Macrobiotic diets and Cancer ~ Health Guide

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Macrobiotic diets and Cancer

Written by Mystic on Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Cancer Council South Australia recognises that people with cancer, their families and friends will seek out information about alternative and complementary therapies. These methods may also be referred to as “unproven”, “non-toxic”, “unorthodox” or “unconventional” therapies and represent methods which are not scientifically proven by random clinical trials. The following information is intended to help with making decisions about the use of such treatments.
We also recommend you read “Making an informed choice”.

Rationale / Background / Claims

  • Macrobiotics is a nutritional system, a philosophy, and a way of life. It draws on Eastern principles of complementary forces (yin and yang) embodying a universal principle.
  • Macrobiotics believes that a change in diet can not only prevent cancer, but may also reverse the cancerous process and eliminate disease.
  • Zen Macrobiotics was designed by George Oshawa (1893-1966). Michio Kushi, a former student of Oshawa, is the leading promoter today. According to Kushi, cancer is the result of a person’s behaviour, primarily due to an improper diet, but also to his or her thinking and lifestyle.
  • Improper diet causes a “chronically toxic blood condition”. Cancer is seen as an unbalanced but “natural mechanism”, whereby the body attempts to localise toxins and thereby produce balance. Cancers are broadly classified as yin or yang, depending on the cause. The standard macrobiotic diet is varied according to the type of cancer.
  • Kushi claims the types of cancers which respond best to macrobiotics are cancers of the breast, cervix, colon, pancreas, liver, bone and skin. He states that cancers of the lung, ovaries and testes have responded poorly to the diet.

What does the therapy involve?

  • Oshawa proposed ten diets of progressive restrictiveness and value in achieving a sense of well-being. The most restrictive diet, number “7”, is regarded as the ideal diet and consists entirely of cereals.
  • The “standard” macrobiotic diet promoted by Kushi is largely a vegetarian diet consisting of:


50% whole cereal grains such as brown rice, millet, barley, oats, corn, rye and buckwheat.


20% to 30% locally grown vegetables, prepared by steaming, boiling, baking, sautéing or pressure cooking. Up to one third of the vegetable intake may be eaten raw.


About 5% to 10% of the daily diet should consist of soup. This equates to one or two bowls a day, prepared from grains, beans and/or vegetables, using miso or tamari as the soup stock.


About 5% to 10% of the daily intake can come from various beans (eg lentils), bean products or sea vegetables (eg seaweed).


Fish, seafood, seasonal fruits, nuts, seeds and condiments in small amounts.


Recommended beverages include good quality fresh water, and nonaromatic, nonstimulating herbal teas.


Foods which are prohibited include meat, poultry, eggs, dairy foods, potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplants, peppers, asparagus, spinach, beets, zucchini, avocados, fruit juices, canned and frozen foods, chemically treated foods, highly processed foods, highly salted foods, coffee, commercial tea and refined sweeteners. Cooking with electricity is to be avoided.

  • The diet is adapted to an individual’s age, sex, level of activity, personal needs and type of cancer. For a cancer which is primarily yang (eg colon, prostate, pancreas), a standard diet is recommended, but with more emphasis on yin foods. Conversely, cancers that are primarily yin (eg lymphoma, leukaemia, breast) would require a standard diet which emphasises yang foods.
  • Healthy individuals are advised to chew each mouthful 50 or more times; cancer patients are to chew each mouthful 150 or more times to make foods “more yang” and to prevent overeating.
  • Individuals are advised to be grateful, live happily and follow particular recommendations for lifestyle aspects regarding sleep, housekeeping, bathing, and exercise. Such advice includes the need for regular exercise, and the avoidance of radiation, synthetic fabrics and chemical fumes.

Here are some cautions for a person with cancer regarding the macrobiotic diet

  • The diet has been very restrictive and would often result in a range of nutritional problems including: scurvy; anaemia and folic acid deficiency; low protein levels; low calcium levels and muscle wasting due to starvation. The diet has however been modified now to reduce some of these risks.
  • Participants may lose significant weight which can make standard cancer treatments harder to tolerate.
  • Restrictive macrobiotic diet is dangerous for children who have high energy and nutrient need for growth and development.
  • Pregnant women are also at risk of severe nutritional deficiencies.
  • If you are considering the macrobiotic diet, wait until completion of all conventional cancer treatments. This will allow you to have the full benefit of proven cancer therapy. Using macrobiotic diet after conventional therapy is completed may help you gain control of your life.


  • The macrobiotic diet has not been demonstrated by properly controlled trials to be helpful in maintaining nutritional status among cancer patients, nor can the clinical progress of cancer patients following the regimen be accurately assessed.

Costs and Commitment

  • The Kushi Institute in Becket, Massachusetts offers classes on macrobiotic diet and lifestyle in weekend, week-long and month-long seminars. The cost for these programs are US$350, $1495 and $2900 respectively.
  • Switching to macrobiotic diet requires a significant amount of time, energy and effort in order to change dietary habits.

In Summary . . .

The increased caloric needs of cancer patients are unlikely to be met by a macrobiotic diet and serious nutritional deficiencies tend to accompany strict macrobiotic regimes. This is of particular concern for those with existing weight loss problems, general ill health and malnutrition..

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