Opinion: Moerman diet

POSTED: 08/29/13 12:50 PM

Cees Renckens is not just anybody. He is a gynecologist and until two years ago he was the chairman of the Association Against quackery in the Netherlands. Assuming that Renckens is not a fan of alternative healing is therefore a safe bet. Remarkably, the Dutch daily Trouw published an opinion piece written by Renckens, without enlightening its readers about the man’s background.

Renckens, whose own scientific work met with quite some criticism, went on a rampage against the legacy of Cornelis Moerman, a general practitioner from Vlaardingen (near Rotterdam) who made a name for himself with the Moerman-diet that was supposedly beneficial to cancer patients.
This week it is 25 years ago that Moerman died at the age of 95. Moerman was born on the Hoogstad estate, the place where he also had his medical practice. After his death the municipality of Vlaardingen bought the estate on the condition that it would leave the interior of Moerman’s practice untouched for a period of 25 years. That time is up now, and Renckens gleefully notes that it is not fit to become a museum in the sense Moerman-fans have in mind. “For that he was too crazy and too much of a megalomaniac,” Renckens wrote.

By now, Renckens wrote, it is clear that the Moerman-diet was useless. At the same time he finds it important not to forget the cancer-doctor.
Moerman established his medical practice in Vlaardingen in 1930. He became a member of a homing pigeon association where he tested the effect of diets on the performance of his pigeons. He though cancer did not occur among pigeons. Moerman’s diet typically contained lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of dairy products and legumes and a ban on meat, fish, coffee, tea and poultry. That diet had the potential to prevent and to cure cancer according to Moerman.
Renckens notes that Moerman’s attempts to publish articles in medical magazines failed; he claimed this was due to complots against his person. Moerman therefore wrote a couple of books about his diet. After claiming the recovery of several patients, he focused increasingly on cancer treatments. His method gained a following and the number of Moerman-patients rapidly increased.

Renckens writes that not a single cancer-researcher thought there was anything to Moerman’s method. “Due to uncritical publications in the general press” as Renckens puts it and efforts by the Moerman patient association that at one time had 10,000 members, Moerman’s following kept growing.
That resulted in support from the parliament for scientific research into the value of Moerman’s method. Four times the diet was subject of research and every time, according to Renckens, the result was negative. That may be so, but it is also a fact that proper scientific research never saw the light of day. So while there is no scientific proof, there are still a lot of patients who claim to have benefited from the diet.
Renckens claims that these days there is hardly a cancer patients left that follows a diet, while in Moerman’s heydays at least ten percent did this. “In the use of supplements and other alternative approaches the cancer patient no longer distinguishes himself from the average Dutchman,” Renckens claims.
The former chairman of the association against quackery describes a familiar problem. Some alternative treatments go through life without “scientific proof.” But the lack of scientific proof does not mean that at least some patients benefit from these methods. If it works, people are satisfied. If it goes against the grain, people like Renckens – with a strong belief in the benefits of pharmaceuticals – are always at hand to shoot alternative healing down.

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