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Rev. George M. Malkmus
and his Hallelujah Diet

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Reverend George M. Malkmus (1934- ) claims to have eliminated his colon cancer and other serious health problems more than 25 years ago by "following biblical principles for a natural diet and healthy lifestyle." He and his wife Rhonda Jean operate Hallelujah Acres, where they hold seminars, sell products, and advocate a diet that features raw fruits and vegetables. Malkmus and his followers claim that his methods have helped people with obesity, cancer, arthritis, and more than 100 other health problems. He is a very eloquent speaker who is capable of inspiring people who trust what he says. This article explains why I do not believe he is trustworthy.

Background History

Malkmus describes his history in books, tapes, lectures, and a newsletter called "Back to the Garden." After graduating from high school in 1952, he began working for a railroad. Soon afterward, however, he was drafted into the Army and served in the Korean War. After fulfilling his military obligation, he married for the first time and returned to work for the railroad. In 1957, he attended a Billy Graham crusade rally in New York City, became a Christian, and decided to become a gospel minister. He attended the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, graduated from Elohin Bible Institute in New York, and then pastored in various churches in New York, North Carolina, and Florida. During this time he hosted a radio program called "America Needs Christ." [1]

Malkmus states that by his late twenties, he says, he kept needing stronger and stronger eyeglasses and his health "progressively declined" and included problems with hemorrhoids, sinus trouble, allergies, high blood pressure, fatigue, and acne. In 1976, at age 42, he was told he had colon cancer. Instead of pursuing medical treatment, he turned to "an old preacher friend," Lester Roloff, who encouraged him to change from the standard American diet to "the original diet God gave mankind in Genesis 1:29." Within a year, he says, all of his physical problems (including his "baseball-sized" tumor) disappeared [2]. In developing his dietary approach, he studied under Ann Wigmore and Carey Reams, and was also influenced by the writings of Paul Bragg, T.C. Fry, Michael Klaper, John McDougall, Dean Ornish, Joel Robbins, Herbert Shelton, and Norman W. Walker [1]. He has also maintained relationships with Charlotte Gerson (promoter of the Gerson diet, Joel Robbins (a chiropractor who pretends to have a medical degree), Mary Ruth Swope (a college educator who claimed for years that Barley Green can cure cancer), and the Contreras family (which operates the Oasis of Hope Hospital (a dubious cancer clinic in Tijuana, Mexico).

Malkmus states that he met Rhonda Jean when she attended a seminar he gave in 1991. At that time, he says, she was very overweight and suffered from severe symptoms of arthritis. Within a year after changing her diet and adopting an exercise program, however, she had lost 85 pounds and her arthritis problems were gone [1]. In 1992, they opened a small health food store and restaurant in Rogersville, Tennessee. Finding that it was successful, they moved to larger quarters in 1993. In 1994, they closed the store, moved their base of operations to a 50-acre farm in Eidson, Tennessee, and launched the Back to the Garden Ministries "to eliminate sickness from the Christian Community in particular and the world in general." [3] They estimate that more than a million people worldwide have tried the Hallelujah Diet [3], more than 3,000 have taken their training [3], hundreds have become "Health Ministers" [4], and more than 220,000 receive Malmus's free newsletter. In 1995, Malkmus received an honorary doctorate degree in literature from Louisiana Baptist Seminary.

In 1997, they relocated their base of operations to Shelby, North Carolina [1]. That same year, Malkmus announced that he had formed a "strategic alliance" under which the Oasis of Hope Hospital would offer the Hallelujah Diet and report on their results. He stated that "for the first time, the cause and effect relationship between diet and disease will be put under scientific scrutiny at a Christian cancer hospital." [5] However, as far as I can tell, no report has been issued.

In 1999, Malkmus claimed that all of his physical problems (including his "baseball-sized" tumor) had disappeared within a year after his cancer was diagnosed and that he had "experienced no sickness or physical breakdown of any kind" since that time [2]. However, in July 2001, he suffered what he describes as a hemorrhagic stroke, which he attributed to excessive stress. Several months later, he wrote:

On July 12, 2001, my body, after 25 years of excellent health, said: "ENOUGH!" Fortunately it was only a mild blood spill on my brain, and I was back speaking again within two weeks of the stroke, and never missed producing my weekly Health Tip or even failing to get it out on time.

It has now been almost 5 months since my stroke and I am back carrying on a full workload. During this time, I did give up 15 scheduled seminars, which were picked up by my personal assistant Olin Idol (who is also a Health Minister), and pastor and Health Minister Graeme Coad. I feel so blessed to have men of this caliber to call upon during time of need, who were willing to stand in the gap.

As of this writing, I am back doing my daily exercise routine, personally fulfilling speaking obligations, and planning for the future. Neither my mind nor my body appears to have any lingering effects from the stroke, even though the doctor at the hospital wanted to inject me with drugs and airlift me to Charlotte on the day of the stroke. FORTUNATELY, MY FAMILY REFUSED these medical treatments at a time when I was unable to make the decision for myself! [In another newsletter he stated that his family had taken him home and treated him with extra Barley Green and carrot juice.]

I did take some herbs for a while to bring down the high blood pressure which followed my stroke, but none of them had any effect on reducing my high blood pressure levels, and so I had to reluctantly resort to some very mild blood pressure medication. Currently, I am slowly weaning myself off these medications, while closely monitoring my blood pressure, and trying to monitor more carefully my stress levels. My blood pressure is currently running in the low normal range! . . . [6]

In January 2002, Idol took over as director of the Back to the Garden Health Ministry.

Whether Malkmus actually had cancer is not clear. In local newspaper report that was published in 1998, Malkmus admitted that he never consulted a cancer specialist for diagnosis but had relied on nutritionists and chiropractors. "We never had any biopsies to prove this," he said, "We don't know it was malignant. We know there was a tumor. We know there was bleeding." [7] The article also reported that Malkmus drank 16 to 24 ounces of carrot juice daily, which is enough to turn a person's skin orange (a condition called carotenemia). But the article did not say whether Malkmus's skin looked orange.

Antagonism toward Standard Health Care

Malkmus asserts that his methods are better and safer than standard health care. He states that his earliest memory is of crying while being wheeled down a corridor into the operating room where his tonsils were removed. He also vividly recollects frequent dental visits in which he experienced "incredible" pain when his teeth were drilled in preparation for fillings [1]. His newsletter dismisses the benefits of immunization, exaggerates the risks, and claims that dietary measures are more effective [8]. He also markets videotapes by Lorraine Day, M.D, a former surgeon who warns people that medical care is "against God's will" and does far more harm than good [9]. With respect to drugs he has written:

All drugs are toxic to the system and create new problems! The solution to our physical problems is not more pollution!

Every drug is liver toxic, even an aspirin! Every drug causes a new problem for which another drug is often necessary to relieve the symptoms of the previous drug. The taking of drugs places a person on a vicious downhill spiral that will create ever more physical problems and ultimately end in an early demise. . . .

The whole approach of the medical community is wrong when it comes to using drugs and other harmful treatments (radiation, chemotherapy, etc.) to deal with disease. They are always talking about cures and treatments for specific symptoms but they will never find a way to cure disease through the use of drugs! [10]

Elements of the Diet

For many years, the Hallelujah Diet consistrd primarily of uncooked fruits and vegetables, supplemented by Barley Green (a powder made from barley leaves), Herbal Fiberblend, Udo's Choice Perfected Oil, vitamin B12, and at least two 8-ounce glasses of carrot juice daily. Malkmus described Barley Green as containing "the widest spectrum of nutrients from a single source" that he was aware of and claimed that it was needed to ensure that the body gets the nutrients it needs. Herbal Blend contains 17 herbs, including herb shavegrass and black walnut hulls (alleged to kill egg of parasites and expel parasites), pumpkin seed (allegedly good for prostate problems), licorice root (alleged to be a tonic for the intestinal tract, stimulating enzymes and peristaltic action); and slippery elm (alleged to coat the digestive tract and aid in healing inflammation). The program also includes exercise.

Barley Green, Herbal Fiberblend, and several other products Malkmus sold were made by The AIM Companies™ (formerly called American Image Marketing), of Nampa, Idaho, a multilevel company in which Malkmus was a distributor. In the late 1980s, AIM's distributor kit featured a videotape claiming that the American food supply is lacking in nutrients and filled with toxins. It also alleged that vegetables are "void of nutrients " and that preservatives, artificial flavors, dyes, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners, and other "unnatural chemicals may rob the body of energy and vitality. "Fortunately, the tape said, a Japanese researcher named Yoshihide Hagiwara had "produced a cell food to balance the lacking American diet."

One segment of the videotape stated that Barley Green contained "16 organic vitamins, 11 major minerals, 18 amino acids, 12 trace minerals, and enzymes" and had "captured the life essence." However, another segment of the tape stated that barley leaf contained "25 kinds of vitamins, including B15, K, and P." (Actually, there are only 13 vitamins for humans, and B15 and P are not among them.) Barley Green was also claimed to "fight pollutants in the body" and to contain "live enzymes," including many that are found in white blood cells. The fact that these enzymes would be destroyed during digestion and therefore would fail to enter the body of Barley Green users was not mentioned; nor was the fact that the amounts of most nutrients in Barley Green were insignificant.

In 1988, the FDA ordered AIM to stop claiming that Barley Green would make people more energetic and was effective against cancer, arthritis, high blood pressure, obesity, depression, and many other health problems. The FDA also told the company to stop making false statements about the quality of the American food supply [11]. In 1989, the FDA seized quantities of several AIM products because their labeling or promotional material exaggerated the dietary value of the products. The case was settled by a consent decree ordering destruction of one product and the offending labeling for the others [12]. However, some distributors continued to make false claims, including claims that Barley Green is effective against cancer.

In 2001, Malkmus's basic diet called for three daily tablespoons of Barley Green, which he sold for $49.95 per 10.5 ounces (99 teaspoons) from his Web site. That amounted to more than $4 per day. Udo's oil added another 60¢ per day. The B12 supplement was 25¢ per day, which was about ten times as much as drugstore brands. Herbal Fiberblend sold for about $2 per ounce, but I found no recommended daily amount. In 2000, Malkmus stated that his ministry had 27 employees and was supported by mail-order sales [13].

In 2002, Malkmus terminated his association with AIM and began selling a barley juice/alfalfa product (BarleyMax) from another source. An AIM executive subsequently told me that he was pleased to have their association end because "the Hallelujah Acres membership was always claiming the healing of many major health ailments, which is against The AIM Companies member/company agreement." [14] BarleyMax costs much less than Barley Green, but I don't have enough information to estimate the current total cost of the supplements.

Far-Fetched Claims

Malkmus claims that "since 1992 . . . tens of thousands of people who have applied the principles of the Hallelujah Diet have written to tell us that their physical problems also went away [2]. However, testimonials are not reliable evidence of effectiveness, and there are good reasons to question his credibility. Consider, for example, his basic story:

God handed down to us in Genesis 1:29 a diet composed of raw fruits and vegetables, gathered by hand, as found fresh and untainted in nature. This diet did not contain any animal products or even any grains. On this 100% uncooked vegetarian diet man lived an average of 912 years, without any recorded sickness for the first almost two thousand years of recorded history. I estimate this diet contained approximately 5% unsaturated fat, 90% complex carbohydrates, and 5% protein.

After the flood, as we learn in Genesis 9:3, God allowed animal flesh to be added to His original diet and the cooking of food began. Revealingly, with the addition of flesh and cooked food, physical problems began. Looking at Genesis 50:26, we see that the life-span of man dropped from an average of 912 years on God's original diet to 110 years, in ten generations, on God's permissive diet . . . . approximately 20% fat, 70% carbohydrates, and 10% protein [2].

How can Malkmus be correct that humans lived an average of 912 years "before the flood" or 110 years after adding cooked food to their diet? These claims, of course, cannot be scientifically tested. But there are good reasons to believe they are false. First, no evidence has even been published showing that the average life expectancy of raw food advocates is over 100 years. More important, the original diet Malkmus describes would have a vitamin B-12 level of zero because fruits, vegetables and grains do not contain B-12 [15]; and since B-12 is needed to make DNA, protect the nervous syetem, and make blood cells, the human race would have been quickly wiped out. Malkmus began recommending and selling B-12 supplements in 1998 after his research director found that people on his diet were at risk for deficency. But rather than admitting that his Biblical fantasy is wrong, he attempts to justify it with the ridiculous idea that in Biblical times, plants contained B-12 absorbed from the soil [16]. Many Christian writers regard him as an extremist and state that he has misinterpreted the Biblical passages he cites [17].

Research Program

The key question about the Hallelujah Diet is whether there is evidence that it works. In 1997, George and Rhonda created the Hallelujah Acres Foundation, formulated a plan to "validate" their diet, and hired a research director named Michael Donaldson to do the job. Donaldson, who received his doctoral degree in chemical engineering in 1998, describes himself as devoutly Christian [18]. The foundation operated under the umbrella of the National Heritage Foundation, which means that it does not have to issue public financial statements.

The research plan includes several studies to see whether followers of the diet improve their health. The first such study was a survey of followers of the diet who were asked to submit 1-week dietary records and fill out questionnaires about their health before and after their dietary change. A total of 870 surveys were mailed to households of potential subjects. There were 174 surveys returned, of which 114 came from people with contact information listed on the Hallelujah Acres Web site. However, only 141 were judged to have adequate data for dietary analysis and a few of the senders did not complete the health assessment questionnaires. Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutrient tables, Donaldson calculated that:

It is well established that low-fat eating lowers blood cholesterol levels and that high intakes of fruits and vegetables are associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. The exercise component and high bulk-to-calories ratio might also help people lose weight. For these reasons, the risk of these conditions is lower for users of Hallelujah Diet than it is for the average American diet. However, the difference for most people is probably not great, and the Hallelujah diet has several possible drawbacks:

Donaldson's report included scores from two surveys that take less than ten minutes to complete: the Quality of Life Scale and the SF-36 Health Survey. The Quality of Life Scale consists of 15 or 16 questions, one of which asks whether the person feels "physically fit and vigorous"). The SF-36 contains 36 questions that ask about mood, whether symptoms interfere with activities, and how the person perceives his or her health status. Neither of these tests asks about specific illnesses or any measurable data.

Donaldson's report summarizes the SF-36 scores in a table which states that for general health, the average responder scored "61" before starting the diet and "90" while on it. This change might appear to be evidence that the diet is good for people's general health. However, a close look at the scoring system shows that much of this number depends on questions like "I am as healthy as anybody I know" and "I expect my health to get worse," which measure expectations rather than health status. In addition , the experimental design has two serious flaws. One is that the questionnaire about previous health status was retrospective (scored from memory), which is not nearly as accurate as a contemporaneous survey. The other is that the percentage of questionnaires returned by people known to be advocating the diet was about five times as high as the percentage not known to be advocating it. In other words, most of the respondents were true believers who presumably were satisfied with the diet, and no effort was made to examine whether the nonresponders felt better or worse. The proper way to determine effectiveness would be to conduct before-and-after studies that provide quantitative data and reflect a representative sample of all people on the diet.

Malkmus claims that 99% of the people who wrote to him about their results with his program have been positive [22]. However, such testimonials are not valid evidence of effectiveness [23] or that the Hallelujah diet can cure serious diseases. The appropriate way to tabulate self-reported results would be to obtain feedback from a cross-section of former clients, not just from those who feel inspired to write. Remember, too, that people who feel well when they write might not report if they later become ill, so that follow-up should continue for several years. A proper assessment would also have to examine the extent to which people with a treatable disease decide to diet rather than to utilize appropriate medical care. This is particularly important for people with early cancers. Dr. Donaldson has announced that he is setting up a registry [24], but whether it will yield meaningful data remains to be seen.

The Bottom Line

Although low-fat, high-fiber diets can be healthful, the Hallelujah Diet is unbalanced and can lead to serious deficiencies. The overall program is expensive because the recommended supplements cost over $2,000 a year. Reverend Malkmus' sales pitch includes beliefs that are historically and nutritionally senseless, as well as health claims for which he lacks appropriate substantiation. Using his diet instead of appropriate medical care is very foolish.

References

  1. Day C. An interview with George Malkmus. Health & Beyond (1996, 1997, minor update 1999)
  2. Malkmus G. Diets, diets, diets. Back to the Garden newsletter, Spring/Summer 1999, Issue No. 18, pp 4-6, 17.
  3. Malkmus GM. Health Tip #217: Health ministry update, January 2002.
  4. The Hallelujah Acres story. Back to the Garden newsletter, Fall 1999/Winter 2000, Issue No. 9, p 24.
  5. Hallelujah Acres' partner in health: The Contreras Cancer Care Center—The OASIS of Hope Hospital. News release, 1997.
  6. Malkmus GM. Health Tip #210: Stroke Update by Rev. Malkmus, December 2001.
  7. Grimes SL. Preaching good health: Minister gives credit to God, daily diet for curing cancer. Shelby Star, Jan 10, 1998.
  8. Dye M. Be informed before immunizing. Back to the Garden newsletter, Spring/Summer 1999, Issue No. 18, pp 14-17.
  9. Barrett S. Preliminary notes on Dr. Lorraine Day. Quackwatch Web site, revised May 31, 2002.
  10. Malkmus GM. Drugs: A killer of mankind. Hallelujah Acres Online, accessed Dec 27, 1997.
  11. Lowell RL. Regulatory letter to Dennis J. Itamin, Glen M. Tanner, and Ronald R. Wright. July 11, 1988.
  12. Summaries of court actions: Food/economic and labeling violations. FDA Consumer, 24(8):37, 1990.
  13. What's happening at Hallelulah Acres? Back to the Garden newsletter, Summer/Fall 2000, pp 3-4.
  14. Combs W. Email message to Dr. Stephen Barrett incorporating a response from Ron Wright, vice president and co-owner of The AIM Companies, May 29, 2003.
  15. Herbert V. Vitamin B-12: plant sources, requirements, and assay. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 48:852-858, 1988.
  16. Malkmus GM. Health Tip #115. The Hallelujah Diet—Vitamin B12, 2000.
  17. Ong JPT. Biblical nutrition: The Bible supports foods from both plant & animal kingdoms. Chet Day's Health & Beyond Web site, accessed June 3, 2002.
  18. Donaldson MS: Cornell graduate joins Hallelujah Acres staff. Back to the Garden newsletter, Summer/Fall 1998, Issue No. 17, pp 16-17.
  19. Donaldson MS. Food and nutrient intake of Hallelujah vegetarians. Nutrition & Food Science 31:293-303, 2001.
  20. Rapola JM and others. Randomised trial of alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene supplements on incidence of major coronary events in men with previous myocardial infraction. Lancet 349:1715-1720, 1997.
  21. Omenn GS and others. Effects of a combination of beta carotene and vitamin A on lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. New England Journal of Medicine 334:1150-1155, 1996.
  22. Why megadoses of beta carotene may promote lung cancer. USDA Agricultural Research Service Food & Nutrition Research Briefs, Jan 1999, p. 1.
  23. Malkmus GM. Health Tip: Does everyone get well on the Hallelujah Diet?
  24. Smith GL. Common questions about science and "alternative" health methods. Quackwatch Web site, Aug 27, 1977.
  25. Donaldson M. The Hallelujah Acres Foundation update. Back to the Garden newsletter, Fall/Winter 2001, Issue No. 21, p 17.

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This article was revised on May 29, 2003.