In this article, you will read
- Why I’m interested in learning about any approach for cancer and nutrition although I’m an advocate of the ketogenic diet
- What the Gerson therapy is, what a typical day looks like and what elements I’m incorporating in my lifestyle
- About the Macrobiotic Lifestyle in theory and practice.
You might remember that I wrote about how and why I took a decision what approach to follow to manage my eye cancer and, most importantly at the time, to save my eye.
I don’t like the word “cancer diet” or “diet” in general because I believe that change needs to be sustainable and long-term rather than a fad. But you might wonder now why an advocate for the ketogenic diet like me bothers writing about other approaches…
Well, although I’m following a ketogenic diet because it works for me, it doesn’t mean I don’t keep an open mind and incorporate as many recipes from other “schools of thought”.
There is a lot I learn from raw vegans and some recipes can be easily adjusted and incorporated into my way of eating.
I love many Paleo recipes.
GAPS is a fabulous approach for gut healing.
And obviously recipes from low carbers (not to be mistaken with keto-ers!) can be extremely helpful and tasty.
But also vegetarian recipes can be a great source of inspiration for my side dishes, for instance.
Macrobiotic foods definitely have their place although I don’t embrace everything that is recommended.
The Weston A Price foundation has some great resources and research, too.
And the list goes on… I totally understand that the nutrition world can be completely overwhelming and confusing for people who haven’t got the time and resources to try and study everything.
Ok, so I promised I’d give you some more info on the research I did. And it will hopefully- along with my other blog posts- send you on a path of clarity for yourself!
There are thousands of “cancer diets” out there. Most have been derived from personal experiences. So much information is shared online- and with the best of intentions. Some diets seem to work for some people for reasons that unfortunately we don’t understand (yet).
Very few of the cancer diets have solid research behind them- one reason might be that nutrition trials can be very hard to design, difficult to fund and challenging to monitor and get people to stick to certain guidelines.
Although I strongly advocate a low carb and ketogenic diet, I totally understand that for some cancer patients it is either contraindicated, unrealistic or that they are not willing to make so many changes.
This is why I’d like to paint a full picture of the other approaches out there, what scientific validation they have and how they are applied in practice.
I start with the Gerson and Macrobiotic diet- mainly because I’m asked a lot about these two!
In short- what is it all about?
Anyone studying cancer support with diet will come across the work of Max Gerson. He had more than thirty years of extensive clinical experience in the treatment of advanced cancer solely by diet.
Gerson’s complete cancer theory and step-by-step recommendations are recorded in “A Cancer Therapy and The Cure of Advanced Cancer by Diet Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases”.
His treatments were developed from his experience. He used a blend of ancient and modern therapies to support the healing of the internal organs.
His view was that once the degenerations that are cancer-causing are eliminated, the body would heal itself. His therapy was to rejuvenate the entire body and restoring the metabolism of cells.
Gerson describes a vicious cycle of toxicity: The toxic or nutrient-deficient cell becomes inefficient, energy generation or “burning of fuel” becomes compromised, therefore oxygen is not utilized efficiently and the cell switches to fermentation and creates excess acidity.
Remember, this is very similar to the discovery made by Otto Warburg!
Max Gerson suggests reversing this cycle as follows:
- By restoring oxidative function of the tissues
- By ensuring a reactivation of the immune system
- By supporting elimination of toxins
- By continuing the programme until the entire body is restored
In short (and very simplified), the Gerson protocol addresses these challenges
- with a high pH dietary protocol to support cellular oxidative capacity,
- with restriction of calories and protein to increase activity of the immune system,
- with detoxification with enemas (and obviously a very clean diet) and
- by making sure the programme is being followed until organs and tissues are fully restored.
There are four parts to the programme:
What’s the scientific evidence?
As the National Cancer Institute states, the protocols are based on observations by Max Gerson, his clinical experience and knowledge of cell biology at the time. There are no prospective, controlled studies available in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
For that reason, no level of evidence analysis is possible for this approach. This means that nobody can make any claims that Gerson therapy can be effective as a complement to other cancer therapies or as a cure.
But, of course, you can read about case studies of people who did really well on the regime. Find out for yourself whether it is something you’d like to discuss with your medical team.
Some Practical Aspects and Recipes
Permitted Foods on the Gerson Diet are:
- Freshly prepared juices of 2 varieties: apple/carrot juice and green juice
- Raw fruit and vegetables
- Dried fruits, organic and unsulphured; soaked and stewed before use.
- Vegetables and fruit stewed in their own juice
- Garlic, onions, chives and parsley used liberally
- Rye bread: 2 slices daily (either sourdough or sprouted)
- Protein: skimmed milk cultured products and vegetable protein (rice and legumes)
- Max 20ml flax seed oil daily
- Succanat sugar, organic honey or molasses (max 2 tsp daily)
- Allspice, aniseed, bay leaves, coriander, dill, fennel, mace, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, saffron, tarragon, thyme, summer savory may be used sparingly
- Herb teas: chamomile and peppermint; Essiac tea and Pau D’arco are permitted too. Valerian for relaxation.
- Bottled, canned, refined or preserved foods
- No berries (except red, black and white currants), pineapple, nuts, avocados and cucumbers.
- No fats or oils except for specific amounts of flax seed oil
- No basil, oregano, chilli and other hot spices (pepper, paprika)
- No salt
- No grains/flours other than limited amounts of rye and oat
- No soy products and sprouted legumes
- No beverages other than distilled/reverse osmosis water or peppermint/chamomile tea (and obviously the juices)
- No refined sugar
- No bicarbonate of soda
A typical day on the Gerson diet- depending on what stage you are- might look like this:
Porridge made from oats and distilled water, cooked slowly and at low heat. Served with fresh/stewed fruit or a dried fruit compote.
Small bowl of
- Hippocrates Soup
- Potato (baked, mashed or potato salad)
- Raw, grated vegetable salad
- Cooked vegetables
- Legumes/rice (if permitted)
- Serving of skimmed-milk yoghurt or no-fat, unsalted cheese (total 200g daily)
As for lunch, but the food needs to be prepared freshly- no leftovers are allowed. The diet should be as varied as possible.
Juicing is an integral part of the Gerson protocol- up to 3.5kg of vegetables and 3kg of apples can be consumed in a day by a cancer patient on the protocol.
Juices are taken spaced throughout the day according to individual prescriptions. Some patients who are very compromised start with 13 juices a day and on the modified programme it’s still 6-8 juices. The 2 main juices used are
- Carrot and Apple juice with equal quantities of each to yield 240ml (8oz) of juice.
- Green juice with 1 small wedge red cabbage, ¼ green pepper, 1 leaf endive, 1 leaf chard/silver beet, beet tops (younger inner leaves), 2 sprigs watercress, large handful of cos, green, or red leaf lettuce, 1 medium green apple
Elements of the Gerson therapy that I’m using (or not!)
- I’m still juicing. Yes, you heard right- juicing on a ketogenic diet! I’m going to write about how exactly I do it, how much I have and who should not be juicing when going keto.
- No, I’ve never done coffee or other enemas. I get asked this question a lot! Reason being is that there is very little evidence in pubmed on herbal enema treatments. I even found some papers that show that they can be potentially dangerous if not done under medical supervision. My preference is colon hydrotherapy 1-2 times a year with a fully trained professional. I’m planning to write an article about this!
- I’m very careful about the water I use. It’s not distilled but I’m using a water filter.
- I’m on a supplement regime all the time but this keeps changing depending on recent tests, symptoms and time of the year.
In short- what is it all about?
The macrobiotic lifestyle was introduced to Western society from Japan in the 1920s. Macro meaning “large or big” and bios meaning “life”- so the word macrobiotics refers to the “big view of life”. It was originally thought of as a spiritual way of life.
The initial philosophy of macrobiotics goes beyond diet: It is a way of life where respecting the planet while searching for inner peace is paramount. The premise of the approach is to live simply with a spiritual, physical and communal discipline.
The diet is simple, too; consisting of brown rice, miso soup, sea vegetables and foods with no preservatives, additives and other toxins.
While many people still embrace the macrobiotic way of life, others primarily follow the dietary fundamentals. In his book “Comprehensive Cancer Care”, mind-body cancer expert James Gordon, MD, defines the basic macrobiotic diet as follows:
- 50% whole grains
- 25 to 30 % seasonal vegetables
- 5-10% soups and broths made with miso, a fermented soy product, and vegetables and beans
- Fruits in moderation and sometimes fish
- Organic food
While the percentages may have shifted over the years, Dr Gordon states that the premise of the macrobiotic diet is similar to recommendations of the American Cancer Society: Choose foods from plant sources while limiting intake of high-fat foods, particularly from animal sources, in its most basic form.
Macrobiotics is a mostly vegetarian, whole foods diet.
It is generally low in calories, composed of highly nutritious foods and devoid of nutrient poor or toxic foods.
However, caution is advised in cases of advanced or aggressive and fast-growing cancers.
Mounting an effective immune response against advanced or aggressive cancer requires higher amounts of protein and also calories. A macrobiotic diet might be insufficient to meet these needs and could do more harm than good if it causes a cancer patient to lose additional lean body mass.
What is the scientific evidence?
Generally, scientific data regarding macrobiotics as a cancer treatment or support is limited. In a paper featured in the Journal of Nutrition in 2001, researchers from Columbia University concluded that “empirical scientific basis for or against recommendations for use of macrobiotics for cancer therapy is limited.”
They explained that “macrobiotics is one of the most popular alternative or complementary comprehensive lifestyle approaches to cancer” because of “remarkable case reports of individuals who attributed recoveries from cancer… to macrobiotics.”
As with many other “cancer diets”, this approach is likely to be more effective for prevention than treatment, especially in cases of advanced cancers.
Some Practical Aspects and recipes
Permitted foods on a macrobiotic diet are:
- Whole Cereal Grains
- Beans and Sea Vegetables
- Soups made with vegetables, sea vegetables, grains or (soy) beans
- Occasional white fish, fruit/fruit desserts, lightly roasted nuts/seeds, sweeteners (rice syrup, barley malt, amasake, mirin) and brown rice/umeboshi vinegar.
Foods to eliminate:
- Meat, animal fat, eggs, poultry, dairy, refined sugars, chocolate, vanilla, molasses, honey
- Tropical/semi-tropical fruit and fruit juices, soda, artificial drinks and beverages, coffee, coloured tea and aromatic stimulating teas like mint.
- Any preserved, processed, artificially coloured, sprayed or chemically treated food. All refined/polished grains or flours.
- Hot spices, any aromatic stimulating food, artificial vinegar and strong alcoholic drinks.
A typical day on the macrobiotic diet might look like this:
Brown Rice Green Bowl (e.g. with brown rice, broccoli, kale, spinach, avocado, tamari, seaweed and some sea salt)
Savoury Barley mushroom soup with cucumber/wakame salad
Stir-fried vegetables with tofu and fermented sauerkraut
From what I’ve researched, the Kushii Institute in Massachusetts seems to be one of the leading macrobiotic educational resources out there. I found this pdf with global dietary guidelines particularly interesting:
I love the way the tailor the diet depending on where you live because that’s often so neglected in nutritional therapy. We can’t make “global” recommendations.
For instance, living in a damp and coldish climate like Ireland, I can’t possibly imagine following a predominantly raw diet. I need warming foods, otherwise I feel the effects.
Elements of the Macrobiotic Diet that I’m using:
- Eating seasonal and according to the climate I live in
- I like warming foods and use lots of soup to increase my vegetable intake
- The lifestyle tips are brilliant and I certainly incorporate most of them! http://www.kushiinstitute.org/what-is-macrobiotics/ Scroll down to the bottom- I particularly like “Sing a happy song!
- Seaweed is a fabulous food to increase essential nutrients and I use a seaweed condiment as much as I can
- Fermented foods are fabulous and feed the good bacteria in the digestive tract.