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Yin-Yang, Science and "Macrobiotic" Cancer By Carlo Guglielmo

   
 

This article focuses on the possibility of a dialogue between the macrobiotic yin-yang unifying principle and the modern scientific method, and on what we can learn from the scientific data with regard to the recent problem of several macrobiotic friends who developed cancer.

Some macrobiotic friends and teachers seem to believe that macrobiotics should not rely on science, but only on yin-yang, which they consider a firmer foundation for managing health problems.

However, it could be said that modern macrobiotics, since its origins, has included western science in its approach. George Ohsawa himself interpreted, in a renewed way, the traditional yin-yang principle, disentangling it from the body of the traditional Chinese medicine and culture in order to open a dialogue with western science.

Ohsawa took this courageous and hazardous step because he felt that this method had to be rescued from the superstition into which it had fallen along the centuries. All the insights on chemistry and physics reported in Ohsawa's books are there to demonstrate the importance of modern science as an unavoidable reference point for Ohsawa himself.

In the later years, the macrobiotic community has not really deepened this subject. Instead, the use of science by the macrobiotic community has ended up being rather instrumental - for example reporting only the medical data supporting our views on health and forgetting the controversial ones - and it does not show a true attitude to learning what is worthwhile from the scientific community.

Weak and strong points

Actually, the scientific method and community have their strong and weak points as everything and everyone else in this world. Among the strong points is that a theory has to be verified by facts or experiments, in order to be shared by the scientific community. The facts themselves, or the results of experiments, have to be independently confirmed by a number of different researchers, using accepted instruments and methods. The use of mathematics, and the possibility to address the same issue from many different approaches, add even more solidity to the data retrieved.

Of course, we all know that among the weak points there are the attempts to study a phenomena by isolating it from its environment (this is true for in vitro studies, or for the studies addressing a single nutrient among the multitude present in any food, and so on). Moreover, some phenomena cannot be properly managed or measured with the current instruments, and so they are often dismissed as not worthy of scientific inquiry. And everybody knows too well the limits of analytical thinking to speak about that here.

But saying that science has its limits is not saying that it is useless, only that we should not rely on that as blindly as it is commonly done today. If we say that science often changes its view about a subject, and so we cannot rely on it, we say something trivial. Science has to be in constant change, in order to stay in touch with new experiences of the reality.

If we say that its answers are incomplete and partial, and that this is a good reason for not taking them into consideration, this is even more trivial, because the goal of science is not giving the final answers but only the most probable ones. And while it is true that scientific data is often influenced by commercial, personal, or ideological factors, this is true for everything that human beings do, including what happens in the macrobiotic community, and this must be taken into consideration in drawing our personal conclusions about any subject.

Yin-Yang and Dogma

The strength of our yin-yang method stands in its ability to show, in its holistic attitude, the relationships between facts often considered separated from each other. This can really help give indications for exploring and possibly solving many different problems. Moreover, yin-yang helps in seeing things in motion and transformation, so keeps pace with an ever changing reality.

However, it is not easy to apply yin-yang well, even after many years of practice, nor do our macrobiotic schools teach that in depth. Moreover, this method gives always rather approximate answers to our quests, that must be constantly checked and refined through our practice. In the worst cases, it is possible to fall into superficiality or dogma, especially when we don't take care to check the reality of our intuitions in our practice, and we are satisfied with their likelihood or their consistency with our "principles". But a theory can be consistent with our principles, and still be false or at least not proved at all.

There are yin-yang theories about terrestrial axis shifts or solar system births that have been taught for years in the macrobiotic community without any concern to check their reality on the basis of the available facts. What's worse, the same is true also for some macrobiotic theories regarding health issues, among which is the one regarding cancer.

The development of cancer through different phases, from accumulation to adegeneration and/or discharge, has not ever been adequately put under scrutiny and evaluated. It just makes sense, but that's not enough, and a few cases of cancer within the macrobiotic community, obviously regarding people that did not show any deposit, urgently ask for a wider approach to this issue.

In all these cases, what were wonderful and very inspirational insights, that had to be checked in the spirit of "non credo" in order to become reliable theories, became "truths" devoid of any possibility for further evolution or refinement. This is not due to a negative attitude from some macrobiotic teachers, but it is an inherent risk of this method itself, of which we need to be conscious.

Intuition, intellect and science

Exchange and communication between science and yin-yang can offer a real possibility, for both, to come in closer contact with the reality. Historically, the scientific method developed exactly in trying to avoid the pitfalls of dogma, and we should be grateful to the thousands of persons which helped in creating it. Even if an overuse of technology (derived by science, but not properly science in itself) is presently fuelling our journey to disaster, the scientific method still stays as an extraordinary realization of the human spirit.

Of course every method with which we explore the reality has its limits, because everything that we can reach with our senses or with our intellect has limits. But this is also true for any formulation of an "absolute principle", because the "real thing" cannot be grasped by the intellect but only experienced by a part of us that goes beyond intellect itself. Every formulation of the truth is by definition incomplete, as we all know well that it is only the finger pointing to the moon.

Firmly standing on this realization, we can still use both intuition and intellect in order to orient ourselves. We must use both - not only intuition but also intellect - because very often what we label as "intuition" is not coming from the real source, and so can be very misleading.

The use of our intellect, both through yin-yang and scientific thinking, help us to stay in balance along our way to reawakening our intuitive ability, our supreme judgement. Different from what happens with scientific thinking, it is true that the "intellectual" use of yin-yang may in due time help us to realize a non-intellectual, or intuitive, contact with the reality. It just may help, although it does not automatically do that.

If we agree on these premises, and appreciate the importance of including data from science in our reflections about the macrobiotic way of eating, and the cancer problem in particular, there are a few things that I believe can be of interest for us all. I will shortly introduce them in the following pages, while a few introductory references are given at the end of this article, for whoever wishes to go deeper into this subject.

The Vitamin B12 and Animal Food Issue

Both nutritionists and macrobiotic teachers did not recognize until very recent times the central role of Vitamin B12 in health. We used to think that there was a B12 insufficiency only when signs of anemia were present. Now it is becoming clear that even a mild insufficiency, with the usual blood tests still in the norm, can already create problems.

When B12 is not sufficient, a substance called homocysteine rises in the blood, and high levels of homocysteine are associated with a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and cancer. Several studies involving both vegetarians and macrobiotic people demonstrate that, from this point of view, these groups fare worse than omnivores, showing higher levels of homocysteine in the blood.

Probably, macrobiotic people fare even worse that vegetarians with regard to this issue, also the situation of vegans not taking B12 supplements is still worse. So, if for other risk factors we are on a safer stand than omnivores, under this point of view we don't do well at all. Probably this situation can influence in particular our risk to develop cancer and osteoporosis, as vegetarian and macrobiotic people present, for the rest, very low risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

This seems proven by the data showing that vegetarians, and semi-vegetarians as we are, die far less from cardiovascular disease than omnivores, but there seems to be no difference with regards cancer.

For osteoporosis we are probably at the limits of the risk, if our intake of calcium and proteins is only marginally adequate for a long time - and this is probably the case for not so few macro friends - or even at risk if the intake is not adequate, which could be true for a larger number of friends than we think. With regards cancer, which is the main subject of this article, the facts of life are showing us that we are not immune at all.

As active Vitamin B12 is only present in animal foods, and not in miso, seaweeds, tempeh or other commonly eaten foods, the homocysteine issue raises the problem of our attitude toward animal food. We always associated it with disease, ecological imbalance and poor spiritual development, and this is true if the quantities that we consume are high and the quality is poor.

But human beings need some animal foods, and always did eat them in the past if only available. So we need to discover the right quantity for our present / modern needs, and the best way to prepare it. Maybe we just need more fish, but probably eggs and poultry are also ok, in lower amounts, and even red meat if our conditions of life are very demanding, as doing physical labour daily in the cold.

Epigenetic Theory of Cancer

Recently, a whole new avenue has opened in cancer research. While until a few years ago it was believed that cancer starts with changes in the genes, it is now becoming clear that the first step is represented by modifications that influence the way in which the normal genes are expressed. These modifications, of which only a few are at present sufficiently known, are influenced by diet.

This comes as a great confirmation of our ideas about food and cancer, also because the influence of diet clearly extends to the foetal development, broadly confirming our theories about how the constitution forms. However, it must be noted that one important factor in this game is, again, vitamin B12. When this vitamin is taken in inadequate amounts, modifications in both the genes' structure and the way they are expressed arise. So this nutrient comes again in focus with regard to the cancer issue.

Fish and Oils

Speaking of fish, it is very clear that the standard recommendations to consume this food one or two times a week, preferably white meat fish, are correct only for a short time, and only if used to cleanse deposits and create a better yin-yang balance. After this cleansing and rebalancing period, fat fish becomes more important, as it is the best source of omega-3 fats.

Before going on, please let me say that the omega-3 issue is a good example of how carefully we should consider the scientific data. Only applying our yin-yang methods, we could have not understood this issue properly, and it has been necessary to use the scientific approach for that. The same is true for the homocysteine issue, by the way, so we need to be humble and open.

Probably many macro people still take omega-6 in too high an amount compared to omega-3. The improper use of oil, and the fats included in many ready to eat foods and sweets, can create this problem. It is becoming increasingly clear that an excess of omega-6 raises the risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer, and negatively influences the immune responses.

Since the most useful omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are also present in naturally raised meats and free-range eggs, not only in fish, this seems to be, again, a problem with the proper use of animal food.

Vitamin D and Physical Activity

Fatty fish is important for another nutrient that it is more and more considered essential to health, i.e. Vitamin D. It is now clear that its role goes far beyond that of calcium and the bones, this nutrient is instrumental in cancer and degenerative diseases prevention. A very recent analysis of all the studies done on this subject has showed that the importance of vitamin D for the prevention of cancer is so strong that, if an adequate amount could be taken with food or be produced by our skin under the action of the sun, probably half of the most common cancers could be prevented.

Now, everybody living in northern latitudes has problems with vitamin D, as we live too little outside in the sun and too much indoors, so this is not true for macro people only. However, fatty fish is one of the very few foods that contain good levels of vitamin D, so reducing it too much in favour of white fish cannot be a long time strategy.

Apart from getting this nutrient from the food we eat, it is clear that we should do our best to stay outdoors and take some sun, as this is a more central necessity for the human being than any specific food. Human beings adapted to eat a great variety of different foods during their evolutionary and historical time, but sun is the same on the whole earth and has always been necessary for everybody. Our focus on the importance of food should not make us blind to other basic necessities for us as human beings.

As with vitamin D, physical activity is also a basic necessity. We have often said that, but we rarely make it a way of living. The most important fact to consider, with regard to this issue, is that if we have too little physical activity it is very difficult to widen the diet as we would need, in order to include more vitamin B12 and D rich foods. If we eat more animal foods while doing little activity outdoors, we easily end in creating an imbalance. But the problem stays in the too little activity outdoors, not in the animal food, and we should encourage people to pay attention to this issue.

Also, it can be difficult to increase the quantity of animal food if we eat too many whole grains. Grains should be reduced when we increase our consumption of animal foods, while vegetables and fruits should be augmented.

Sweeteners

The last point that I wish to consider here regards the use of sweeteners. After many years of resistance, the scientific community is now becoming aware that our macrobiotic attitude toward refined sugars is correct. Humans are clearly not adapted to consume refined sugars. We have known for a long while that we can eat a moderate amount of simple sugars, provided that they are part of a natural food as a fruit, since they are combined with other nutrients that balance them, and not in a refined form.

However, in natural food stores plenty of sweeteners are sold, alone or included in sweets. Some of them are extremely refined, as agave syrup - which consists essentially of fructose, a bad choice of itself - or even "organic" plain sugar, but even the best ones such as fermented grain malts should be eaten with moderation.

It could be said that standard macrobiotics recommends consuming these kind of foods in great moderation, but the fact is that many people need them and eat them. This is due to the fact that they eat too little good quality fats and animal proteins, which are the real yin that they deserve, and they try to substitute them with sweets.

(Please refer to"Some reflections about the macrobiotic way of eating")

So it is useless to say that certain foods should be consumed in moderation, if you advise a diet that makes people crave these same foods. As I said at the beginning, principles must be checked through practice. If practice does not confirm them, either the principles are not true, or their application is wrong.

Many scientific studies underscore the role of the foods that cause a high insulinemic response in the body which is the origin of cancer, cardiovascular and degenerative diseases. Maybe the consumption of high insulinemic foods like sweets made of flour, fats and sweeteners, do not create many problems if the diet as a whole is low in calories and fats as the macrobiotic one.

However, it still remains a source of imbalance and, when other conditions are poor, maybe it can aggravate them. The situation is even worse for the sweetened beverages, such as rice or soy drinks, and others, as it seems clear that consuming simple sugars in beverages is even worse than doing it in foods.

Standard Diet and Macrobiotic Way of Eating

If we want to take into consideration this scientific data and make good use of them in our practice, we should say openly that the standard macrobiotic diet is a specific diet focused on cleansing and rebalancing the body, to be adopted for a limited period of time. After that, the normal macrobiotic diet should often include moderate amounts of animal foods, especially fish but also eggs and poultry or other white meats, provided that their quality is good and their preparation is balanced. It is our urgent task to explore the traditional cuisine and to apply our yin-yang understanding in order to discover the most appropriate ways and recipes for consuming animal foods.

Compared with the stricter period on a standard macrobiotic diet, in our daily macrobiotic eating we need to increase the consumption of vegetables and fruits, and reduce the amount of whole grains that we eat.
Olive or sesame oil should be the most commonly used fat condiments, to be used far more liberally than during the cleansing period. Other oils should be minimized.

Sweets and sweetened beverages, even if organic and of good quality, should be minimized too. Maybe they are good for children, but if an adult craves these items often he is probably lacking good quality fats and proteins, and this usually comes from eating too much whole grains and too little oil, vegetables, animal foods and fruits. Fruits are our natural dessert.

The Jing Issue

Traditional Chinese medicine states that we are born endowed with a certain amount of Jing, or primal generative energy. Stress and desires make this energy diminish and ultimately finish, at which point the person dies. More than fifteen years ago I started practicing qigong and to work daily on this issue, and now I feel that this theory is a great gift from the Chinese tradition. We macrobiotic people should become very aware of it.

Many macro people did eat in a too strict way for a too long time, consuming an inadequate amount of animal foods, vitamin B12 and D, maybe coupling this with an imbalance of omega-3 and 6 fats. However, due to our ability to make balance using yin-yang, we didn't notice it. What may seem paradoxical, but it is nevertheless true, is that we may usually stay well and be energetic, since our food is rather well balanced in yin-yang terms and since we usually avoid unnatural foods, but this does not mean that we are really in good health.

In many cases this condition, after a long time, seems to carry to a depletion of Jing: people become too skinny and superficially clean, but lacking precious reserves. Maybe, at this point, degenerative diseases can occur because of stress, pollution, or according to individual genetic weakness, or for the sheer lack of some essential nutrients.

If you take a good look around, many macro friends seem to be clean but too frail. Maybe they have cured themselves of several ailments and they seem superficially to be in balance, but you can feel that something is lacking. And for sure many friends who suffered cancer did not have big deposits in the body: it is more likely that they developed their problem because of something lacking than something in excess. Our theory on cancer must be revised and widened in order to include the possibility that the lack of essential nutrients, as B12 and D, can create the conditions for its development.

Please note that both B12 and D vitamins are very yang. Vitamin B12 is essential for the reconstitution of DNA at each cellular division, so it operates at the very core of our physical body. The fact that these vitamins are present only in animal foods should make us think. We can be very yang because of a clean diet rich in whole grains and free form sugar and soft drinks, but we can still lack some essential yang factors.

Conclusion

It is interesting to note that the vegetarian community has been struggling, for a while to make its members realize the need for vitamin B12 (and recently also also Vit. D) supplementation. Our macrobiotic community is not in a better position with regard to this issue, but I am not aware that a similar effort is under way. Maybe, since the vegetarian "principles" are based on ethics, and not on a method (yin-yang) that it is supposed to replace the scientific one, they are more open to learn from others than what we are.
It is possible that, thanks to our broader approach to diet, we can avoid the use of supplements, but this is not certain. In any case, if this issue is not adequately addressed, we will never know that.

I believe that it is our duty to learn from what is happening to a few long time macrobiotic friends. We should not sleep on the good results we obtained with so many health problems. Please consider the possibility that, after having learned fairly well how to cleanse and rebalance ourselves, we must now learn how to create strong foundations and good quality reserves.

This I feel can be done by widening the standard macrobiotic diet in a conscious and balanced way, after the cleansing period is ended. We must learn to create a wider, lively balance, to which a little more animal food and outdoor activity can be important contributions.

Carl Guglielmo
Carl Guglielmo is dedicated to the study of the philosophy yin-yang and its applications since 1974.
In 1978 he participated in the foundation of the East-West Center in Turin. In 1982 he was recognized as a Associated Teacher from the Kushi Institute in Boston.

References:

THE VITAMIN B12/ Cyanocobalamin ISSUE
Some representatives of the vegetarian community have made an excellent informative work.
Please check:3 Vitamin B12: Are You Getting It? - http://www.veganhealth.org/b12/all
4 What Every Vegan Should Know about Vitamin B12 - http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/everyvegan/
Vitamin B12 Deficiency report http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030301/979.html

Other useful introductory articles are:
5 B12 deficiency more widespread than thought - http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/now/apr15/index.html
6 New thought about Vitamin B12 deficiency - http://www.nutrition.cornell.edu/nutritionworks/ane004.cfm

More technical studies:
7 Vitamin B-12 status, particularly holotranscobalamin II and methylmalonic acid concentrations, and hyperhomocysteinemia in vegetarians - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 1, 131-136, July 2003
8 Total Homocysteine, Vitamin B12, and Total Antioxidant Status in Vegetarians - Clinical Chemistry. 2001;47:1094-1101
9 Vegetarianism and vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) deficiency - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 1, 3-6, July 2003
10 Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies - Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70(suppl):516S-24S.

ABOUT VITAMIN. D:
11 Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 6, 1678S-1688S, December 200412 The Role of Vitamin D in Cancer Prevention
Am J Public Health, Dec 2005; doi:10.2105/AJPH.2004.045260

ABOUT HOMOCYSTEINE AND CANCER + OSTEOPOROSIS RISK:
13 Hyperhomocysteinemia is a risk factor for cancer and a new potential tumor marker - Clin Chim Acta 2002 Aug;322(1-2):21-8
14 Homocysteine Levels and the Risk of Osteoporotic Fracture - N Engl J Med 2004;350:2033-41.
15 Homocysteine as a Predictive Factor for Hip Fracture in Older Persons - N Engl J Med 2004; 351:1027-1030, Sep 2, 2004

A COUPLE OF REFERENCES FOR OMEGA-3 AND CANCER:
16 Dietary long-chain n-3 fatty acids for the prevention of cancer: a review of potential mechanisms - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 6, 935-945, June 2004
17 Dietary intake of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids and the risk of prostate cancer - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 1, 204-216, July 2004

AN INTRODUCTION TO EPIGENETICS:
18 Epigenetic regulation of gene expression: how the genome integrates intrinsic and environmental signals - Nature Genetics 33, 245 - 254 (2003
19 Role of DNA Methylation in the Regulation of Cell Function: Autoimmunity, Aging and Cancer - J. Nutr. 132:2401S-2405S, 2002
20 Diet, Methyl Donors and DNA Methylation: Interactions between Dietary Folate, Methionine and Choline - J. Nutr. 132:2333S-2335S, 2002



Feedback to this article by Carlo Guglielmo


Update on Yin-yang, science and 'macrobiotic' cancer By Carlo Guglielmo

Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article
By Michael Rossoff

The article by Carlo Guglielmo, “Yin-Yang, Science and ‘Macrobiotic Cancer’,” reflects an important step in a necessary dialogue between macrobiotic friends and educators.

To me his article represents a continuation of my article in Macrobiotics Today, “Macrobiotics at a Crossroads” (Jan., 2005). My article looked back in time and called for a new reflection and revision of macrobiotic’s approach to health. Guglielmo’s article is that new, next step.

The dietary changes that he calls for parallel mine: less grains, more vegetables and an increased variety of animal protein (especially poultry, eggs and fatty fish). The only factors that I added were a call for less salt and pressure cooking, and using culinary herbs.

The need to find common ground with the scientific approach is well articulated by Guglielmo. Indeed, the core emphasis on repeatable results and the truth that new knowledge brings new change must be a center piece to macrobiotic development. “Everything changes” is a vital expression of self-development—of any individual or an organization or a movement—otherwise it will dwindle and disappear.

As I understand Guglielmo, his message is that:

(1) Deficiency, not excess, is the cause of longtime macrobiotic people’s diseases;

(2) these deficiencies are principally due to lack of ample sources for vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 fats;

(3) even though longtime macrobiotic followers can seem clean, they become too skinny because their “jing” is depleted, which contributes to disease tendencies.

My response to these issues are:

(1) It seems to me that those who continue to hold onto a narrow practice of macrobiotics have become depleted over time. Indeed, if a longtime practitioner becomes unhealthy, then if he makes his diet even more strict (“healing diet”) this will give him less to build upon for his healing. There is a circular thinking process that assumes that all disease is fundamentally yin, so a more yang, strict diet is the remedy; and if things get worse, then become even more strict. Of course this is dangerous; it is more like fasting (which can benefit newcomers who are already ill). Appropriate widening of the diet is best. There is a long-standing bias that certain foods “make” disease. Unwavering belief in this is blinding and generates fears. I remember one teacher saying that if a woman eats an egg she will surely create ovarian cancer.

For over 25 years I have said that food is never more than 49% the cause or the healing of disease. The other 51% must be addressed: emotional issues (expressed or repressed), mental issues (like obsessions or phobias); spiritual issues (connections to the greater meanings to life) and daily life practices (such as proper breathing, good sleep and good exercise).

(2) Highlighting factors such as B12 and vitamin D and omega-3 is a good point of departure for bringing science and dietary practices together. Since all of these elements are storable, particularly in the liver, it can take 5-10 years to become deficient. They are vital for blood, nervous system, bone and immune functions. While macrobiotics never presented itself as a strict vegetarian diet, it never allowed itself to go beyond fish in the animal realm (though in the earliest days, 1960s and early 1970s, eggs and chicken and herbs were clearly used in cookbooks).

Why has there been a “rule” against other animal foods that could provide valuable nutrients? Basically it is an anti-cancer view, which blames the excess intake of animal foods for most modern degenerative diseases, particularly because of the fats. If we are sincere about our guiding principles, then “moderation” must be a meaningful word.

It could also be said that there are other nutrients that can lead to deficiencies with a strict practice of macrobiotics. Some examples are vitamin E, vitamin C and trace minerals. Science easily distorts what is significant and by its part-separate-from-the-whole approach to food can loose insights into the full nature of foods and their energies.

There is another point that needs to be stated. Macrobiotics has its yin-yang approach and science has its analytical approach, yet there is still another important way to evaluate dietary needs. This could be called an “empirical approach,” by exploring healthy peoples and cultures over the centuries. Here we can find much evidence that animal food intake has been a vital portion of their diet, whether in the East or the West. One organization that has focused on this is the Weston A. Price Foundation (www.westonaprice.org).

Finally,

(3) Raising the issue of “jing” (constitutional power) is useful in that death, whether by disease or natural old age, represents the final utilization of this innate power. But to say that because some people are “too skinny and superficially clean,” means that they must be deficient in jing and by implication that someone who is robust must be full of ample jing is misleading and inaccurate. In addition to genetics, some classical Chinese medicine views for depletion of jing include: stress, over consumption of foods, alcohol and drugs, excessive sex, excess or lack of exercise, lack of sleep, poor breathing and natural aging. In modern times we can add pollution of water, land and air, plus the endless array of western medicines that are over-prescribed and over-used.

I look forward to further discussions because the revival and re-orientation of macrobiotics hinges upon this process.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article
by Phiya Kushi

I enjoyed the article from Carlo Guglielmo. It was carefully written and well thought out; apparently the fruit of years of observation. I have some specific and some general concerns that I feel should be addressed in the same spirit of his thoroughness.

First, addressing more specific issues; regarding vitamin B12 there is an article here on this site: http://www.notmilk.com/vitaminb12.html that contradicts the B12 premise that Carlo writes about upon which he also bases his concern about cancer. Second, his reasoning does not explain away all
the vegan buddhists in Japan and other vegan groups around the world that have and continue to live healthily for generations and across various geographies.

In other words, from the above article and the reference articles he cites, it is agreed that B12 comes from bacteria and not necessarily from animal foods. This is not to say that I specifically advocate veganism but as I choice I believe it can still provide adequate nutrients as "historical" evidence does show when it includes such bacteria foods. Furthermore a healthy gut with plenty of active bacteria may also be able to produce B12 on its own. Similar arguements could be made concerning the other nutrients mentioned in his article to show that it is possible to avoid all animal products completely and still be healthy.

In otherwords, one could assume that he is advocating the consumption of animal foods which, when looking at other evidence could be erroneous. (What I personally do believe is that it is essential to include fermented products regardless of whether they are consumed solely from animal products (like dairy) or solely vegetable quality or a combination of both. I call fermentation an essential "yin" cooking method.)

Generally speaking though I would have to say that while I understand where his Yin/Yang vs. Science concerns come from, (because certainly macrobiotic proponents in the past have presented the two paradigms in opposition,) I, personally, do not see them as different.

To me, how we ascribe yin/yang characteristics to things is no different then scientifically/objectively measuring them and observing them and creating theories based on those findings. Indeed the application of Yin and Yang is solely based on that. For example, George Ohsawa classifed all the atomic elements into yin and yang based on their atomic weight, spectography, boiling and freezing points and other specific measurable data. There is nothing else upon which he could have made his classifications.

Yin and yang classifications of food are also based on measurements of size, shape, growth direction, cycle, and season, nutrient content and so on. Yin and yang is based on the same objective precise measurements used for scientific theories. It is not any different from science. They are one and the same. It could be said that yin and yang is the theory of relativity made really simple and applied
to everyday things. There is nothing esoteric or "quasi-spiritual" about this.

Where there may be a divergence (hence a concern on accuracy) is when it comes to looking at things from a "holistic" (or "wholistic") view. When doing this, there is so much (or too much) data to take into
consideration that what happens is that the only way for anyone to arrive at a comparative yin/yangness quality of something from such an all-encompassing collection of data is to be extremely open-minded and take a good "guess." If you increase the speed at which your brain does this then it goes from being a
"possibility" to an "educated guess" to your "intution." It could be said that intuition is the fastest speed at which your brain calculates things.

If you've a sharp, observant and healthy brain and input correct up-to-date data then it is likely that whatever conclusion arrived by intuition is probably close to being nearly correct. But if one's brain is off or not all the facts are in then any conclusion could be way off.

That also happens when we become overly confident or arrogant in our intuitive abilities and forget to stay present and humble to the immediate moment that might reveal other data that would lead to different conclusions. But then there are times when what is arrived at repeatedly by intution seems to contradict what seems to be factual cornerstones. Then, time and the advancement of scienctific experimentation may eventually topple such conerstones and prove the original intuition as correct.

Also, overtime, as our experiences accumulate then the speed of intuiting can increase and the accuracy
can get better provided the input (awareness) always remains active and as broad as possible and attentive to the moment.

When we're not sure about the accuracy of the conclusions that we arrive at by our intution then also remembering and applying the dynamic principle of complementary opposites can come in handy like a compass for our brain; reminding us to consider that there is always an opposite possibility that might exist. By following such a thread then we are able to arrive at a closer approximation to a more accurate conclusion. At that time, such a conclusion, like science, is still only a hypothesis that must further
be explored and verified through measurement and experience - hence the emphasized motto: "non-credo."

I believe the idea of "Non-Credo" is not so much to refute what someone else claims as true but instead to question what each of us within ourselves; you in yourself and me in myself believe to be as truth and factual. We need to question the foundations of our own beliefs instead of argue what other people say. Regarding what other people say, we should try to understand the foundations of what they say; why they say what they do. This spirit of "Non-credo" also applies to the collective belief systems of groups of
people and generations of groups of people that we might socially inherit.

So, while Carlo's article does point out the merits of science in opposition to "macrobiotic" or the "yin/yang" perspective, to me they are one and the same. I think it would be helpful to legitimizing macrobiotics and theyin/yang paradigm in the mainstream if macrobiotic proponents began presenting it as the same or not as different from science.

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Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article by
Anna Rosenberg

Woody Allen makes a comment upon the fickleness of scientific research in his movie “Sleeper”: a man wakes up in the future and it has been discovered that smoking is actually good for you! I loved that and have to say that I have always had some trouble with a scientific approach only because it seems to be so blinkered. It is not science’s fault (!), we just have to look back in time when no-one knew what vitamins were or even what power food had on the body (eg. When doctors were telling us that food we eat has nothing to do with cancer or health in general).

Someone great said, or maybe a lot of great people have said that what we know is so small compared to what we don’t know and even microscopic, compared to what we don’t know we don’t know. So, my point is that we name a series of symptoms B12 deficiency, but it could be that and something else entirely and maybe we won’t be living when science figures that out. Taking B12 might right the problem but may make wrong or mini-havoc somewhere else in the body. The body is without doubt a fine balance, an exceptional wealth of innate wisdom too complex for total understanding, in my opinion.

The problem with science when looking at how the things we eat affect the body is that every body is so unique, every one lives their lives in such unique ways, the way they eat, what they enjoy, where they live, who they live with etc.. It stems from where we came from – our parents – what we know as comfortable, home, good food – it is all so ingrained but it is even different from child to child in one family – how on earth does one expect to get solid results from such variables? There will be certain commonalities but is that enough?

We already know from experience that the same affliction can have a different cause and so needs a different approach, as well as taking into account the individuality of the person concerned. In my consultations, I have become acutely aware of the intricacies involved and it really can make a brain hurt if too much time is spent intellectualizing. Intuition has to be the deciding factor and that is a very far leap from science. My role is to get people on the whole grain, vegetable, fermented food etc. track and be a guide as ‘things’ start to unfold (discharge, discomfort etc.).

When I was 7/8 years old I had a fever and was very sick in bed and I know now that I had a profound realization that the doctor might not know how to make me better and that I was alone. I knew I could only rely on myself and that I knew nothing and I felt sick to my stomach at that at that feeling of aloneness. I describe it as feeling the very foundations of who you think you are falling away from you, knowing that there are no guarantees. I felt this again after being macrobiotic for a few years. It is an awful but wonderful feeling as an adult. We only have ourselves to rely on and it is good.

We can learn from others, of course, but we need to integrate that advice and then discard what isn’t true for us. Jessica Porter (“Hip Chicks” book) was saying on a macro chat line that she eats less rice now and more barley because she likes the effect it has on her body – she says it makes her more outgoing – although admitting that it doesn’t taste as good to her. I find that kind of dialogue interesting in macrobiotic discussions – the sort of food for thought that you don’t have to have a science degree to understand. You can take that information and try it out for yourself without injury and draw your own conclusions. This is the very essence of macrobiotics, I believe, making the knowledge your own, saying “yes that is true for me”.

People are always looking for certainties perhaps to make them feel safe. We categorize and pigeon-hole in a desperate attempt to organize and make sense of the senseless. It is fine to do that and be aware that it necessarily reduces possibilities. I like macrobiotics because of the idea of the infinite possibilities it gives my life. There are no hard core rules and no hard core outcomes. We cannot rely on anything or anyone and so it is true autonomy. It is self-discovery and we make the map on the journey. Unnerving perhaps, but what an adventure……

Practically speaking, I teach people how to cook, how to prepare things from scratch; how to change themselves, to steer themselves to better health and what I advocate is variety in all things. I was on a macrobiotic chat line last night and people are having oats for breakfast everyday and I think that is nuts – it sets you up for deficiencies. Some were saying they take supplements to cover themselves, equally crazy to me as the solution would be just more variety, which would make life more interesting anyway! This last year I have eaten chicken and turkey 5 times, more than in over 20 years of being macrobiotic, but somehow I felt that I wanted it, perhaps even needed it, but go figure? I consider myself mostly vegetarian because that works best for me in my daily life but I also am not rigid about it and I ‘listen’ to what my body is expressing – hopefully I am getting the right end of the stick – but if not, I will learn how to right that. I advocate movement and self-expression as well – living your life beyond the kitchen – I belly dance and walk my dog and garden in the summer and clean my own house – when the kids won’t help! I always want to try new things because I know I don’t know it all and so I stay open to possibilities.

I question every little thing that society tells me is ‘right’ from big questions as to whether to vaccinate my children, (which I didn’t) to the smallest detail, like locking my house at night (which I don’t do). Most of the time, the answers I get clearly are those based on a gut feeling rather than intellectual process. So I teach that too – how to develop your intuition.

So if you want to take B12 then by all means try it out, make notes and do your best to discern whether it is making a difference. And for me it is not the blood test that tells you it is making a difference but your own true feelings – with a blood test as validation if you want!

Macrobiotics can be very simplistic, it is true and sometimes that is just great to reduce something to its essence.

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Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article
by Steve Acuff

I want to reply to the 2 latest comments above concerning Carlo's article. First, Carlo deserves praise for his sharp analysis of some key problems in macrobiotics. This is not only interesting from a philosophical and theoretical standpoint, but also important because some children of macrobiotic people have suffered deficiencies from the lack of knowledge about nutrition.

Phiya is right to point out that macrobiotics should not be understood as veganism. However it seems odd that he approves of a vegan food regimen which must rely on supplements, as he does in his support of Dr. Barnard's supplemental veganism. Is that a natural way to eat? It is really irrelevant whether some people in India can live on purely vegan food.

The macrobiotic community is morally bound to prevent any child in this society from suffering deficiencies as a result of curiosity about the macrobiotic way of eating. In the 80's Michio Kushi's grandchild got a
serious vitamin B12 deficiency that was resolved with an injection by a doctor.

At that time in Connecticut there were several cases of nutritional deficiencies in children, which were repeated a short time later in Holland. I saw the little children in Holland with rickets (vitamin D
deficiency) and I was horrified. I was also angered by the babble from macrobiotic teachers
who were not particularly interested in protecting the children from this happening again.

It was rather a time to explain that the food guidelines were just fine as they were. I think it is outrageous that these incidents have not taught Phiya and the defenders of the Kushi standard way of eating how dangerous this near-vegan approach can be.

As Carlo rightly points out, Ohsawa listed 10 food plans as ways to health, 5 of which contain animal food. Kushi of course made a great contribution to the development of macrobiotics, but he simply does
not understand the weaknesses of his "Kushi diet".

Anna Rosenberg's contribution seems to me to be nothing but intellectual fluff. It is fine for each individual to experiment on the path of "self-discovery", but what about the kids?! They do not have the vitmain B12 stores from past animal food consumption. Anna's attitude is exactly the problem in macrobiotics.

She wrote a lengthy philosophical response, but never addressed the real issues Carlo raised. Approving of everything that is happening sounds cosy, but it is disastrous for the future of macrobiotics.

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Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article
by Dunja Seselja

After reading the article "Yin-Yang, Science and "Macrobiotic" Cancer" by Carlo Guglielmo, I felt a need to reply to this text. First of all, it is interesting how the scientific research and its results are
presented in this article as absolute facts, almost like pure "self-givennesses" that reveal the truth, in spite of the introductory "warning" related to the scientific method.

The author nevertheless, sticks to an approach to science, well known as scientific realism, which bares an enormous burden of proof, and this already when we talk about physics, not to mention medicine. There are many reasons, most of which are of pure logical nature, but let me just mention the most famous one (not only logically based), which the author himself points out:

scientific theories are constantly being falsified and replaced by "better" ones - which is the condition to speak at all of the possibility of the growth of scientific knowledge. This is the case already in physics, where the tests and experiments are far easier to control than in medical science. Medicine has always been a problematic science because of its unquestioned presumptions:

mechanical view on human body, unquestioned problem of mind-and-body relation, extremely complex calculations of mutual relation of factors constituting and influencing our body, etc. The field of medicine dealing with nutrition is one of those showing the biggest lacks exactly in these matters.

Now, Mr. Guglielmo says: "If we say that its [scientific] answers are incomplete and partial, and that this is a good reason for not taking them into consideration, this is even more trivial, because the goal of science
is not giving the final answers but only the most probable ones."

First of all, what does it mean that science is giving "the most probable answers"? If a theory is falsified (as the growth of scientific knowledge shows us), in how far were its results "the most probable"? They could have been just the most probable according the the present research, which has nothing to do
whatsoever with any kind of Truth or a "real" probability.

The fact that it was believed that the Earth is in the centre of the Universe, and that this was "the most probable" of all contemporary results many centuries ago, does not make this claim any more probable as seen from the perspective of the modern scientific thought.

To be more concrete, nutritional science has been changing its opinion ever since its constitution, creating myths at each stage of its development that were presented as "scientific facts". Thus, 20 years ago we had a myth of lack of proteins in vegetarian diet, then came the myth of the lack of calcium, then
the myth of the lack of particular amino-acids, and finally we have a myth of the vitamin B12.

It is interesting that each of these stages of the fight against the vegan diet was full of scientific researches, statistical data and examples. And equally interesting is the fact that at every new stage, the previous myth would be forgotten, not even mentioned as a reminder of the mythical past of scientific life. (The word "myth" is not used here as a mean of rhetorical brilliance, but according to the critical point of view which can be found in, for example, work of Paul Feyerabend - see his "Against Method".)

Mr. Guglielmo continues: "And while it is true that scientific data is often influenced by commercial, personal, or ideological factors, this is true for everything that human beings do, including what happens in the macrobiotic community, and this must be taken into consideration in drawing our personal conclusions about any subject." Nicely said. However, if this should be an argument for the theses presented in the article, then it contains the following logical mistake:

from the fact that both scientific data and macrobiotic
community are often influenced by commercial, personal and ideological factors, we should conclude that we should trust the first one. Well, this is a wrong conclusion, as it simply doesn't follow from the given premise.

The only thing we can derive from that premise is that results of such researches should be taken with skepticism and be compared to different researches and our own experience.
But let me shortly develop on the argument given by Mr. Guglielmo. We live in the world where meat and milk industry is gigantic and very powerful.

A huge number of scientific researches is being not only sponsored by it, but also directed so that the outcome fits its interests. Few years ago, when the vegan
lifestyle stated to grow more than ever before, meet and milk industry started to feel the loss of the consumers (especially in UK where the vegan movement became extremely strong).

It is no argument, but just an interesting "coincidence" that the B12 topic started to be researched exactly after this decrease of meet-and-milk consumers. What is even more surprising is that the research from 20 years ago, which showed that vegans are by far the healthiest humans, is suddenly forgotten. I am
referring here for example to the book of John Robbins, Diet for a New America from 1987 (which was nominated for the Pullitzer Price). Robbins' research shows the percentage of vegans suffering from heavy illnesses is enormously smaller compared to meat-eaters.

How suddenly vegans who lived 20 years ago had enough of B12 as well as other substances?
It is really a shame that even in these macrobiotic circles such propaganda finds its place.

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Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article by
Mieke Vervecken-Pieters

Thank you so much for this very interesting article, to which I agree
In our 30 years of macrobiotic practice and teaching we see that it is true that many macrobiotic friends, certainly in their beginning years have either a fear or denial towards scientific approaches. Most of us get over that after a while and learn how to integrate.

The problem is also however that very little or no scientific studies are done on macrobiotic lifestyle and diet. The reasons I can think of can be:

-no interest of society, that is not ready yet to acknowledge the responsibility of the individual towards his/her health

-no economic benefit for companies who often pay for studies and research
As for the number of people who developed cancer while practicing macrobiotics: no studies have been done, so it is difficult to judge whether macrobiotic people develop cancer to the same amount as others. I still think that in spite of some cases there is less cancer among macrobiotic people than among others.
Also other factors than food contributing to the development of cancer should be studied.

As for B12: Our family and many other macrobiotic families have participated in a study in the 80s of Dr. Deslypere from Gent. There were some problems but rather minor in Belgium. Same studies were done in Holland which showed serious deficiencies among some macrobiotic families. Only the Dutch study got international attention. It seems that negative results get much more attention.

However this issue needs very serious attention as deficiencies may easily arise. And macrobiotics has never claimed a meatless diet. Fish has always been a weekly part of our diet.

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Thank you for presenting this article. It addresses several issues that I've been wondering about (B12, Homocysteine, Fish Oils).

The yin-yang concepts vs scientific data was also very interesting. If either one or both are valid, they should pass close scrutiny. To avoid examining them for fear of finding mistakes/problems leads us down an ignorant & possibly dangerous road.

I hope that you can continue these discussions.

Thanks!

Dottie Roseboom

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What an inspiring article. It's about time someone said this!

Melissa Kushi

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Macrobiotics is about continuously discovering the biggest life and the biggest view of life. It is not about health, as many people think. In fact, it is not about any dietary plan. Macrobiotics is about life, which is continuously changing, and so does our diet.

The standard macrobiotic diet as presented by Michio and Aveline Kushi is a simple base for which to discover, learn, and grow. It is a starting point, and a returning point, not an ending point. It is a home where we can rest and recharge, but we don't have to always stay home. We can go out to eat and stay at a hotel, and it can be very nice and enjoyable, but we can't stay forever. It is too expensive and luxurious for us to live like that all the time, for most people.

We can't penetrate life's mysteries and wonders if we are always eating animal food. It is too excessive. It clogs our organs, our mind, and our heart. Most people have already consumed more than their life's supply of animal food, so why should it be reccomended for them to be eating more?

Science is not needed to live a big life, nor is any kind of safety, protection, or precaution. The biggest life is without a net. The biggest life risks all. Living safely with all kinds of protection is a small life. It is an illusion to think that we can actually protect ourselves from life's grasp anyway. Life has its way with us whether we like it or not. So nevermind. It is an illusionary net that people try and put up. Life has its way, and when we fall, there is no net. We hit the hard, cold, earth, and we kiss the foot of mystery.

What choice do we have but to live in the realization that there is no net. The alternative being to live religiously, thinking that there is something that can protect us from life as it is. What a waste of energy!

This is my opinion about that.

Joe Waxman

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Thanks for the Guglielmo article. I am in total agreement with Carlo's thinking. Actually, this is an open-minded macrobiotic perspective that is urgently needed in the macro community at this time. As you may be aware, I am active in advancing macrobiotic philosophy through the marriage of holism and scientific analysis, so I am certainly in favor of the type of balanced view that Mr. Guglielmo advocates.

Furthermore, I have experienced some of the health issues addresses in this article. After many years of macrobiotic living with inadequate exercise, some years ago I began a vigorous fitness habit, along with a necessary increase in macrobiotic quality animal foods. I have lived both sides of that lifestyle situation and can state from experience that a sedentary, quasi/vegan macrobiotic lifestyle can be improved with a broader approach.

David Harvey

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Thank you for such a great article.

I now appreciate Macrobiotics more whole heartily. After being raised a too strict Catholic (perhaps a
redundant statement), I have to be mindful that I don't follow and believe in absolutes!

Lisa

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This article is brilliant…truly brilliant…I love how much I continue to learn from teachers like carlo.

Christina Pirello

Posted- January 2006
 

 

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