Livingston-Wheeler Therapy

Health Care Professional Information

Common Name

Livingston therapy

Clinical Summary

Metabolic treatment available at the Livingston-Wheeler Clinic in San Diego, CA. This therapy involves a strict vegetarian diet, BCG vaccine, coffee enemas, autogenous vaccine, vitamins, antibiotics, antioxidants, nutritional counseling, and support groups/counseling. Patients use it to treat cancer, arthritis, allergies, and AIDS. The regimen is based on the theory that cancer is caused by the bacterium Progenitor cryptocides, which Virginia Livingston-Wheeler, the developer, claims to have isolated in a wide variety of cancer tissues (3) (4). A weakened immune system supposedly allows the bacterium to grow, and consequently the therapy's focus is immune-stimulation.

A self-selected, matched-cohort, prospective comparison of patients at Livingston-Wheeler Clinic and a conventional cancer center found no difference in survival times between groups, but consistently lower quality of life in the Livingston-Wheeler cohort (6). Although clinic activities are illegal under California's 1959 Cancer Act, no legal action has been taken by the state. Metabolic diets may result in nutrient deficiencies (5). Repeated use of coffee enemas is linked to several deaths from serious infection and electrolyte imbalance (2).

The American Cancer Society strongly urges cancer patients not to seek treatment at the Livingston-Wheeler Clinic (1).

Purported Uses
  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer treatment
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Diet
  • BCG vaccine
  • Autogenous vaccine
  • Nonspecific vaccines
  • Antibiotics (penicillin, erythromycin, cephalexin, tetracycline, furazolidone, methenamine)
  • Injections: gamma globulin (1/week), sheep spleen extract (1-2/week), crude liver extract (1+/week), vitamin B12 (1+/week).
  • Adjuvant therapy: Levamisole (50 mg 3/day, alternate weeks); fresh whole blood transfusions; enemas with coffee, lemon juice, or hot water; lactic acid bacillus; digestive enzymes to help maintain an acidic blood and urine pH (to kill Progenitor cryptocides); megadoses of vitamins; abscisic acid (or Dormin), a derivative of vitamin A and carotene from plants.
Mechanism of Action

Dr. Livingston-Wheeler claims that the bacterium Progenitor cryptocides is ubiquitous, but a weakened immune system allows it to become pathogenic and cause cancer; that the bacterium induces neoplastic changes when injected into animals and produces large amounts of hCG, which accounts for the rapid growth of cancer cells and cancer-related cachexia (4). Livingston-Wheeler and her husband also claimed to consistently find P. cryptocides in the fresh and cultured blood of cancer patients visualized by dark- and light field microscopy, but failed to specify the criteria by which they distinguished P. cryptocides from other bodies present in the bloodstream (3). Presence of the bacterium in healthy subjects is explained by claims that the bacterium is “ubiquitous” and “latent.” Independent analyses of cultures provided by Wheeler identified the bacteria as Staph epidermis, Strep faecalis, Staph faecalis, and other unrelated bacteria, and found that many of them produced hCG (1).

While the Livingston-Wheeler diet has similarities to the recommendations made by the American Cancer Society, its nutrient deficits (calcium, iron, vitamins D and B12, and protein) are unsuitable for some cancer patients.


No formal pharmacokinetics studies have been performed.


The American Cancer Society strongly urges cancer patients not to seek treatment at the Livingston-Wheeler Clinic, as no evidence has supported the efficacy of the treatments offered there (1).

Adverse Reactions

Common (metabolic diet): Nutrient deficiencies (calcium, vit B12, protein), anemia, and malabsorption may result from metabolic diets (1).
Reported (Autogenous vaccine): Malaise, aching, slight fever, and tenderness at injection site (1).
Case Reports (Coffee enemas):
Death attributable to fluid and electrolyte imbalance causing pleural and pericardial effusions after use of coffee enemas, 4 per day for 8 weeks (2).

  1. American Cancer Society. Livingston-Wheeler therapy. Ca: Cancer J Clin 1990;40:103-8.
  2. Eisele JW, Reay DT. Deaths related to coffee enemas. JAMA 1980;244:1608-9.
  3. Livingston VW, Livingston AM. Demonstration of progenitor cryptocides in the blood of patients with collagen and neoplastic diseases. Trans N Y Acad Sci 1972;34:433-53.
  4. Livingston VW, Livingston AM. Some cultural, immunological, and biochemical properties of Progenitor cryptocides. Trans N Y Acad Sci 1974;36:569-82.
  5. Dwyer JT. Unproven nutritional remedies and cancer. Nutr Rev 1992;50:106-9.
  6. Cassileth BR, et al. Survival and quality of life among patients receiving unproven as compared with conventional cancer therapy. N Engl J Med 1991;324:1180-5.
  7. Richardson MA, et al. Assessment of outcomes at alternative medicine cancer clinics: a feasibility study. J Altern Complement Med 2001;7:19-32.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Livingston-Wheeler therapy has not been shown to treat cancer.

Livingston-Wheeler therapy is classified as a “metabolic therapy.” It involves several treatments that supposedly stimulate the immune system (BCG vaccine and a vaccine made from the individual's own urine), a strict vegetarian diet, antioxidants, and detoxification via coffee enemas. It is available at the Livingston-Wheeler Clinic in San Diego, California. Virginia Livingston-Wheeler was a doctor in the early 20th century who believed that cancer is caused by a bacterium called Progenitor cryptocides, which she claimed to have isolated from cancer tissues.
Experts have studied the strict vegetarian diets required by metabolic therapies like Livingston-Wheeler, and have concluded that they are deficient in important nutrients such as calcium, iron, vitamins D, vitamin B12, and protein. Such diets may be unsuitable for cancer patients.

Purported Uses
  • To treat allergies
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To treat arthritis
    There are no data to back this claim.
  • To treat cancer
    One study found similar survival rates between patients treated with the Livingston-Wheeler therapy and with conventional cancer therapies at a major hospital, but the patients using the Livingston-Wheeler therapy had more side effects and lower quality of life. No other studies support this use.
  • To treat HIV and AIDS
    There are no studies to support this claim.
Patient Warnings
  • The American Cancer Society strongly urges cancer patients not to seek treatment at the Livingston-Wheeler Clinic, as no evidence has supported the safety or effectiveness of the treatments offered there.
Side Effects
  • Nutrient deficiencies (calcium, vitamin B12, protein), anemia, and malabsorption may result from metabolic diets.
  • The autogenous vaccine given at the Livingston-Wheeler Clinic can cause malaise, aching, slight fever, and tenderness at the injection site.
  • There have been a number of deaths associated with prolonged use of coffee enemas (on the order of four per day for days or weeks).
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