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Cancer and the Macrobiotic Diet

A Japanese plant-based approach

Photo by Manfred Pecha on Unsplash

One of the first things I researched when I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2004 was diet. It made intuitive sense to me that what you put into your body might affect your ability to fight off disease. Of course, one has to follow up one’s instincts with a look at solid research.

One diet that many cancer survivors, including doctors, told me about was the macrobiotic one. This is a mostly plant-based regimen first popularized by George Ohsawa of Japan. It was introduced to the United States by Michio Kushi.

Macrobiotic is derived from the Greek words for long life. It provides lifestyle guidelines as well as dietary recommendations.

People who adopt the macrobiotic diet eat plenty of fiber and very little fat. The diet emphasizes whole grains, vegetables and sea vegetables, beans, and occasional white meat or fish.

While there is convincing research that points to the benefits of the macrobiotic diet for heart disease and other diseases, the benefits for cancer are not as clear cut, at least according to the research I’ve read about.

However, there are cases where cancer patients have reported great results. The problem is that this is anecdotal — it doesn’t mean this isn’t potentially effective, just that the necessarily broad data set isn’t available.

Additionally, the following aspects of the plan have been more extensively studied and have been correlated with anti-cancer properties:

Many of the guidelines of the macrobiotic lifestyle are very similar to recommendations from the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. Both promote healthful nutrition and regular exercise.

A macrobiotic lifestyle also emphasizes the importance of mental well being through meditation, and the avoidance of chemically processed food and pesticides. Those suffering from cancer are advised to cook their own food from local ingredients.

To some degree, I followed many of these guidelines when I was diagnosed with cancer.

While I did not totally give up red meat or eat large amounts of complex carbohydrates, I did buy my groceries from local farmer’s markets and either my husband or myself prepared all of our own meals. I did eat much smaller portions of animal protein and incorporated sea vegetables and miso into my recipes. I prayed and meditated daily and walked for up to an hour a day when I was able to.

If you think this type of lifestyle would help your recovery, I recommend doing the research. Feel free to also ask me any questions or offer your own insight.



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Shefali O'Hara

Shefali O'Hara

Cancer survivor, writer, engineer. BSEE from MIT, MSEE, and MA in history. Love nature, animals, books, art, and interesting discussions.