By Phiya Kushi
Although many persons had experienced remarkable recoveries with macrobiotics throughout the 60s and 70s it wasn't until around 1980 when the case of Dr. Anthony J. Sattilaro was published in Life Magazine (and was later recounted in his book entitled "Recalled By Life") that macrobiotics became popularly associated with cancer. The story of a medical doctor using diet to heal himself where his own medicine failed him was news and subsequently brought much attention to macrobiotics as a possible cancer therapy.
From that time on many individuals healed themselves from a variety of cancers. You can read or hear some of their stories through the links posted in my blog here. Many of the recovery stories are quite remarkable and several have written books about their own stories. These include the following:
1. Macrobiotic Miracle: How Vermont Family Overcame Cancer by Virginia Brown
2. Confessions Of A Kamikaze Cowboy by Dirk Benedict
3. Recovery From Cancer: The Remarkable Story Of One Woman's Struggle With Cancer And What She Did To Beat The Odds by Elaine Nussbaum
4. When Hope Never Dies: One Woman's Remarkable Recovery From Cancer And The Natural Program That Saved Her Life by Marlene McKenna
5. My Beautiful Life: How Macrobiotics Brought Me From Cancer To Radiant Health by Mina Dobic
These are just a handful of the countless recovery stories that many experienced not just from cancer but from a wide variety of illnesses of which there were or is no medical cure.
It is important to note that over the years, many did not get well for a variety of reasons including:
1. Their cancer was too far advanced
2. They were using a variety of methods in addition to macrobiotics, some of which were conflicting to the macrobiotic approach
3. They did not have the physical or emotional support from family and friends to adopt the macrobiotic approach
4. They themselves were unable to follow the macrobiotic program
5. Their doctors advised them against following any macrobiotic program
6. They themselves decided not to follow macrobiotics
Furthermore, some in the macrobiotic community also became ill and passed away with cancer. This fact helped to underscore the complexities of cancer and that a rigid and inflexible "macrobiotic diet" is insufficient in reversing various cancers. Beyond dietary change, additional factors must be looked at and be taken into consideration. These include exposure to environmental toxins, genetic pre-disposition, emotional and psychological issues, habitual and addictive behaviors, adherence to traditional and/or religious customs, economic influences and so on; in short anything and everything that affects one's life - which means our total environment. Macrobiotics is not just concerned with diet and nutrition but with the influence and effects of our total environment of which diet is only a part. Many who believe they are following macrobiotics by only adopting a rigid vegan diet without considering these larger influences are really not fully incorporating the dynamic principles of change and balance.
In the end, the presentation of macrobiotics as a therapy for cancer is one of mixed and confusing signals. While there are many incredible recovery stories, others were unable to reverse their disease. In addition, conventional medicine and skeptics have been quick to denounce the "macrobiotic diet" as an unproven method that is potentially more harmful then helpful (as strict a vegetarian diet). So then, how does one wade through these conflicting signals to find clarity?
In my blog I explain the irrelevancy of the question of whether a "macrobiotic diet" can be proven or not and how what can be proven is the influence and effectiveness of specific food items such as meat, whole grains and fresh vegetables. For this there is plenty of scientific research and evidence with more and more coming out every year. All of these research studies coincide with the conclusions of Ohsawa and Kushi that, generally speaking, the most optimal human diet is one that is less focused on animal foods and instead is centered around whole grains and fresh vegetables.
Cancer is also a very complex disease. There are many different types of cancers, each of which have different causes and symptoms. Because of the diversity of various cancers then, in accordance with macrobiotic principles of balance, dietary recommendations will vary for different types of cancer. For example, tomatoes can help to balance prostate cancer but will make leukemia, skin and breast cancer worse. These variations are outlined in Michio Kushi's book, "The Cancer Prevention Diet" and also, "The Macrobiotic Path To Total Health." Because cancer is varied and because the macrobiotic approach involves specific diets that are tailored to each individual, then to scientifically "prove" that macrobiotics is helpful for cancer is practically impossible.
In one sense, the position of skeptics that a "macrobiotic diet" has no evidence to cure cancer is correct because they are referring to a rigid and set diet, not one that is flexible and changes according to individual need. The skeptics do not understand that in macrobiotics, for example, if a person lacks nutrients found only in animal foods then that person should eat animal foods. Conversely, if a person suffers from a condition resulting from of eating too much animal food, then the macrobiotic approach would be for him to reduce or eliminate all animal food for a period of time and perhaps increase consumption of, for example raw salads. This flexibility and dynamism with macrobiotics is difficult to explain in one easy sound-bite and is therefore misrepresented in the news as a rigid and limiting diet. Meanwhile, many cancer patients who actually do discover and study the dynamic approach of macrobiotics continue to reverse their conditions successfully.
Additional resources for further study:
The Art Of Prolonging Life – Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (full text online)
You Are All Sunpaku – George Ohsawa and William Dufty
Zen Macrobiotics – George Ohsawa
The Book Of Macrobiotics – Michio Kushi
Sugar Blues – William Dufty
Diet For A Small Planet – Frances Moore Lappe
The Cancer Prevention Diet – Michio Kushi
Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide To Macrobiotic Cooking – Aveline Kushi
One Peace World – Michio Kushi
Diet For A New America – John Robbins
The Macrobiotic Path To Total Health – Michio Kushi
The China Study – T. Colin Campbell
Websites And Schools:
The Kushi institute
The Macrobiotic Guide
Institute for Integrative Nutrition
The Strengthening Health Institute
Macrobiotics New England
The China Study: Plant Based Nutrition
Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine
Some of the many research studies showing the benefits of a whole grain, plant-based diet:
The China Study
Adoption of a plant-based diet by patients with recurrent prostate cancer.
Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee.
Dietary patterns and breast cancer recurrence and survival among women with early-stage breast cancer.
Active and Recommended Macrobiotic Counselors in the US: