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Saga of a Diet

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An army of unemployed, if set to work tending vegetable gardens, orchards and chicken yards, could provide the wherewithal for permanently curing hundreds of tubercular patients who have heretofore been considered incurable.

Such at least is the assertion of proponents of the Gerson diet, the noteworthy contribution of Dr. Max Gerson, a Jewish physician formerly of Germany and now of Austria, to modern medical science.

To the hundreds of tuberculars of various types would also be added many suffering from diseases such as lupus, which is thought to be tubercular in origin but has not yet been proven so. Gerson worked out his diet prior to 1924, testing it on tuberculosis of the lungs, the kidneys, the joints, the skin and the eyes, and on lupus, which has always presented considerable difficulty to the medical profession.


Hearing of Gerson’s success, Professor Ferdinand Sauerbruch, one of the most prominent surgeons of Germany and a German National Privy Councilor, became interested in the Gerson method and sent two of his assistants to its discoverer, who showed them some fifty patients he had been treating for various diseases, tuberculosis included.

And thereby, according to certain versions of the story, hangs a tale of professional jealousy and semi-intrigue.

For what Dr. Sauerbruch’s emissaries saw made such a favorable impression that they urged Sauerbruch to test the Gerson method in his own clinic. Sauerbruch, who specialized in tuberculosis of the lungs, either could not or would not experiment with all the diseases upon which Gerson was employing his method and decided to treat only several types of tuberculosis.


Early in 1925 Gerson set up a diet station for Sauerbruch, whose assistants were to treat patients, sent by Gerson, in accordance with the Gerson formula.

Sauerbruch, it is asserted, made a number of changes in the diet, as for instance, including larger amounts of meats and eggs than Gerson thought suitable. But even so the results obtained were so convincing that Sauerbruch, whose own fame was based on his extraordinary success with surgical treatment, immediately began to popularize the Gerson treatment.

Despite Sauerbruch’s efforts, however, the medical profession paid little attention to the diet, regardless of whether the Jew Gerson interceded for it or the “Aryan” Sauerbruch, who lectured on the subject in 1929. From these lectures it appeared to some that Sauerbruch was making a bid for the Nobel Prize for a cure for tuberculosis and lupus—the Gerson cure. The chances seemed good, for lupus in its more serious forms had been considered incurable, and one man had already received the Nobel Prize for a new method of treating the disease.


Among those who thought it their duty to prevent the award of the Nobel Prize to an experimenter with the Gerson method rather than to its discoverer was Dr. Wolfgang von Weisl, a well-known journalist. He published a number of front page editorial articles showing that Sauerbruch’s treatments were based on Gerson’s discoveries and that Sauerbruch’s conception of the effect of the diet was false.

As a result of these articles Sauerbruch’s chance of winning the Nobel Prize was destroyed; the fame of Gerson, quite naturally, increased, for von Weisl’s articles were reprinted in countless papers throughout the world.

But medical ethics and jealousies being what they are, the articles about Gerson, and the resultant publicity that resulted, angered the medical profession, Sauerbruch included. They were particularly incensed, it was charged because Gerson had forced them to take a stand concerning a method of therapy which, for various reasons, including some of a pecuniary nature, did not serve the purposes of the physicians.

A medical struggle began. Physicians specializing in tubercular treatments had a choice between the original Gerson diet and the Sauerbruch variation. The smaller clinics, particularly, impressed by Sauerbruch’s fame as a surgeon, favored his variation which, incidentally, was somewhat less costly and easier to handle.


As the diet was used, more and more physicians recognized the greater value of the original Gerson technique. Today it is completely recognized. The discussion about the technique was completely put aside. No one thought it significant that this Jewish physician from the little Westphalian town of Bielefeld had freed humanity of the scourge of tuberculosis of the skin and lupus. Whatever credit was given for the treatment went to Sauerbruch rather than to Gerson who had healed even severe cases of tuberculosis of the joints.

Gerson meanwhile concentrated on the treatment of tuberculosis of the lungs, a field in which physicians particularly resisted him because they feared it is believed the method would impair the confidence of the public in the surgical treatment of lung cases.


For four long years Gerson assembled facts to prove his contentions. He sought to prove that tuberculosis in itself was a mild disease, in which not only improvements could be achieved but in which cures could be effected without operation.

All that was necessary, Gerson contended, was the use of his diet. But, he emphasized, it was an exact diet that would have to be completely followed for satisfactory results. Every single prescription in it had a specific meaning and a specific realm of application.

From April, 1933, to October, 1934, Gerson labored with Felix Fleischner, most famous lung roentgenologist of Europe, on this fundamental work of proving the curative values of his diet. The evidence accumulated by the two scientist are submitted in a published volume.

Adherents of the Gerson diet are confident that he has proved that tuberculosis of the lungs is not essentially worse or more dangerous than the ordinary type of pneumonia. They feel that he has proved that with mild or medium cases under diet therapy it is impossible for the patient to grow worse. They also claim that except where stupidity of either doctor or patient is at fault, even in the most difficult cases only about ten per cent, at the most twelve or fifteen per cent, are to be regarded as lost.

Medical authorities, especially in the United States, know little of Gerson’s discoveries. For this reason his friends and associates urge that his technique be tried out by some great medical institution. They are so sure that the Gerson methods will result in a higher degree of cures than any other known method and they predict that a thorough test by a reputable scientific organization would result in nothing less than the Nobel Prize for Dr. Gerson.

It is claimed for the treatment that it removes tuberculosis from the ranks of those diseases which are a menace to humanity because no cure for them has been perfected. They liken Dr. Gerson’s discovery to Dr. Ehrlich’s syphilis discoveries. Neither discoveries rid the world of the disease; both, they claim, have caused the disease to lose its dreaded place as an uncontrollable scourge of humanity.

The Gerson diet presupposes ripe vegetables as its base. The vegetables must be absolutely fresh, never having been in a storehouse. The eggs must be from hens which have been fed a special food, and not leavings of fish. Canned foods are completely banned. The diet is based upon fruits and vegetables and grains and potatoes,—but all these foods must be raised with a minimum of artificial fertilizer.

Dr. Gerson, now in his fifty-fourth year, was born at Wengrowitz, near Posen, into a pious Jewish family. He was one of eight children. Although never interested in politics, he left Germany after the rise of Hitler on moral grounds. He was not persecuted except that the division of lung tuberculars at the city hospital of Berlin was taken from his control when the Nazis came to power. At the present time he is living with his wife and three children in Vienna where he is engaged in research and in preparing his scientific works for publication.

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