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?
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
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
Humility and compassion will show the way.
back to the top
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
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
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 Ohsawas 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 Ohsawas 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
back to the top
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
back to the top
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
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
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
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
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.
back to the top
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.
back to the top
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
Now that macrobiotic leaders are getting diet related cancers
the answer is....it 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 yang....my 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 point...one 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.