It was a legacy she never expected to put to the test. But when her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Paula Davis felt instinctively that her grandfather’s dietary cure was the best bet for his survival.
“Conventional treatments can have unpleasant side effects like impotence and incontinence; it was Brian’s body, and he felt a treatment aiming to rid the body of disease through diet was a saner approach,” says the granddaughter of Dr Max Gerson.
He was the Jewish scientist who developed a regime based on fruit and vegetables 80 years ago to cure his migraines. It also cured Nobel Prize winner Dr Albert Schweitzer of diabetes. Today, the Gerson diet is used as an alternative cancer treatment.
“That’s only part of the story; as a member of the family, I’ve seen the therapy heal many people with chronic and degenerative diseases over the years,” she said.
Today, with government and cancer specialists recommending increased consumption of fruit and vegetables as a preventative, the diet no longer seems so quirky and controversial as when Prince Charles urged the Health Select Committee to review a presentation of Gerson case studies several years ago.
But deciding to treat her spouse’s cancer with not five, but 55 daily servings of fruit and veg as fresh-squeezed juice, not to mention a further several portions for breakfast, lunch and dinner, was anything but an easy option.
“We had retired to Cyprus when Brian was diagnosed,” she said. “We had to move back to England, since the diet demands organic produce, and there was no way of getting the enormous amounts we would need there.
“In the first months, 2.5kg of carrots, more than 1kg of apples and many other varieties of fruit and veg are needed every day.”
The couple also had to invest in an industrial-strength juicer —“ours cost £800, used” — and other equipment. Gerson also advocated coffee enemas several times a day — the only route by which caffeine is supposed to enter a patient’s system for two years.
Brian had to give up his beloved cheese, in fact all dairy except a little yoghurt, plus meat, salt, alcohol and sugar during the two-year detox phase.Then there was Paula’s immense time commitment: “As soon as I finished cleaning the juicer it was nearly time to squeeze the next glass; patients have to drink a fresh juice every hour.
“In between I also had to prepare breakfast — porridge with stewed fruit and maple syrup — a hot lunch and dinner. Brian needed all his strength to heal, and was too tired in the early months to be able to help — though as he got better he gradually took over.”
Within a week, Brian’s main symptom had gone, and after two-and-ahalf years a scan showed his tumour had gone. Five years after diagnosis he remains cancer-free, has lost two stone and looks younger and healthier than most men nearing their 71st birthday.
Yet oncologists remain sceptical about the regime. Professor Malcolm Mason, professor of Clinical Oncology at Cardiff University says: “In principle, it is conceivable that diet could have some effect on some cancers, but I doubt it can go so far as curing it.
“There have been trials of dietary intervention in prostate cancer, but on the whole they have been disappointing. It is simplistic to suggest that diet could be the whole answer, and I question whether a diet needs to be as rigorous or as expensive as Gerson to be effective.”
The institute claims to have thousands of anecdotal stories of recovery but says it has no money to fund clinical trials, and since there is no placebo for, say, carrot juice, it is tough to apply the double blind principle.
Paula said: “We don’t play down the difficulties. The diet is expensive — we spent £200 a week on food during the first six months — and time-consuming.
“It’s also bound to have an effect on social life, since dinner parties are out. And in the initial stages you can’t be out for more than an hour, because you have to come home for more juice. Family and friends did come to us for veggie meals, and after a few months we added fish and the occasional egg.”
Paula did the diet alongside Brian, “though I had less juices and the odd piece of cake if I met a friend for coffee between kitchen duties.
“Now Brian is able to enjoy his old favourites again, but we will never go back to our original diet — we have given up meat altogether, for example.
“Your tastebuds adapt, and the feeling of wellbeing makes up for the lack of the food and drink you thought you could never bear to give up.
“Once food shopping becomes a life-sustaining exercise, it shifts your focus permanently.”