Salt on the Gerson Therapy

Dr. Max Gerson devoted two chapters to the role of salt in a cancer diet in his book “A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases“. In this work, published in 1958, he said that at that time mineral metabolism had not been sufficiently studied for him to make make any definitive statements about the role of chloride and sodium in the body. However, he did discuss his observations on the role of these minerals in treating disease, and particularly cancer.

Dr. Gerson described how a saltless diet combined with detoxification helps to kill cancer cells: The reduced levels of sodium, chloride and water remove the cell edema (excess fluid). This process causes a change in the electrical potentials on a cellular level, allowing the “activated negatively charged potassium group minerals and positively charged iodine components … to force the cancer cells to a higher metabolic rate.” Because the cancer cells cannot adapt to these changes, they break down and die. “Mineral imbalance then becomes a question of profound importance in all discussions of the causative nature of cancerous processes.”

Dr. Gerson said that “The main task of the saltless diet is to eliminate the retained Na [sodium], Cl [chloride], and H20 [water] together with toxins from the tissues all over the body”. He described how patients excrete sodium chloride after the first 2-3 days on the saltless diet and continue excreting for up to 14 days. This high sodium chloride content of their urine “proves that sodium chloride and water are retained in cancer patients.” If the patients continue on the saltless diet their sodium levels stay near normal, though they can experience periodic “flare-ups” for a few days at a time during which they excrete more NaCl and fluid. “The effect of the diet is that the potassium group is enriched in the essential organs and the abnormal sodium content in these organs is reduced to a minimum and eliminated into the extra-cellular fluids, where they belong.”

The Gerson Therapy diet does not contain any added NaCl. Patients do not consume any processed, packaged, pickled, smoked, frozen, bottled or preserved foods. They do not use table salt or even toothpaste or other products that contain baking soda (which contains sodium). Their diet is high in potassium from fresh fruits and vegetables, and they take a potassium supplement as well. Dr. Gerson observed that “The appetite of patients does not suffer by lack of salt; as a rule it even improves, particularly in serious diseases, after the start of the treatment.”

Professor Albert Schweitzer described a connection between the rising prevalence of cancer and the increased use of salt by the natives, in a letter he wrote from Africa in 1954. The native population had access to very little salt because it had to be extracted from the ocean and then manually transferred from one tribe to another. Salt did not reach more than 120 miles inland using this distribution process and there was no salt at all in the interior of the land. This changed when whites arrived in the area.

Dr. Gerson discussed the role of salt in other illnesses as well, including the findings of Noorden-Salomon showing that salt limitation decreases the burden on diseased kidneys. Dr. Gerson commented that the elimination of salt doesn’t cure various diseases but does remove a damaging irritation. A temporary radical limitation of salt also helps treat acute diseases (infectious) because the body can’t digest a lot of salt when it has a fever. He discussed the findings of another researcher who described how mucus secretion decreases as a result of the water-withdrawing effect of a saltless diet, which can benefit conditions such as bronchitis, vaginal discharge and pus secretions.

In discussing the role of salt in general nutrition, Dr. Gerson said that the average consumption of salt in the United States was 10-12 grams a day at that time (12 grams equals two teaspoons). In his opinion, the body does not require this much salt but people eat salt because it is tasty. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention recommend that Americans consume no more than 1 teaspoon of salt.

Dr. Gerson said that people get used to the taste of salt, but just because salt is consumed frequently does not mean it is indispensable for the body. Other substances, such as alcohol, are also used in high amounts, but we can’t conclude from this fact that people need alcohol. He went on to say that even if everyone ate salt since as far back as we can remember, this fact would not mean it was good for them. He described populations who do not use salt, such as a nomadic tribe who lost their ability to scent wolves when they ate salt. Fishing and hunting tribes of Siberia and Eskimos disliked salt. Stanley and Livingstone found tribes who didn’t eat salt and exhibited toxic symptoms when they ingested it for the first time. Russian (Kirghizian) peasants reported their sight and smell deteriorated after eating bread and salt.

Dr. Gerson said that we should not look to the animal kingdom to determine if eating salt is “natural or necessary… Whether a form of nutrition is natural or not has nothing to do with the question of whether or not it is of therapeutic value in diseases.” However, he mentioned that in Central India and Deccan Plateau there is a lot of game and no salt available and that “Apes in particular show no need for salt.”

Subsequent to Dr. Gerson’s publications, researchers such as Dr. Freeman Cope and Dr. Gilbert Ling have done extensive work on the role of sodium and potassium in disease and have further illuminated Dr. Gerson’s findings.


  1. Max G. Gerson, A Cancer Therapy: Results of 50 Cases, 6th Ed. (San Diego: Gerson Institute, 2002), 162.
    Ibid., 164.
  2. Ibid., 163.
  3. Ibid., 165.
  4. Ibid., 165.
  5. Ibid., 97.
  6. Ibid., 165.
  7. Ibid., 97.
  8. Ibid., 237-238.
  9. Ibid., 160.
  10. Ibid., 159.
  11. Ibid., 161.
  12. Ibid., 160.
  13. Ibid., 153.
  14. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed May 19, 2016,
  15. Gerson, A Cancer Therapy: Results of 50 Cases, 154.
  16. Ibid., 155.
  17. Ibid., 156.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of the Healing News print newsletter.


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