Nature Cure Pioneer: Arnold Ehret
Sussanna Czeranko, ND
Nature Cure – Clinical Pearls
We need only to give a patient of any kind nothing but mucusless food, for instance fruit or even nothing but water or lemonade: we then find that the entire digestive energy, freed for the first time, throws itself upon the mucus matters, accumulated since childhood and frequently hardened, as well as on the pathologic beds formed therefrom. – Arnold Ehret, 1912, p.167
In the most severe cases, Nature heals by refusing to eat; hence the logical conclusion that a sick person cannot eat too little.“The more you nourish the sick, the more you harm him,” says Hippocrates, the greatest physician and [dietician]. – Arnold Ehret, 1917, p.257
No animal on earth is so full of undigested, fermented and decayed food stuffs from overeating and unnatural food as so-called civilized man. – Arnold Ehret, 1919, p.234
Many of us know his work, but not his name. Arnold Ehret’s impact on the theories of disease causes and the restoration of health continue to reverberate within the discipline of naturopathic dietetics. The writings of Arnold Ehret (1866-1922) immortalized his ideas and have become intrinsic to Naturopathic practice right into our own era. He introduced cleansing diets of fruits and vegetables and carefully managed fasting to address the dangers of mucus-forming foods. From his perspective over a century ago, refined foods were the culprit and “the fundamental cause and main factor in the nature of all diseases, symptoms of age, obesity, falling out of the hair, wrinkles, weakness of nerves and memory, etc.” (Ehret, 1912, p.314) Essentially, the more mucus in one’s body, the more prone one is to sickness and premature aging. Ehret’s Mucus Theory became the foundation for many other early naturopathic physicians of his time. Tragically, his life was cut short by a haphazard accident, yet his writings continued to be published by Benedict Lust and can be found in health stores across North America even today.
Arnold Ehret was born in Baden, Germany and, at the age of 21, became an art teacher in high schools and colleges. It was reported that Ehret “taught at a college until drafted for military service, but was released after 9 months of service because of ‘neurasthenic heart trouble,’ resuming his vocation as a teacher.” (Child, 1919, p.493) It seemed in the beginning that his destiny was to follow in his father’s footsteps and die of tuberculosis. By the time he was 31, he was overweight, had Bright’s disease (chronic nephritis), and was inclined to consumptive symptoms, so much so that he needed to take several breaks from his work to recuperate. (Child, 1919, p.493) Ehret described the ordeals of restoring his health, saying, “Then for five years, I suffered much from many physicians (24 in total) and part of this suffering was to pay the bills of about $6,000 [equivalent to more than $165,000 in 2017], but with the result pronounced incurable.” (Child, 1919, pp.493-494) Seeing no way out of his predicament with debts and no hope for recovery, Ehret contemplated suicide. By chance, he overheard stories of Naturopathy and Kneipp cures, which led him to seek natural therapies at a half-dozen sanitariums in Europe. During his sanitarium stays, his health improved and he was able to bring closure to his problems. Chief among his concerns was mucus and albumen in the urine. Doctors had prescribed drugs to stop the elimination of mucus, along with a diet of meat, eggs, and milk to replace albumen. (Child, 1919, p.494) Ehret observed, when referencing his naturopathic providers, “My naturopathic treatments drew out some of the mucus by baths, exercise, etc., but fed it back by wrong diet.” (Child, 1919, p.494)
Ehret’s Quest for a Healthy Diet
For the next several months Ehret experimented with his diet. First, he went to “Berlin to study vegetarianism, as there were over 20 vegetarian restaurants there at the time.” (Child, 1919, p.494) However, he soon noticed that some vegetarians did not exhibit the radiant faces of health, but were often pale, sickly and not any healthier than carnivores. Still, in a quest for perfect health, he then went to Nice, France, and “tried a radical fruit diet with the exception of a pint of milk a day, thinking then that I needed the albumin.” (Child, 1919, p.494) This diet did not bring him any closer to his goal. A breakthrough came the following winter when he went to live in Algiers. There, he “gained the courage to try short fasts to assist the cleansing properties of the fruit [diet] and climate.” (Child, 1919, p.494) The combination of fasts and a fruit diet gave Ehret more physical and mental endurance and vitality, surpassing any level of health that he had ever known. Returning home to his family, he shared his experiences and his new dietary regime of fasting and a diet of fruit only to find them to be very unpopular. He was scorned by his family, especially his sister who threatened to prevent him from adhering to his new-found health habits.
Realizing that he could not continue his dietary regime under the watchful eye of his sister, he left his family and returned to live in Southern France, accompanied by a friend. He and his friend explored many options and conducted numerous experiments. Ehret recorded, “Here, during several months of experiments, I renewed my experiences in Africa and won a firmer belief than ever that fruit diet and fasting were Nature’s infallible factors for regaining and maintaining a superior health than is enjoyed by most of civilized mankind.” (Child, 1919, p.495) A personal example of the success of this new approach was that Ehret’s friend’s lifelong affliction with stuttering resolved. After an 18-day fast, his friend’s voice became hoarse and, fearing that he would lose his voice, Ehret suggested that his friend end his fast with a large quantity of figs. “The result [was] that for nearly an hour he raised a very large quantity of mucus from his throat and his body cleansed itself in other directions. His voice was soon restored, his stuttering disappeared and never returned.” (Child, 1919, p.496) Ehret’s own chronic nephritis, known then as Bright’s disease, was also completely cured from his mucusless diet and fasting.
Ehret took the knowledge he acquired in his experimentations back to Europe and soon began operating a sanitarium. In due course, his name became known in households across Europe. Those who followed his advice were known as the Ehretists. His reputation also crossed the Atlantic: “In the 15 years that he operated his big sanitarium in Switzerland, during his lectures and clinics in the biggest cities of Europe, and by thousands of consultations by post and telegraph in America and Europe, as well as practice in Asia and Africa during study trips, Professor Ehret had no lack of experience in observing results of his theories applied over a long period of time.” (Bogart, 1923, p.161)
Ehret’s fame spread to America and many there, including Benedict Lust, were soon requesting that Ehret come to America. When he did venture to America, he settled in Alhambra, California, and quickly began to attract many followers. He wrote books and articles for Lust’s publications and lectured across the country unceasingly, promoting health and the mucusless diet.
Ehret concluded that all disease was exclusively caused by “biologically wrong, unnatural food and by each ounce of over-nourishment.” (Ehret, 1912, p.167) The culprit, mucus-forming foods, included artificial food, fat, meat, bread, potatoes, farinaceous products, rice, milk, and cheese. (Ehret, 1912, p.370) The foods on this list, Ehret pointed out, were well-known ingredients in adhesives and glues. “If potatoes, grain, rice or meat are being boiled long enough, we receive a jelly-like slime (mucus) or paste used by book binders and carpenters. This mucus substance soon becomes sour, ferments, and forms a bed for fungi, molds and bacilli.” (Ehret, 1912, p.167)
The basis of the mucus theory was that certain foods caused mucus within the body, which, over time, underwent a fermentation process that created pus, mucus, and toxins obstructing tissues and vessels. Ehret made the association between the body burden of mucus and the hospitable environment for bacteria and other pathogens. Ehret’s concept of disease departs from the conventional model that disease is caused by germs and bacteria from the external environment. For Ehret, “Disease is a beneficial result of the natural and intelligent efforts of the vital energy of the body to cleanse it of all impurities.” (Ehret, 1919, p.233) He maintained, “[In] all diseases without exception there exists a tendency by the organism to secrete mucus, and in case of a more advanced stage: pus (decomposed blood).” (Ehret, 1912, p.167) He elaborated:
It has long been recognized by students and scientists that these foods are not suitable for mankind, as the larger portion cannot be digested fully, but are acted on by the gastric juices making a toxic mucus which decays, ferments, produces gas, acidosis and many kinds of toxins, and this has a sticky and gluey condition and clogs the circulation, so that the body needs a shock like a ‘cold’ to start the elimination of a portion of it. (Ehret, 1920, p.480)
The main goal of treatment is to successively withdraw all contaminating foods that cause the formation of pathological mucus and replace these foods with those that do not cause mucus. Another crucial component of the treatment plan is to eat less and not overeat.
In Ehret’s view, overeating was as much of a problem as eating the wrong foods. Ehret asked, “What shall we eat to become and remain healthy, if gluttony and wrong eating are the principal causes of sickness?” (Ehret, 1917, p.258) He added, “Every follower of Naturopathy knows that all maladies are caused, more or less, not by too little nourishment, but by overfeeding.” (Ehret, 1917, p.257) In his view, overeating leads to a surplus of undigested food stuff in the body that eventually turns to unwanted secretions such as mucus, providing an ideal breeding ground for germs. He believed that the relationship between overeating and a diet of meat and strong stimulants such as alcohol reinforced each other. He wrote, “The fundamental evil of all non-vegetaric forms of diet consists always in the overeating of meat, as it is the origin of all the other evils, especially of the craving for alcohol.” (Ehret, 1912, p.231) Alcohol, wine, tobacco, and coffee cravings coincided with a diet that deviated from natural whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Ehret never claimed to be the inventor of fasting or a fruit diet. His particular contribution to the naturopathic repertoire is having combined these 2 elements together into a comprehensive system that transformed the lives of patients who consulted him. He called his system “the Mucusless Diet Healing System after [his] ‘mucus theory’ had become a well proven fact as being the largest factor of the fundamental cause of every diseased condition.” (Ehret, 1920, p.481) He often said that mucus in the body begins in childhood and accumulates into a problem later in life. In his healing system, a whole foods diet consisting of fruits and vegetables was consumed before fasting.
Ehret’s Mucusless Diet Healing System helped dissolve and loosen up any stored mucus. He wrote, “As soon as you fast−decrease the quantity of your food−or eat natural, cleansing mucusless foods, (fruits and starchless vegetables) the body is afforded an opportunity to loosen and eliminate mucus, which is in fact the healing process.” (Ehret, 1922, p.114) When mucus-forming foods are removed from the diet, he believed that the blood would systematically remove the mucus and pus, depositing them into the urine and any other openings available. Eating a diet of fruit and vegetables facilitated the excretion of mucus from the body. Ehret explained, “The seemingly most healthy person has first to pass through a condition of sickness (cleansing), or to go through an intermediate stage of illness to a higher level of health.” (Ehret, 1912, p.231)
Ehret warned, “Care must be taken to not do it too rapidly nor too much, for that clogs the excretory system, impairing the vitality which is already weakened, causing a serious condition. … This is important and explains why long fasts or fasts without proper preparation and the radical fruit diet attempts to cure, often fail. ” (Ehret, 1920, p.480) Ehret advocated individualizing each patient’s program based upon the patient’s capacity and health. Patients with a heavy body burden of drugs and mucus, who experienced discomfort during the mucusless diet, were given the following advice: “Whenever you feel bad, the cause is that you have too much dissolved mucus and probably old drugs in the circulation; then slow down the elimination by eating no raw [or cooked] fruits … and for a few days eat vegetables only. Vegetables work more mechanically and dissolve less.” (Ehret, 1922, p.28)
Observations Ehret made a century ago were particularly prescient. He saw humans treading a precarious line and was concerned by the trends within the American culture. He wrote:
The stoutness of face and body are dangerously on the increase; it is ugly and certainly pathologic. It is a curious fact that this accumulation of fat is considered not only beautiful, but even a sign of over-abundant health, while the daily experience teaches that the slim, permanently youthful type is in every respect of a greater force of resistance and generally reaches a higher age. (Ehret, 1912, p.435)
These early trends in obesity would prove to pale in comparison to what we face now, with over 66% of the American population obese or overweight, and the World Health Organization putting Americans near the top of the list for chronic obesity. There are no historical data on obesity in America in 1900 and the first references to the problem of overweight would not appear until the 1930’s. The ramifications of health risks associated with obesity are only too familiar now, yet, as early as 1919, Ehret remarked, “The diet of civilization has brought mankind into an awful state of diseased conditions and epidemics. Centenarians are getting as scarce as diamonds. No one is dying a natural death, without disease: and these results are due to ignorance and the dominating erroneous teaching and practice of the drug cults.” (Ehret, 1919, p.234) Ehret was critical of the medical profession of his day, pointing out the dangers of what he considered to be their questionable practices: “Disease is the same mystery for medical science as it was for the Medicine men of a thousand years ago, the main difference being that the germ theory has replaced the demon and that imaginary mysterious outside power to harm you and destroy your life still remains.” (Ehret, 1922, p.114)
At the 24th annual Convention of the American Naturopathic Association in New York City, September 23-24, 1920, Ehret presented a lecture entitled, “The Mucusless Diet Healing System.” He began his lecture by introducing his theory “that disease, regardless of its symptoms, consists of a constitutional encumbrance of a material generally known as foreign matter.” (Ehret, 1920, p.480) He drew attention to a shortcoming in Naturopathic practice, stating, “In other words, the science of Drugless Healing has not yet explained fully enough that the foundational cause of disease, this foreign material, is the undigested, un-eliminated and decayed food elements from wrong and too much eating.” (Ehret, 1920, p.480) He continued, “Fasting and eating less are the only check on over-eating and non-mucus-forming foods must replace mucus-forming disease-producing ones.” (Ehret, 1920, pp.480-481)
The Influence of the Mucus Theory Today
Early naturopathic physicians talked about morbid matter and had a host of ways of describing toxins and undesirable elements in the body, and the notion of dietary indiscretions was central to the morbid matter theory. The essence of the Ehret’s work aligned with the findings of Louis Kuhne who had earlier introduced the concept of 1 disease. Kuhne labeled foreign substances as morbid matter, which was a result of overeating, poor food choices, or breathing unhealthy air. Kuhne stated in his seminal work in 1891: “All forms of disease are to be traced back to encumbrance of the system with foreign matter; in other words: There is only one disease, appearing in the most various forms … and only one method of treatment is necessary.” (Kuhne, 1917, p.337) Ehret recognized that many of his predecessors had similar views on diet, readily acknowledging and commending their work: “The discoveries and methods of the pioneers, Schroth, Priessnitz, Kuhne, Kneipp, Lahmann, Just, Engelhardt and others are based more or less on restricted diet”. (Ehret, 1917, p.257) Like these others, Ehret established certain foods and overeating as the chief culprits in disease, concluding that “[superb health] is only possible by a mucusless diet and rightly conducted fasting. We now know that wrong and too much food is the CAUSE of all disease, and its ONLY complete cure is by right diet and fasting.” (Ehret, 1919, p.233)
These concepts resonate strongly with contemporary naturopathic doctors, and some of Ehret’s recommendations are embraced right into the modern era. We may even contend that, when Ehret was speaking about the dangers of mucus-forming foods, he was addressing our contemporary naturopathic concern about inflammation, and that the diet he introduced in America in the early 20th century was, in fact, an early version of the anti-inflammatory diet. He blamed meat, eggs, milk, fats and starchy foods as major contributors in disease formation (Ehret, 1922, p.481), and maintained that “meat is not a foodstuff but only a stimulant which ferments, decays in the stomach; the process of decay, however, does not begin in the stomach but at once after the slaughtering.” (Ehret, 1912, p.231) These mucus-forming foods are not poisons, we allow, but their actions in the body lead to the formation of sticky waste that, if not eliminated, can be deposited in the blood vessels, organs, tissues and throughout the body. Ehret described the problem graphically: “The average mixed eater and the vegetarian starch eater has no clean digestion at all. The upper part of his digestive tract, the stomach and the upper intestines are like a fermentation tank and the lower part is like a cesspool of putridity from decades old, never eliminated feces and other filth.” (Ehret, 1922, pp.482-483)
His advice to his followers was short and sweet: don’t over eat and don’t eat unhealthy food.
From Ehret’s perspective, the fastest way to recover health is fasting. This conclusion is supported by the observation of animals in the wild who abstain from food when sick. This response is unlike in domesticated animals, Ehret observed, who, “thanks to man feeding them, have lost their sharp instinct for the right kind of food and natural hours of feeding.” (Ehret, 1912, p.314) Pets no longer fast when sick, but continue to chow down on the food that is placed in front of them. In North America, indeed, we witness our beloved pets succumbing to the same diseases as their owners: cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases. Surely we can see that food has a connection to the rise of these diseases in our pets as well as in humans.
Fasting, then, seems to be a lost skill. We are surrounded by every kind of taste and exotic food from around the world twelve months of a year. There is no shortage of food and no abating our appetites for it. Fasting is a hard sell in a culture that is so habituated to eating. If we are sick, we continue to eat to keep up our strength, despite the advice of our naturopathic predecessors to fast. Perhaps, the only time we abstain from food is when we are acutely ill. Ehret notes: “In cases of acute sickness, the patient instinctively obeys the natural antagonism to food; his appetite is simply taken away.” (Ehret, 1917, p.257)
For those people who could not fast, Ehret counseled them to at least do a “morning fast. It would be better for everybody not to eat anything before 10 o’clock and then nothing but fruits.” (Ehret, 1912, p.371) The advice he gave to those who found it so difficult to eschew mucus foods was simply, “To these poor ones, I also give the advice: to chew your food, and each bite, thoroughly … Fletcherize.” (Ehret, 1912, p.371)
36 Hour Fast
Fasting was individualized by Ehret for his patients. Several of his articles published in The Naturopath provide us with his suggestions about how to conduct the mucusless diet and how to fast successfully. In the 36-hour fast, for example, “nothing is taken until the next morning after the fast, and then nothing but fruits for breakfast. The eating of fruit is necessary after each fasting, as the juices of the fruits cause a moving of the mucus masses which have loosened” during the fast. (Ehret, 1912, p.370) [In the next issue of NDNR, I will be reviewing various authors and their clinical pearls on fasting.]
Ehret’s popularity in America was tremendous. Fred Hirsch, an ardent Ehretist living in California, attended a lecture by Ehret and reported, “On October 8, 1922, Professor Ehret held in Los Angeles one of his most successful lectures. At least a hundred persons were unable to secure seats and had to be turned away.” (Hirsch, 1923, p.11) He continued:
Those of us who listened to his seemingly inspired and prophetic words on that memorable occasion will never forget the ardent, soul-stirring plea to humanity, made with all the forcefulness he could command, and expressing his unselfish devotion and keen desire to aid his suffering fellowmen. (Hirsch, 1923, pp.11-12)
After his lecture, Ehret was hurrying to catch the train to his home. Hirsch recounted the last moments in Ehret’s journey: “He was wearing a pair of new shoes for the first time. The street was poorly lighted, and in stepping off the curb, he lost his balance, falling backward and striking his head on the stone curb.” (Hirsch, 1923, p.12) Hirsch continued, “A few minutes after the fall [Ehret] breathed his last, never regaining consciousness.” (Hirsch, 1923, p.12) Following Ehret’s death, his devotees gathered weekly to discuss “plans for the purchase of a memorial home for Professor Ehret, to be devoted in perpetuity as a headquarters for classes and meetings of the Ehretist movement.” (Bogart, 1923, p.140) Ehret’s influence upon his students and patients was formidable and enduring. His books continue to teach students and those seeking the secrets of health and his writings remain a guiding force for health.
Bogart, G. (1923). The Ehret movement. Naturopath, XXVIII (3), 140.
Bogart, G. (1923). The Ehretist movement. Naturopath, XXVIII (4), 161-166.
Child, B. W. (1919). Nature Cure pioneers, Professor Arnold Ehret of Alhambra, California. Herald of Health and Naturopath, XXIV (10), 493-496.
Ehret, A. (1912). Sick people. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, XVII (3), 166-170.
Ehret, A. (1912). Sick people, continuation. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, XVII (4), 231-233.
Ehret, A. (1912). Sick people, continuation. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, XVII (6), 369-371.
Ehret, A. (1912). Sick people, continuation. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, XVII (7), 434-438.
Ehret, A. (1917). My diet of healing. Herald of Health and Naturopath, XII (5), 257-260.
Ehret, A. (1919). My mucusless diet and Naturopathy. Herald of Health and Naturopath, XXV (5), 233-238.
Ehret, A. (1920). The mucusless diet healing system. Herald of Health and Naturopath, XXV (10), 480-483.
Ehret, A. (1922). The diagnosis of your disease and the “magic mirror”. Herald of Health and Naturopath, XXVII (3), 114-117.
Ehret, A. (1922). The truth about stimulants and condiments. Herald of Health and Naturopath, XXVII (10), 481-483.
Ehret, A. (1922). The Internal Uncleanliness of Man, Benedict Lust Publishing, Butler, N. J.
Hirsch, F. S. (1923). Arnold Ehret. Naturopath, XXVIII (1), 11-12.
Kuhne, L. (1917). The new science of healing, disease, a transmission of morbid matter. Herald of Health and Naturopath, XXII (6), 337- 368. This article that appeared in the Lust journal was an excerpt from Kuhne’s book, Neo-Naturopathy, The New Science of Healing.
Sussanna Czeranko, ND, BBE, incorporates “nature-cure” approaches to primary care by including balneotherapy, breathing therapy, and nutrition into her naturopathic practice. Dr Czeranko is a faculty member working as the Rare Books curator at NCNM and is currently compiling a 12-volume series based upon Benedict Lust’s journals, published early in the last century. Her published books include: Origins of Naturopathic Medicine; Philosophy of Naturopathic Medicine; Dietetics of Naturopathic Medicine; Principles of Naturopathic Medicine; Vaccination and Naturopathic Medicine; and Physical Culture in Naturopathic Medicine. Dr Czeranko is the founder of the Breathing Academy, a training institute for naturopaths to incorporate a scientific model of breathing therapy called Buteyko into their practice. She is also a founding board member of the International Congress of Naturopathic Medicine and a member of the International Society of Medical Hydrology.