009, I took detailed notes about her 30-minute lecture at the 37th Annual Convention of the Cancer Control Society, an organization that misinforms the public in its advocacy of what it calls “Nutrition and Non-Toxic Therapies” for preventing and controlling cancer and other diseases.
It seems timely now to share some of my notes and discuss what they reveal about how some people can be seduced into choosing a treatment protocol as preposterous and demanding as Gerson’s.
But first some background….
Jessica Ainscough’s cancer battle has been the subject of thousands of articles. She skillfully publicized her efforts to fight her disease by relying on what she called “natural alternative cancer treatments.”
Her tragic story began in 2008 when she developed lumps on her left hand and arm. She was diagnosed with epithelioid carcinoma, a slow-growing but deadly cancer for which the chances of ten-year survival are much improved with proper treatment.
Her doctors then recommended the extreme amputation they initially proposed. Faced with such a severe treatment, a reasonable person would want to find a viable non-mutilating alternative. Although there was no such alternative for Jess to find, she thought she found an answer. She wrote in Dolly, the magazine she had worked for as online editor:
I began looking at the different ways I may have contributed to the manifestation of my disease and then stopped doing them.
You may wonder: Why the strange phrasing: “manifestation of my disease”? But promoters of supposedly holistic treatments commonly talk that way. In a previous piece for Swift, I called it the cancer-is-the-symptom ploy and gave several examples of the rhetoric used including this unwarranted presumption asserted as fact: “People don’t get sick because they have cancer. They’re already sick and they develop cancer.”
At the Cancer Control Society’s 2009 convention, Charlotte Gerson told her audience that you cannot heal selectively. “Cancer is not a one disease,” she said. “If you truly heal, everything heals.”
Another unwarranted presumption is that very rare cancers are attributable to lifestyle. Jess continued:
I swapped a lifestyle of late nights, cocktails and Lean Cuisines for carrot juice, coffee enemas and meditation and became an active participant in my treatment.
As I explained in that previous Swift piece, the use of a supposedly non-toxic multicomponent approach for restoring health “is appealing to some patients for several reasons, such as it: (1) provides a means for them to take control of their health; (2) gives an impression that they are doing all that can be done to enhance spirit, mind, and body; and (3) assures them that their “cures” are not worse than their diseases.”
This research led me to Gerson Therapy which ensures you have a perfectly balanced diet for optimum health, assisting your body to flush out nasties whilst feeding it with all the goodness it needs to flourish.
The therapy involves drinking 13 fresh organic veggie juices per day (yes that’s one an hour, every hour of my waking day), five coffee enemas per day and a basic organic whole food plant-based diet with additional supplements.
For two years I devoted my entire life to healing, to the extent that I was effectively housebound.
Nevertheless, Jess branded herself “THE WELLNESS WARRIOR” (although the housebound warrior would have been more accurate) and publicized her misguided Gerson-influenced approach to wellness so effectively in her native Australia and on the Web that she was “able to afford a large beachside home and support the rest of her family on her income.”
When her mother Sharyn Ainscough developed breast cancer, Jess convinced her to follow her wellness teachings. Sharyn went on the “full Gerson therapy” and died just two and a half years later in October 2013.
The best articles about Jess Ainscough’s life and death have quoted David Gorski, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Surgery and Oncology at Wayne State University, who has blogged several times about Jess and about the Gerson protocol. In writing this section, my most helpful reference was his remarkably comprehensive March 2nd commentary, The Gerson protocol, cancer, and the death of Jess Ainscough, a.k.a. “The Wellness Warrior.”
Charlotte Gerson at the 2009 Cancer Control Society Convention
The convention was held at its regular Labor Day Weekend location, the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City, California. It’s an annual event that attracts several hundred promoters, practitioners, and enthusiasts of using so-called alternative medicine against chronic diseases and for wellness. Some of the people at the convention were patients and customers of hucksters at the convention. Others were shopping for ways to heal their own diseases or for cures for their afflicted loved ones.
There was very little sense to be found in the various talks, videos, and exhibits. In the two out of three days I attended, I encountered no discussions of rigorously designed clinical research indicating that any of the treatments discussed had significant therapeutic value.
Charlotte Gerson was an audience favorite with her folksy, easy-to-follow, evidence-free talk on “Healing Cancer & Other Chronic Diseases.” She offered her simplistic, nonsensical preaching with certitude and combined it with “orthodox medicine” bashing.
Her speaker biography provided by the Cancer Control Society read:
…She was born and had her early schooling in Germany. She left in 1933 and continued school in Austria, France, and England, then attended Smith college after coming to New York. She helped translate her father’s books and writings into English. She sometimes managed Dr. Gerson’s clinics, attended his lectures, supervised nursing and joined him in making rounds and in discussing cases. As Founder of the Gerson Institute, she lectures widely and currently teaches physicians who operate the Gerson Therapy Hospital. She also trains other physicians and caregivers in the application of this Nutritional Therapy.
Dr. Max Gerson is famous for his revolutionary healing therapy for cancer and other diseases presented in his book A Cancer Therapy—Results of 50 Cases. Dr. Albert Schweitzer called Dr. Gerson one of medicine’s most eminent geniuses.
Charlotte has co-authored a book with Beata Bishop, called Healing the Gerson Way, which updates Dr. Gerson’s famous book…. She has also authored individual booklets on some of the most frequent cancers. Lately, a film is available on the Therapy, The Gerson Miracle, which won first prize in the Beverly Hills Film Festival in May, 2004. The DVD shows the Gerson Therapy as well as a number of cured “incurables.” Two more documentaries followed: Dying to Have Known and The Beautiful Truth with more cured “incurables” and doctors and professors successfully using the Gerson Therapy.
She began her talk by bragging about being 87 years old and having no osteoporosis (as if that’s extraordinary and a reason to do what she preaches).
She emphasized that she doesn’t eat meat or dairy. The only way to get acid, she suggested, was by eating animal protein.
She asked: “Where do big animals get protein?” Her answer was grass (as if that’s applicable to humans and that no big animals are carnivorous).
“Carl Lewis was a vegan,” she said. She explained that he was so strong because his diet gave him alkalinity. I don’t think she knew that “Usain Bolt Ate 100 Chicken McNuggets a Day in Beijing and Somehow Won Three Gold Medals.” (I am not endorsing McNuggets.)
She claimed that when the pH goes below 6, the result is cancer. She insisted on the need to keep the body alkaline because it “cannot function with acid” and that when you eat so much animal protein, the pancreas is so busy it can’t protect you. “Keep pH above 7 with vegetarian protein,” she advised.
I’m sure that sounded sensible to her audience. Oy gevalt!
The pH scale is a measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions in a watery solution (e.g., blood). At normal body temperatures, a pH less than 6.8 is acidic and greater than 6.8 is alkaline. (Introductory chemistry students learn that 7 is the neutrality cut point between acidic and alkaline, but, as explained in Benjamin Abelow’s textbook Understanding Acid-Base, that’s correct only at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius.)
Normal arterial blood has a pH of 7.4, so a normal bloodstream is indeed alkaline and your bodily processes keep it very close to 7.4. Otherwise you are in no position to listen to a lecture. Arterial blood is severely acidic when the pH falls below 7.1. You cannot have a blood pH that gets below or close to 6 and still be alive.
She went on to promote “living natural minerals” and juices. Minerals are, by definition, naturally occurring; there are no unnatural minerals. If you’re seeking living minerals, see the horta in a popular episode of Star Trek.
“Cancer is impossible if defenses are working,” she claimed. She referred to cancer as a “foreign protein.” This is a premise of the dubious treatment plan proposed by William Donald Kelley, D.D.S., which is currently promoted in combination with Gerson-style treatment by Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez.
People know pharmaceutical treatments don’t work, she said. She claimed that 20% of doctors wouldn’t take chemo and that they give it to you because they’re paid massive sums by pharmaceutical companies. On the Anaximperator blog, beatis provided citations for relevant published poll data and found ample evidence refuting Charlotte’s claim.
Gerson therapy is not only a cancer therapy, she said. She claimed it also treats heart disease, ulcerative colitis, arthritis, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis. (Beware of promoters of panaceas.)
She referred to a case of retinitis pigmentosa. She said the patient used a lot of salt and that “salt is 20 times worse than sugar.” She said she told the patient to stop eating salt and eat carrot juice. She claimed that with a “partial therapy” her vision became clear, her color vision came back, her peripheral vision came back, and the patient could now tell black from navy blue pants. (I’m not aware of any published case report about this patient.)
Charlotte claimed she can control diabetes in 2-3 weeks and that it has nothing to do with sugar. It has to do with receptors blocked by cholesterol. She described cheese as “deadly.”
The three things she said that are needed to produce cancer are fat, salt, and animal protein.
As Christopher Hitchens famously noted, “…what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Charlotte’s audience wanted to believe in the hope she offered and accepted her certitude as sufficient evidence. As a true believer in her battle for wellness, Jess Ainscough also attracted a devoted audience. Mark Twain overlooked the persuasive abilities of women when he wrote: “The most outrageous lies that can be invented will find believers if a man only tells them with all his might.
Charlotte concluded her talk by saying that she’s not ill and has no pain. She received a standing ovation.