Monday, February 20, 2012

Gerson Therapy Rationale: Part I

In my last post I included a video which has two doctors criticizing the Gerson Therapy for both lack of evidence of efficacy and of any rationale:
If you think of what’s in Gerson Therapy, you wouldn’t really expect it to cure cancer.
Skeptical Doctor in Dying to Have Known

Well, the rest of the film clip rebutted this opinion. But, I find the arrogance and ignorance behind such a statement to be really annoying, if not destructive, because I also have these words ringing in my memory:
The biggest thing we’re up against, when you hear that you have cancer, is that you walk into… “the morphic field” of cancer. There’s a force field that’s been created around the word cancer that’s so big, it’s like a locomotive. You step into this world where all the subconscious and collective unconscious definitions of cancer come hurtling at you. Of course it is synonymous with death in a lot of people’s minds.
Leigh Fortson, cancer survivor

And then there’s Dr. Candace Pert’s catchy little phrase:
Your body is your subconscious mind.

My irritation with scientists who make uninformed statements about the Gerson Therapy is that they support and create a belief system that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to heal.
I’d like to spend some time here as a molecular geneticist to explain why I think there’s every reason to expect the Gerson Therapy to heal.
To my surprise, I haven’t found this rational explained anywhere by the Gerson camp itself. So, please consider this an update and information meant to be shared.

The National Cancer Institute posts this rationale for the Gerson Therapy straight from Gerson’s own work:
Central to the therapy is an abundance of potassium and the lack of sodium. Gerson had observed that as soon as his cancer patients started on the diet regimen, they released large amounts of sodium in their urine. He noticed that cells in the patients’ bodies that had been bloated with fluid started to shrink as the fluid was released. After studying the research in cancer cell biology available to him at the time and noting the ratio of potassium to sodium in cancer cells versus healthy cells, he deduced that the reason for this sodium excretion was that the diet regimen was correcting generalized tissue damage caused by excess sodium. Healthy cells had a high ratio of potassium to sodium; diseased cells had a low ratio of potassium to sodium or an abundance of sodium… This belief is the theoretical basis for Gerson’s choice of high-potassium, low-sodium fruits and vegetables in his prescribed diet: a high intake of potassium was needed to restore a normal ratio of potassium to sodium in the cell.

This is old biology. It feels like what I learned when I took a seminar in cancer as an undergrad in 1970. It does not explain a thing (to me) or lead to any hope.

So, I did a search of PubMed, the NIH National Library of Medicine.
My search words were “carrot juice” and “juice cancer”. I only had to look at papers from the past couple years to be blown away by the obvious: fresh juices contain small organic molecules that turn on and off hundreds of genes that regulate cellular metabolism.

Cancer is supported by several process each involving scores of gene products (enzymes, transcriptional regulators, micro RNAs). These processes include:
Oxidative damage
Chronic Inflammation
Angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels to support tumor growth)
Cell adhesion and migration (causing metastasis)

There was so much basis for a rationale, I gave up trying to logically summarize it in a table. So, let me simply share some quotes and another video clip.
Traditional medicine and diet has served mankind through the ages for prevention and treatment of most chronic diseases. Mounting evidence suggests that chronic inflammation mediates most chronic diseases, including cancer. … nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-κB) and STAT3 have emerged as major regulators of inflammation, cellular transformation, and tumor cell survival, proliferation, invasion, angiogenesis, and metastasis. Thus, agents that can inhibit NF-κB and STAT3 activation pathways have the potential to both prevent and treat cancer.
In this review, we examine the potential of one group of compounds called triterpenes, derived from traditional medicine and diet for their ability to suppress inflammatory pathways linked to tumorigenesis.
These triterpenes include avicins, betulinic acid, boswellic acid, celastrol, diosgenin, madecassic acid, maslinic acid, momordin, saikosaponins, platycodon, pristimerin, ursolic acid, and withanolide.
This review thus supports the famous adage of Hippocrates, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food".
Yadav VR, Prasad S, Sung B, Kannappan R, Aggarwal BB.
Cytokine Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Therapeutics, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

So much for inflammation and the thoughts of a leading Cancer Center.
Discovering the link between angiogenesis and cancer won Folkman the Nobel Prize. One of his students, William Li, gave this TED Talk entitled, Can We Eat to Starve Cancer ?:

Dr Li started the Angiogenisis Foundations which has a link to Eat to Defeat Cancer Initiative. This site lists foods and rationales with delicious facts like: the plant compound phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) found in watercress can block this process by interfering with and ‘turning off’ a protein called hypoxia inducible factor (HIF), a key stimulator of angiogenesis. HIF is produced in response to hypoxia, a lack of oxygen, which is usually the critical first step in tumor angiogenesis.

This is science I can believe. It’s current, it’s rational and it’s hopeful. And then it crossed my mind I ought to see if the original Gerson rationale had any modern basis. Here is one item that I found:
Voltage gated potassium channels have been extensively studied in relation to cancer. In this review, we will focus on the role of two potassium channels, Ether à-go-go (Eag), Human ether à-go-go related gene (HERG), in cancer and their potential therapeutic utility in the treatment of cancer. Eag and HERG are expressed in cancers of various organs and have been implicated in cell cycle progression and proliferation of cancer cells. Inhibition of these channels has been shown to reduce proliferation both in vitro and vivo studies identifying potassium channel modulators as putative inhibitors of tumour progression.

Seems to me Gerson was onto something all along. But then, so was Hippocrates. We just needed science to catch up. And now, we need to pay better attention to what the research literature is saying:
Small organic molecules derived from higher plants have been one of the mainstays of cancer chemotherapy for approximately the past half a century.
Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, College of Pharmacy, The Ohio State University

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