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Questioning "The Cancer Prevention Diet"

How is it that Michio and Aveline Kushi, both of who practiced macrobiotics for many decades (half a century, actually) developed cancer? Michio's cancer, colon cancer, is known to be diet related. I know that people will respond, 'macrobiotics is not necessarily about living long, but living well'. I understand this.

But the diet was promoted as a diet that prevents cancer (The Cancer Prevention Diet). What puzzles me is that macrobiotics seemed to ignore medical literature that almost conclusively proved that certain foods were beneficial.....tomatoes are linked to a lower rate of prostate cancer, salmon helps the heart, etc.

Yet, these foods are frowned on in macrobiotic literature. Many true macrobiotic followers die before attaining age 80 (Lima Ohsawa excepted) or develop serious illnesses before age 80, as did Michio.

Yet, I know people who eat meat and eggs and are healthy and strong after attaining age 80, with no degenerative illnesses. My opinion is: the macrobiotic diet is a good diet that can prevent heart disease. However, when it comes to cancer, the simple fact is that people get cancer who have faithfully followed the diet for decades. Would anyone care to comment?

- Harold

Read the replies below from

Bill Tara - Simon G. Brown - Verne Varona - Steven Acuff - Ronald R. Parks, MD - Phiya Kushi





Macrobiotics is a cancer prevention and longevity promoting diet. Cancer of any type is not caused by a single factor but rather by a whole host of very complex factors. If one is a student of karma you
will see that many underlying prior actions or choices contribute to any given outcome. The only way to modify outcome to the extent that it can be modified, is by learning, study, making more discerning
choices and by getting closer to true knowledge by spiritual development.

Macrobiotics is not just a diet, but a program of learning, study and personal growth, including the development of better discernment and choices around food, diet and other environmental and lifestyle choices. Knowledge about food choice in the macrobiotic diet is still evolving and much is still to be learned from some of the early teachers in terms of their ideas and mistakes and from the evolving medical literature and evidence based

Ronald R. Parks, MD



One of the great fallacies of almost any approach to health or healing is the idea that any sickness or disease can be put down to a single factor. This is particularly true of the, "diseases of civilization", such as cancer, heart disease and some immune disorders.

I believe they are most often a result of very complicated dynamics of physical, environmental, spiritual and psychological processes. They are a reflection of our own behavior as well as the environments and societies we live in.

It is unfortunate that the macrobiotic philosophy, that presents so much potential, has been made smaller rather than larger in it's scope. This is changing through reflection on our collective experience and some spirited debate. I hope that we can all learn from our mistakes, correct our interpretations of macrobiotic potential and move into the future with an improved understanding of health and sickness.

This can be done with complete respect for the great work done by Oshawa, the Aihara's the Kushi's and the many valuable teachers who have had the courage and will to buck the tides of conventional medicine and nutrition and opened new horizons to explore.

Humility and compassion will show the way.

Bill Tara

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Here are my thoughts.

In my opinion and experience macrobiotics is not a guarantee of not getting cancer. I agree that some of the books, teachings and consultations have wrongly given this impression but common sense would tell us that when there are so many factors that contribute to the cause of cancer - including; diet, genetic make up, air quality, water, emotional well-being, stress, exercise, pollution, smoking and emf just working on one of these, diet, will not guarantee immunity.

Up until people started to reach old age claims were made about macrobiotics that could not be disputed and the problem with this was that some people assumed the macrobiotic diet was complete and perfect in terms of cancer prevention.

Up until then macrobiotic teachers rarely had cancer and if they did it was claimed it was because they did not practice macrobiotics properly. Now that we know this is not true it opens up the discussion again as to what the ideal macrobiotic diet should be. Clearly we are not there yet and as you say there may be foods that have been excluded that could now be brought in.

I think the typical macrobiotic diet as generally practiced is slightly acid forming and my own crude tests on my own and others saliva and urine suggest that we could become more alkaline by eating more vegetables than is normally recommended.

I know these test are only a rough indication and do not accurately reflect the acid alkaline balance of the cells or take into account that cancer cell clusters can create and maintain there own acid environment but to me it demonstrates that there are other ways of looking at our macrobiotic diet and making adjustments. Perhaps it is time to look again at this part of our macrobiotic history.

George Ohsawa’s macrobiotics drew on Zen Buddhism and in this respect it is possible that we became too static, defensive and entrenched during the eighties and nineties. Perhaps it is only by being more open, flexible and honest that we can keep learning and adapting collectively.

I have witnessed George Ohsawa’s spirit of non credo being applied frequently and widely but to me it is most powerful if we focus it on ourselves and in this context our own practice of macrobiotics and certainly any beliefs in the macrobiotic doctrines or concepts. I suppose we should all be a little more like viruses constantly trying new approaches, learning and adapting to ensure we increasing our chances of finding our ideal diet.

So for me macrobiotic people suffering from cancer does in a way free us up to ask question and engage more openly in a communal exchange on how to keep macrobiotics alive and moving forwards.

As a footnote I would like to point out that living until 80 does exceed the average life expectancy for the USA and most of Europe and that we do not know what percentage of people practicing a macrobiotic diet get cancer. As I have said in previous replies it would be unrealistic to expect anyone eating macrobiotics to never get cancer and therefore it is really a question of to what extent people eating a macrobiotic diet are likely to get cancer compared to people eating as you say live on meat and eggs.

Thank you for your interesting question.

Simon G. Brown

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I appreciate this question, however, it comes from the same simplistic mindset that macrobiotic followers accuse western science of, and this is namely, "magic bullet" thinking. Assuming that one paradigm of health care will suffice for deficiencies in all others. There are no guarantee's here. Never were. Just the writings of Ohsawa, who swore that brown rice could cure everything under the sun.

Forget macrobiotics for a moment--If we look at the world's oldest living cultures that had farming practices, you find that they all included grain in their food preparation. They all ate various kinds of vegetables and beans and fruits. Island and coastal cultures often ate different varieties of sea vegetables as well. If meats were available, or affordable, they consumed them, but in limited quantities.

You'll note that in every archeological dig ever publicized from traditional cultures, never was a refrigerator discovered. If they slaughtered an animal, they shared it and consumed most of it fairly quickly.

I think that many of the macrobiotic mistakes made during it's almost 50 year promotion, have to do with excess salt consumption, narrow eating, plentiful flour inhaling and, overeating. Also, for many, too sudden a restriction in animal proteins and the use of excessive oil (tempura, sauté' dishes, nuts, etc.) don't help the issue.

I see a great deal of emotional and physical tension among macrobiotic people; tension about what they can't and cannot eat, fear about going past boundaries that in some cases were made for others and unfortunately act as a template--a conceptual one.

You have to also remember that western science is reductionistic--they are trained to look at parts in an effort to recognize that whole; rarely does this work. So, while tomatoes might contain lycopene, something that has proved helpful for prostate conditions, the rest of the fruit (bonatically, it's classified as a fruit) contains acids that in many cases can trigger arthritic symptoms--but not in all people. Case in point, below:

The "More Than A Mouthful Study" - Honolulu, Hawaii -
July 16 to August 5th, 2006 - with Terry Shintani, MD, and Verne Varona

Just recently, I finished a controlled diet and lifestyle experiment with the help of a local medical staff, that was filmed as part of a documentary feature film that I am producing and directing. It has been three years in the making. From a public lecture of over 1600 people that Dr. Shintani and I presented in Honolulu, 24 people were selected to be observed for 21 days.

The group was medically monitored four times weekly and during this period, blood work was taken three times. We fed them a strict vegetarian based diet of whole grains, vegetables, beans, sea vegetables and fruits. The food was cooked in a variety of styles, however, a small daily salad was offered once daily.

We used small amounts of salt, oil, miso and tamari as seasoning. The grain percentage exceeded no more than about 35 to 40%. We cooked in several culinary styles, from Native American Indian dishes, Native Hawaiian dishes (poi, sweet potato, fruits), East Indian fare and others.

Participants were given pedometers and encouraged to walk a minimum of 10,000 steps daily. As I cannot reveal the specific results at this time, since this was also an academic project, I can say that the results, after three weeks, were nothing short of amazing; people medically and visually transformed and dropped all kinds of medications for conditions that they were told they'd have to be on throughout their lifetime.

The interesting thing was that for the five arthritic's in the group, although there were plenty of nightshades (particularly tomatoes and potatoes) throughout the three weeks, each individual still experienced dramatic reversal of arthritic pain and cessation of medications. So, it's rarely a "one-size-fits-all" issue.

Medical literature has some pertinent validity when it comes to nutrition, however, it's focus is on part and not whole. This presents, as I point out in my book, grave misconceptions about what foods are really good and nourishing, and what foods instigate sickness.

Personally, from over 35 years of macrobiotic study and counseling thousands of clients in private and clinical situations, I think the macrobiotic position of nightshades being the arthritic's nightmare, might be a bit exaggerated.

I remember when Muramoto arrived in Boston during the early 70s, immediately he began recommending a diet plentiful in nightshades, based on witnessing conditions that seemed very tight, overly salty and nutritionally restrictive. For some, it worked. I always thought it somewhat comical to see macrobiotic people avoiding nightshades like the plague, yet, gorging on desserts, nicotine and mounds of nut butter, tempura and heavily salted food, somewhat sanctimoniously and getting very little exercise.

Holding our macrobiotic elders up to the magnifying glass as paragons of good health, has proven, disastrous. Who knows why they've had their share of sickness? There could be so may reasons, from WW II radiation residual exposure, to genetic inclination to...well, anything. To say that a macrobiotic teacher died because of flour products, or a coffee habit, defies all logic and commonsense.

We also put the concept and practice of "life purpose" in a proverbial back seat that is barely acknowledged, yet, constitutes a very definite and proven reason for survival in people recovering from sickness, as well as people noted for longevity. That some of our teachers are still holding up, despite non-stop work schedules, frequent eating out and minimum activity, is a testament to a diet, at least in principle, that must still be offering some kind of positive support.

For a short time, in the past, I sold roofing and insulation. This required me to do attic and wall inspections. I learned that early California home construction was basically lathe and plaster, a solid wall.

Most modern construction is the opposite; a wood frame with two coverings of plywood and insulation thrown in the hollow space between. This "prefab" (as in "prefabricated") style has little of the strength and rugged longevity that older homes have. I use this example in counseling people, particularly men, when I explain the meaning of, "constitution," or 'good genetics.' Some folks have hearty stock, comparable to that lathe and plaster structure and some have prefab bodies.

This may allow certain individuals to eat more impulsively and a diet of greater variety, including foods that would frighten the kuzu out of someone--so to speak. I see this, here in Hawaii, among the Asian community.

If you look in the daily newspaper obits, you see the average age of passing is between 85 and 104. These are some of the people that I see in small groups, doing daily Tai'Chi early mornings in the malls./ They are thin, friendly and vibrant. They really don't eat a lot of volume, seem to be extremely active and have very little stress that is unmanageable.

As a cancer book author, I still study medical updates on cancer as well as the information that the alternative medical community has been researching. From all accounts, it seems that the seven common denominators behind cancer progression have more to do with:

1. Exposure to overwhelming chemical toxicity, both in the environment and our food.

2. Stressful lives, in our relationships and in the workplace.

3. From poorly balanced food that hinders immune function and the nourishes cancer cells.

4. From irregular blood sugar patterns (this has to do with meal frequency as well as extremes in eating).

5. From poor sleep patterns that interfere with our immunity.

6. In some limited cases, from genetic predisposition. While this may have to do with duplicating parental patterns in eating and drinking, we can also inherit these conditions that by our lifestyle, can enliven the cancer tendency.

7. From lives that feel meaningless. Without purpose, we lose our boundary for self-challenge, we become self-absorbed and more fear prone. I believe that this kind of self-generated internal stress now can be a strong set-up for degenerative sickness.

I really don't believe that one diet, or dietary mishaps, are the exclusive reason for cancer development. This is naive thinking--and it's fostered, ironically, by many health-oriented movements.

Hamlet once told Horatio: "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, then are dreamt of in your philosophy." It's a point to be considered.

Hope this is helpful.
Verne Varona

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Your question is certainly relevant, considering the fact that macrobiotics has prided itself on being optimal for cancer patients. Macrobiotics is a philosophy of life and the teachers have developed their food
recommendations based very much on this philosophy. Macrobiotics is not a cutting-edge approach to nutrition and there are several "fatal" errors.

There has been very little curiosity about improving the guidelines that are presented in spite of the degenerative illness in several of its proponents. Because it is a philosophy, it is sometimes argued that there should be no guidelines.

This is silly, since newcomers need some way of beginning. I lecture and counsel a lot and know that there is great interest in finding out what is true and what is not in the confusing realm of nutrition.

Those who chide me and others for responding to this need apparently want to keep macrobiotics
as an exclusive club of philosophers. This is unfortunate, since macrobiotics can help so many people who are not philosophically inclined.

As for Michio, he has smoked and drunk a lot of coffee for several decades. Both are well-known risk factors for cancer. Michio erroneously believed that macrobiotic food protected him from the harmful effects.

Then there is the food itself. Macrobiotic people tend to assume that the food is right as it is, and that we should thus look at the more abstract, speculative causes of cancer. This is foolish. The information connecting cancer with deficiencies in nutrients such as essential fatty acids and vitamin D is very impressive, and these are critical issues for macrobiotics.

However they not get much attention in macrobiotic circles. There is also an element of near-veganism within macrobiotics, which is itself risky business.

Aveline had cervical cancer, which has been connected to a low-fat diet in German cancer resaearch. Fat-soluble vitamins are necessary for a healthy cervix. Macrobiotics jumped on the low-fat bandwagon, which was a disasterous mistake.

Without enough fats you get problems with fat-soluble vitamins. Nathan ritikin, the founder of the radically low-fat Pritikin diet, got leukemia. Rather than adjusting the recommendations to new knowledge, macrobiotics continued to put all its eggs in the yin-yang basket. I remember hearing that Aveline had a yang cancer and needed to eat more green veg. and salads.

Your example of tomatoes is an interesting point. If we look with the "macro view", then tomatoes contain not only the anti-oxidant lycopene, which everyone raves about, but also several nasty substances, that go unnoticed.

The solanine and chaconine are neural toxins which reduce neurological function (in Anglo-Saxon English that means they make you dumber). These nightshades also contain panhemaglutanins which make the blood sticky. Often I have seen macrobiotic people "widen" their food choices with the
nightshades, rather than something more sensible like cod liver oil.

The value of macrobiotic thinking is that it helps to see the whole package rather than fixating on small details such as lycopene. That makes it easier to get a proper overview. It is typical of conventional medical thinking to look only at isolated bits and pieces, and as is painfully obvious, orthodox medicine has failed miserably.

I disagree that what is normally understood as macrobiotic food is healthy for the heart. Many people still have not got the subject of cooking oil right, but that is another story itself.

Steven Acuff

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I showed this question to Michio on the way to the airport as he was departing yet once again for a multi-city lecture tour in Japan. He furrowed his brow saying that he had answered this question so many times in seminars in the past several years. I pointed out to him that the problem was not that he answered it but that not many actually heard it. I then proceeded to ask him how he explain why he and Aveline got cancer in very simple terms for everyone. He said simply,"We became too yang."

I have my own thoughts about this and have also addressed this many times in the past. Here are some more.

I think the underlying problem has nothing to do with what appears to be a contradiction but stems from the evolution of the macrobiotic movement and Michio's efforts (and his predecessor, George Ohsawa) to promote macrobiotics in as many ways as possible.

A significant moment in the history of the macrobiotic movement was when Dr. Anthony J. Sattiliro's recovery story appeared in Life Magazine which generated a tremendous amount of interest in macrobiotics to heal cancer. From that moment on much effort was placed to meet that demand and promote macrobiotics as a solution for cancer. Prior to that Michio's macrobiotic teachings emphasized intution, free will, living life's dream as well as, of course, learning the order of the universe and yin and yang. It was also about creating one peaceful world one blood cell at a time.

But when Sattilaro's story hit the news, there was all of a sudden tremendous interest in macrobiotics as a therapy especially for cancer. In response to that Michio and his associates shifted the macrobiotic presentation as a diet for cancer (and for many other diseases). Many people actually benefitted from this and were able to recover from cancer and many other diseases (some even from AIDS). But what was originally considered to a philosophy of intuition and liberation (where man can eat anything! - see Book of Macrobiotics by Michio Kushi ) it became rigid dietary guidelines that mimiced conventional medical and nutritional presentations of the day.

However, the bottomline of Michio presentation has always been that a human being should be free to eat anything and should tirelessly follow his/her dream day in and day out. Sickness and other life problems are to be embraced fully with open arms and in gratitude.

Why do people get sick? Ultimately, it is the person's own choosing which they helped to manifest through their diet and lifestyle choices. So really the contradictions only persist when one maintains "macrobiotics" rigid or fixed system and believe the guidelines to be the absolute rule when the only rule the Michio and Ohsawa every really intended for anyone to follow is nature herself.

So, in one sense there are mistakes and incongruities in the macrobiotic presentation that should be corrected, but in another, there is no problem and that really depends on how you live your own life and from what perspective you choose to live from.

Phiya Kushi

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Follow up

Thank you. Here are my thoughts.

I appreciate Phiya's comments. If I understand his points, the only reason macrobiotics was promoted as a cancer prevention (or curing) diet was because of the Satillaro article and as an inducement to others to follow the philosophy. On one level this thought makes me somewhat uncomfortable (i.e., hey, it is in actuality not necessarily a cancer prevention diet....we just said that to get you interested in it). I suppose there is nothingn intrinsically wrong with this, but I suppose I and others took Michio and other authors at their word....the diet was being promoted as a cancer prevention diet.

Now that macrobiotic leaders are getting diet related cancers the answer was not really to be promoted as a cancer prevention diet after all.

Please understand I am certainly no critic of the diet. It mirrors the diets recommended by many authorities now (low saturated fat, high complex carbohydrate, low protien diet), so Michio was definitely a
step ahead of everyone in that regard. As for Michio's comment that he has explained this so many times and that he was too yang......actually, many people did not know Michio has developed colon cancer and are learning of it now.

I just recently learned of it. So, his explanation was not known because his illness was not known by

As for being too father-in-law is almost 81; he is in excellent health (total cholesterol 130; PSA <1; etc.). He is active and enjoys life. He grew up on a farm and his whole life he ate (and continues to eat) 2 eggs a day (that is 700 per year), meat the two other meals, and he has smoked 1 pack of cigarrettes per day since he was 17 years old. He is lean and fit.

So, he eats a more yang diet than Michio ever dreamed of eating.....yet it is Michio who develops
the one cancer that is almost conclusively proven to be diet-related. I am not sure what my point is here, except that perhaps being too yang is not the answer for if anyone is too yang it is my father in law and
he has not developed any illnesses whatsoever.

I have heard of so many people like this......old timers who have grown up on a farm and have a
solid constitution and live good and well while 'violating' the principles of yin-yang.

One final responder said what my question demonstrates the 'simplistic thinking....' or something to that effect. It seems when someone questions anything to do with macrobiotics they get this
respsonse.....we questioners just do not get it....we are all too simplistic and do not see the real issues. Actaully, my questions are logical and many people have the same questions and would like to hear
the responses that have been posted. Thanks, all.

- Harold

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