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Is the Macrobiotic Diet an Anti-Cancer Diet?

We asked a list of macrobiotic counselors and educators below about macrobiotics and cancer and Cheryl Rock
comment that;

"It's a big stretch to call the macrobiotic diet an anticancer diet. While the diet does call for a lot of vegetables,
It's low in fruit, It's low in calcium and vitamin D."
It's low in energy and protein,
She noted. "Over time, protein and calorie deficits can harm the immune system, which may impair the body's ability to fight cancer."

Extract from a report by Cheryl Rock,
a University of Michigan expert on nutrition and cancer.

Click on the names below

Gale Jack - Rosemary Traill - Mina Dobic
Gordon Alan Saxe, MD, PhD - Carl Ferre, for gomf
Sandra Goodman







I have had personal experience with macrobiotics, not for cancer, over 20 years ago, with profound effects and feel that macrobiotics, properly interpreted and understood by the individual, offers many therapeutic benefits.

As the decades have passed and my expertise in the field of nutrition and cancer has expanded, I have come to the conclusion that, just as every individual is biochemically and metabolically unique, and just as cancers are such diverse entities, that macrobiotics for the appropriate person, applied in its truly intended form, i.e. balance, can be very effective.

I agree with much of what the individuals below have said, particularly with regard to flexibility, and feel that much work could be done to rehabilitate the somewhat lowly position macrobiotics has for cancer outside of the macrobiotic community.

Sandra Goodman, Ph.D.




Regarding Dr. Cheryl Rock:

I know Dr. Rock very well. We were colleagues many years ago at the University of Michigan and are now both faculty members in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. I have worked with her on a couple of studies and we have co-authored a few publications over the years. She is a nationally renowned expert in the area of nutrition and cancer as well as in carotenoid research. While she and I bring different philosophies and perspectives on the issue of nutrition and cancer to the table, she has supported me in my work and I greatly respect and admire the work she is doing. While we debate issues, I value her ideas and opinions and readily acknowledge that she has challenged me to reconsider many of my own views.

Regarding macrobiotics as an "anti-cancer diet":

I do not think of macrobiotics as an "anti-cancer diet." I believe this is anathema to the spirit of macrobiotics (as expressed by Ohsawa, Kushi, and many others) and, technically, is also not scientifically correct. We need to discuss this issue from both Eastern and Western perspectives to arrive at a deeper and more precise understanding.

Regarding issues of the nutritional soundness of "the diet":

1. This is an absurd issue! As you know, macrobiotics is far more than a fixed dietary plan for cancer. I think we degrade it when we compare a fixed version of it with current fad diets (Atkins Plan, the South Beach Diet, Eat Right for Your Type, etc.

2. If we are talking about the "Standard Macrobiotic Diet" (as proposed by Kushi), I agree with some, but not all, of Dr. Rock's critiques. It probably is too high in grain and too low in fruit for most people, especially here in San Diego!

3. While it is certainly possible to obtain adequate calcium and vitamin D following a wide macro diet, the rigid practices of some people may result in deficiencies of these nutrients. Robert Pirello, the husband of the macrobiotic chef Christina Pirello, is writing a book on this issues and addressing the barely discussed problem of osteoporosis in long-time practitioners of narrow macrobiotic diets.

4. In some cancers, calcium may be protective (possibly colon?) whereas in others, it may be harmful (prostate?). The scientific jury is still out, however.

5. Regarding protein: Protein malnutrition (kwashiorkor) and protein/energy malnutrition (marasmus) can be seen in starvation and in cachexia (wasting seen in late stage cancer). They are indeed associated with immune impairment. However, these deficiency states are not seen in otherwise healthy individuals following well-balanced macro diets (although they could, in theory, develop in those on very narrow macro diets). In our society, the problems of overnutrition and obesity are of far greater concern. Still, cancer patients are extremely vulnerable and need very careful guidance, not rigidity and dogma!

6. Regarding energy (calories), less may be preferable - at least as far as cancer goes. It is well established that the single most effective nutritional intervention for preventing or slowing cancer growth in lab animals is caloric restriction. It is hard to study this in humans because it is difficult to maintain the level of control over people's diets needed to investigate this. To the extent that macro diets are low in energy, they may offer a practical means to achieve caloric restriction in humans. This may provide at least one scientific explanation for some of the documented cancer remissions in patients who have adopted macro diets. Further, caloric restriction results in fuller development and maturation of the immune system and a slower drop off of immunity with aging.

My experiences with macrobiotics and cancer:

I have been studying this area for over 20 years. I got into it in 1981 to help my dad who was suffering from cancer. I formally studied and received certification in macrobiotics from the East-West Foundation (before the Kushi Institute even existed). My teachers included Murray and Pam Snyder, Michael Rossoff, Denny Waxman, Bill Spear, Bill Tara, Shizuko Yamamoto, Michio and Aveline Kushi, and many others. I also attempted to verify whether macrobiotics was scientifically supported. I spent much time at macrobiotic conferences surveying cancer patients and in medical libraries scouring the literature.

My Master's Thesis at Tulane University, on macrobiotics and pancreatic cancer, was the first and, to date, only systematic published study of macrobiotics and cancer. Admittedly, this study was flawed scientifically but was nonetheless published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 1992 (the first author was my department Chair, Dr. James Carter). There have been a few published reports of documented best cases (such as those presented at the National Cancer Institute in 2002), but these constituted selected anecdotes, not systematic research.

While at the University of Michigan, I conducted my PhD dissertation on nutrition and breast cancer, focusing on diet as a predictor of tumor characteristics. This study was published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in 1994 (Dr. Rock was the first author
While in medical school at Michigan State University, I did additional work on breast cancer, examining diet and body weight as predictors of the risk of recurrence and survival. This study was published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment in 1999 (Dr. Rock was a co-author on this study as well

After medical school and during my residency in Preventive Medicine at the University of Massachusetts, I completed a small pilot intervention study, inspired by my earlier experiences with macrobiotics, on the effects of a macro-like diet and stress reduction on tumor progression in recurrent prostate cancer. We observed universal weight loss (averaging 14 pounds over 4 months) and a 75% reduction in the rate of disease progression (as assessed by changes in the rate of increase in prostate specific antigen blood levels). This study was published in the Journal of Urology in 2001.

Building on the earlier work at the University of Massachusetts, I am currently conducting a randomized clinical trial here at UCSD on diet and stress reduction in recurrent prostate cancer. We are teaching a diet based primarily on increased whole cereal grains and phytonutrient-rich vegetables and secondarily on increased beans/legumes/soyfoods and fruit/seeds/nuts. We are limiting red meat, poultry, dairy foods, and refined carbohydrates. Stress reduction includes meditation, yoga, and chi gong. This study should be completed in about two years. If successful, we may expand it into a multi-center trial and focus on other stages of prostate cancer as well as other cancers.

Even though I question and challenge dogmatic interpretations,
I continue to stay involved with macrobiotics, present regularly at macrobiotic conferences, carry out research inspired by it, and counsel patients on how to practice it alone or integrate it with conventional medicine.

Gordon Alan Saxe, MD, PhD


In response to your question, I'll first quote or summarize some thoughts from George Ohsawa's _Macrobiotic Guidebook for Living. He states, "Throughout history, men have lived happy lives without complicated analytical concepts of nutrition. Although our ancestors gave little thought to apples, they were healthier, happier, and wiser than we are. Even beasts seem to be able to live joyfully without concerning themselves with chemistry or scientific detail. Perhaps there is hope for us too."
If we use an analytical approach to the right food, the right quantity, the right method of preparation and the right manner in which to eat, it's a difficult question to answer. Who can say how much protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and calories each person needs?

Now my words: To put our health in the hands of anyone is risky. The macrobiotic way is to educate each individual in the understanding of the energy of food and how to choose by yin and yang, according to environment, constitution, age, condition and what you wish to accomplish in life. (For example, if you're doing heavy physical work you will want to take in more protein than if you want to write a book or do other mental activity.) Initially we need to be guided by others as to how to choose and take our food but, unlike the modern way, in time this leads to freedom so that we can ultimately judge according to our intuition - by seeing how our digestion goes, how peaceful we feel, how much energy we have, etc.
The macrobiotic way strengthens the immune system rather than weakens it.

In the case of cancer, I have known people who have fully recovered and gone on to live 20 years or more and are still living. In other cases I have seen people extend their lives for 4 or 5 years. And, unfortunately, I have seen people who tried macrobiotics briefly and passed on. What we are doing with macrobiotics is regaining our judgement and intuition and that takes time and a supportive environment and the will to develop our cooking and persist in this way in spite of great opposition from modern society. Narrow is the way and straight is the path and few there are who can understand and follow it once they have cancer. Furthermore, though all cancers that I know of are caused by extremes of both yin and yang, the spread of cancer is yin so often very careful guidance and very strict application of the principles is necessary during the recovery period.

Just the addition of fruit or oil to people with certain types of cancer such as leukemia can prevent their recovery.
Many cancers are caused by excess fat and protein so initially the diet to bring the body into balance should contain much less of both and the quality of protein needs to be all plant quality. On the other hand, people with yang types cancer such as prostate can sometimes have a bit of fruit and white meat fish. And taking vitamins as supplements can often upset the body's balance because all vitamins and minerals work in harmony. If we take one vitamin, it may cause a deficiency in others--for example, vitamin B is a more yang vitamin and it may discharge vitamin C in the body. But plants have a natural balance so it's best to correct any deficiency through good quality foods.

Finally, some medical treatments have a more yinnizing effect - such as radiation; others have a more yangizing effect - such as yin and yang are good to know in choosing medical treatment as well.

Gale Jack




I think you should ask this question to the thousands of people who have healed themselves on the macro diet, including Elaine Nussbaum (Recovery from Cancer), or the people in Ann Fawcett's book, (30 Stories of Cancer Recovery), or Michio Kushi's book, The Cancer Prevention Book. Christina Pirello, also recovered from leukemia and wrote Cooking the Whole Foods Way.

Fruit does have vitamins and minerals, but it also has sugar and is very acidic. I think even the medical profession knows that an acidic condition can excaserbate any condition in the body. So, fruit is wonderful in moderation for people in good health, but someone with cancer needs to be very careful.

We get tons of calcium from green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds and sea vegetables. Too much protein has been linked to osteoporosis, which is highest in the US, the Uk and the Scandinavian countries, which ironically get more protein and calcium than people in the poor countries and the Asian countries, where osteoporosis is practically non-existant.
As far as energy and calories are concerned, I think most of us feel better and have more energy on the macro diet, than we ever had in our lives.

I'm working with a young lady right now, who's cancer is not only in remission, but who's allergies and asthma have cleared up and who is also off her thyroid mediction.
Her children's allergies have cleared up, her husband has lost 25 lbs. and her mother has lost 20 lbs

Also, the China Project, which was headed by Dr. Colin Cambell from Cornell U. in NY and other studies have shown that people from the Asian countries have a much lower rate of cancer as well as all other degenerative diseases than we do in the West, because they're not eating this very high fat diet that we do here in the US.
They still eat mostly grains, vegetables and a little fish or other animal food in small amounts, more like a side dish.

Rosemary Traill


I am a macrobiotic educator and counselor and certified nutritionist. I am also 18 years macrobiotic and a cancer survivor. It’s no stretch for me to call macrobiotics an anticancer diet.

Regarding protein: my entire family, husband and 2 children adopted MACROBIOTIC LIFESTYLE the same time I did. At that time my daughter was 6 years old, she’s now 23. And son was 16 and now 32. They have no complaints about anything being missing in their life – both are healthy and happy young people. They are also cooking for themselves, even though they are both full time students. None of us has seen a doctor in 17 years. Our kitchen is our pharmacy of life. And it’s open and busy all day long. We create our health and we become our own doctor. People who eat out a lot, don’t want to spend time in the kitchen where they can find the cure, they complain the most, are looking for something else. More than 75% of all food on market today is genetically modified and radically interferes with natural balance of the body, mind and spirit.

Many of their friends who ate a lot of animal protein were suffering from allergies, insomnia, depression, and PMS until they stopped eating eggs, meat, dairy, sugar. They are today happy young people, very successful in all their pursuits and they improved their people skills. I have met hundreds of them and am speaking from personal experience.

People who think we don’t get enough protein, are overeating protein. Please read The Macrobiotic Way, page 206 – proves that macrobiotic people eating rice and beans, vegetables, sea vegetables GET MORE PROTEIN EACH DAY (without the adverse side effects of animal products) - than Americans eating standard American diet. There is protein in grains, beans, soy products, sea vegetables, Bancha Tea, vegetables. They are all rich in protein and all amino acids. Short grain brown rice is first, soy products second in amount of protein.

Diet is only part of the macrobiotic way of life. Living in harmony with nature is the highest achievement for mankind. How could anyone complain about having a long and happy life which is the meaning of macrobiotics.

Please read a new release which is one of the best books every written on the subject of macrobiotics, entitled The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health

Mina Dobic


In the early 1990s at a meeting of macrobiotic educators in Miami, Florida, many argued for testing of "the macrobiotic diet" to show its worthiness in countering diseases, including cancer. I argued against it then and I am still opposed to such a ridiculous undertaking. The so-called "the macrobiotic diet" has very little to do with true macrobiotics. In the interest of space I will not write here how and why this has occurred other than to point those interested to my series published in Macrobiotics Today magazine in four installments under the tile, "The Real Macrobiotic Diet."

The bottom line is that macrobiotics is a set of universal (and dietary) principles used for one's benefit physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually depending on the level of understanding and use. One of the goals of macrobiotic practitioners is to elevate consciousness in order to make the most appropriate daily choices for whatever one wants to accomplish, including a remedy for any disorder.

There simply are as many appropriate macrobiotic diets as there are people in the world. Every person is different. Every disease is different, even though it may be called by the same name. Two people with lung cancer may need very different approaches in terms of diet, lifestyle changes, attitude and spiritual adjustments, and so on. And, the approach most likely would need to change over time.

If one truly needs fruit in order to heal, the macrobiotic thing to do would be to eat fruit. The choice of which fruit to choose would be made based on many macrobiotic principles - likewise with calcium, vitamin D, protein, and calories. If one is practicing macrobiotics appropriately, she or he would not overly restrict themselves to the point of harming the immune system or impairing their body in any way.

Of course, if one is practicing macrobiotics inappropriately, experience has shown that harm can be done. Whatever can be of benefit also can be of harm - what has a front has a back in macrobiotic terms. Over the years I have seen many people who have had great success using macrobiotic principles to counter cancer and many other ailments. To be fair I have also seen some who did not fare so well. However, everyone I have known with more than an introductory macrobiotic understanding who has recovered from whatever disease they had using appropriate macrobiotic choices.

George Ohsawa said that any disease, including cancer, could be "cured" in ten days if the appropriate action were taken. However, he went on to say that some people can never be "cured." The longer I study Ohsawa, the more I understand what he meant. For Ohsawa, the "cure" occurs when one's mentality changes and when one accepts total responsibility for their disease. True healing occurs at a much deeper level than the physical cessation of symptoms. I invite nutritionists and those beginning a macrobiotic practice to study macrobiotics more intently in order to deepen their understanding and the roots of true healing.

Carl Ferre
for George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation


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