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The Grape Cure

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Many dietary strategies have been claimed to cure cancer. Perhaps the strangest of these are claims that a single food will do the job. The "Grape Cure," which consists of consuming nothing but grapes or grape juice, has been popularized by Johanna Brandt, ND (1876- ?), a naturopath from South Africa who traveled to the United States in 1927 to promote it. Her story was published in book form in 1928 as The Grape Cure [1] and republished in 1989 as How to Conquer Cancer, Naturally [2]. The 1989 book added a foreword by La Forest Potter, MD, an endorsement by Benedict Lust, MD, ND, and 22 testimonials from practitioners and from patients who are identified only by their initials. Lust (1872­1945) is commonly referred to as "the father of naturopathy." Potter (1855-1951) was an associate of Brandt who also gave "cancer injections" for $150 each [3]. The book also states that Brandt acquired her "doctor of naturopathy" degree and an honorary degree of "PhN" (philosophy of naturopathy) by taking a six-month course at the First National University of Naturopathy.

Brandt claims that she was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1916, shortly after her mother died from cancer. The book states that she suffered from gastric trouble, bilious attacks, and stomach ulcers as long as she could remember. She describes abdominal pain and states that her diagnosis was based on an x-ray examination. (She described no biopsy, so it is possible that she did not have cancer.) Through nine years self-experimentation, during which gnawing left-sided pain came and went, she concluded that the cancer's growth was "checked" every time she fasted but resumed when she began eating again. Her alleged cure finally came in 1925 after fasting followed by consuming nothing but grapes. She also claimed that the grape cure had demonstrated effectiveness against arthritis, diabetes, gallstones, cataracts, ulcerated stomach, tuberculosis, and syphilis. Chapter XIII of Brandt's book states that although she discovered her grape cure by herself, "books on this wonderful Nature Cure had been published in all the various languages of Europe" as far back as 1556.

The Grape Diet

Brandt claimed that, "The grape is highly antiseptic and a powerful solvent of inorganic matter deposits, fatty degeneration, morbid and malignant growths. It acts as a drastic eliminator of evil while building new tissue." She reported that it was such a powerful "builder" that a patient that her treatment had enabled an emaciated patient to gain eight pounds in only two days. She claimed that "abnormal growths, cancers, tumors, ulcers, abscesses and fibrous masses seem to be dissolved by the powerful chemical agent in the grape." She claimed that "the secret of the Grape Cure in wasting diseases is to be found in the rich proteid supplied by the grape," that grapes are "the most magnetic food," and that every tendril of the grape is "a living receiver of cosmic magnetism." Her method had five phases:

Brandt noted that unsweetened grape juice may be substituted for grapes and, in the very weak patients, may be the treatment of choice. Where fresh grapes are not obtainable, unsulfured raisins may be added to the grape juice to give bulk to the diet. For the treatment of external cancers, she recommended grape poultices or grape juice compresses. Depending on the site of the cancer, grape juice gargles, enemas or douches may also be used. The preferred source of all these products is a health food store. In Brandt's day, the diet was also administered by "drugless practitioners" and at health spas.

The American Cancer Society reviewed the "Grape Cure" in 1965, 1971, 1974, and 2000. and found no evidence of benefit against human cancer or any other disease [4,5]. Grapes contain a few chemicals (resveratrol and proanthocynadins) that are being studied for possible preventive effects. But there is no reason to believe that Brandt's diet will ever be found useful for any purpose.

Regulatory Action

Brandt arrived in the United States in 1927 and sometime thereafter set up the Harmony Healing Centre in New York City. In 1928, Bernarr Macfadden published part of her story in his "Evening Graphic." The American Medical Association's records indicate that the Centre was charged by state officials with practicing medicine without a license. Soon afterward, one F. W. Collins, calling himself 'dean' of the First National University of Naturopathy, Newark, N. J., announced that his institution had become the headquarters of the "Centre." [6]

Later the Centre was reopened in New York by Jessie Springer, who distributed Brandt's book and advertised that it had grape juices and grape concentrates for sale. The advertising also contained false representations that (a) most diseases originate in the intestine and are caused by poisons due to uneliminated waste; (b) grapes dissolve mucus; that those who develop malignant growths have in most cases been suffering from constipation; (c) salt, inorganic drugs and "patent medicines" cause cancer; and (d) the system or method of treatment outlined in the book will restore one's health. On March 15, 1940, the Federal Trade Commission ordered that such misrepresentations be discontinued [6].

A subsequent JAMA report noted that Springer and the Harmony Centre represented that the eating of grapes alone would cure practically all human diseases. The organization had also advertised that it had grape juices and concentrates for sale. In 1948, the U.S. Postal Service issued a fraud order barring use of the mails to advertise various "health books" advancing fraudulent dietary cures of such conditions as high blood pressure, faulty eyesight, and gray hair." [7].

The 1971 American Cancer Society report noted that by 1950, the the Centre was no longer listed in the telephone directory and a letter sent to its last known address had been returned as undeliverable. A note about the Grape Cure in the book, Is Cancer Curable? published in 1954, stated that at that time Johanna Brandt was a missionary in South Africa [4].

In 1950, Bernarr Macfadden posted a bet of $10,000 which could be claimed by anyone who could prove that grapes did not cure cancer. The next year, however, in April 1951, the Physical Culture Library Service of the Bernarr Macfadden Foundation, Inc., refused to fill orders either for The Grape Cure or for a pamphlet published by themselves titled, "Cancer-Its Causes and Treatment by Grapes," because, at the request of the Post Office Department, they had agreed not to sell these books through the mail [4]. Today, because of subsequent court decisions, federal authorities cannot stop distribution of a book or advertising that accurately reflects a book's contents, no matter how poor the book's advice may be. But the use of false statements from a book to sell a product can still be stopped.

In 1962, the California Cancer Advisory Council voted unanimously for a finding of fact against the prescribing of the grape remedy, including grapes or grape products, for the treatment of cancer. This was submitted to the director of the state health department along with a request that a cease-and-desist order be issued against a chiropractor who had been prescribing the fruit for cancer in her practice. The order was issued on December 14, 1962 [4].

Another "Grape Cure"

In 1892, William Kelsey (1851-1935) began marketing a patent remedy called "Dr. Baker's Grape Cure." An advertising circular claimed that several "fat and jolly Germans" had discovered that eating just grapes cleaned their system, made their liver healthy, and made their general health perfect. The circular also stated that "our own Dr. Baker studied this wonderful medicine, and reduced it to an extract" that Kelsey offered for half its original price. The formula contained water, wine, various herbs, and 80 grains of acetanilid (an analgesic and antipyretic with dangerous side effects). A pill form was also marketed. The formula, as mixed by a local pharmacist, included no grapes. Kelsey's factory had grape vines growing in back and front of the building, so perhaps he added some to keep the marketing "truthful" [8].

The Bottom Line

There is no scientific evidence that the Johanna Brandt's "Grape Cure" has any value. Even worse, her recommended diet is deficient in most essential nutrients and can cause constipation, diarrhea, cramps, and weight loss that is undesirable for cancer patients. The only nutrients present in significant amounts in grapes are carbohydrates, potassium, and vitamins A, B6, and C [9,10]. Brandt even describes how her diet is a form of starvation, but she claims that is desirable! Pages 66 and 67 of her book state:

Under the Grape Diet, [the disease] should run its full course within a month or six weeks. The patient loses weight to an extent that would be alarming if he did not understand the principle of the Cure. While on the first stage of the Grape Diet, nothing should be administered to make him gain weight -- no food of any kind except the grape. In advanced cases it is sometimes by reducing him to a virtual skeleton that the disease may be overcome. When in severe cases he has reached this point, there is nothing left for the cancer to live on and it usually disappears spontaneously.

The Grape Cure is a book worth ignoring.

References

  1. Brandt J. The Grape Cure. New York: Harmony Centre, Inc., 1928.
  2. Brandt J. How to Conquer Cancer, Naturally. Palm Springs, CA: Tree of Life Publications, 1989.
  3. Smith RL. At Your Own Risk: The Case Against Chiropractic. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969.
  4. "Grape Cure." New York: American Cancer Society. 1965, 1971, 1974.
  5. American Cancer Society's Guide to Complementary and Alternative Methods. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2000, pp 323-325.
  6. Cease and Desist Orders. Abstracts of Certain Federal Trade Commission Releases. Grape Cure for Cancer. JAMA 116:2525, 1941.
  7. Cancer and the Need for Facts, Report of Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry. JAMA 139:93-98, 1949.
  8. Harris E. The curious business ventures of William Kelsey.Dr. Baker's Grape Cure. Briar Press Web site, accessed Sept 9, 2001.
  9. Pennington JAT. Bowes and Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, Sixteenth Edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1994, p 148.
  10. Search the USDA Nutrient Database for "grapes, red."

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This article was revised on September 18, 2001.