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Cancer Nutrition Network for Texans

Macrobiotic Therapy

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The macrobiotic diet is one of the most widely practiced alternative nutritional regimens in the U.S. More than just a diet, macrobiotics is considered by some to be a lifestyle aimed at achieving physical and spiritual well-being. A central component is the belief that optimal health is the natural result of thinking, eating and living in balance. Attention is given to the selection and preparation of foods, and is based on principles of yin and yang. Additional recommendations include regular exercise, maintaining a positive attitude, and avoiding environmental toxins.

The macrobiotic diet was developed in the 1930s by George Ohsawa, a Japanese teacher who reportedly recovered from serious illness by changing his diet to a more traditional Japanese menu, consisting primarily of brown rice, sea vegetables and miso soup. In the 1970s one of his students, Michio Kushi, spearheaded the macrobiotic movement in the U.S., and published a book entitled “The Cancer Prevention Diet”. The diet has been purported primarily as an anticancer regimen, although improvement in chronic immune disorders are included in its claimed benefits.

Although the standard macrobiotic diet is adjusted from person to person, the basic elements include 50-60% cooked whole grains, 25-30% cooked vegetables, 5-10% soups made of vegetables, seaweed and grains, and 5-10% beans and sea vegetables. All foods must be organically grown, cooking utensils should be made of natural materials, and recommended cooking methods are boiling, steaming, and sautéing. Coffee, dairy products, refined or processed foods, eggs, sugar, alcohol, and meats/poultry are prohibited, although fresh white fish may be taken occasionally.

Although there is substantial anecdotal evidence of cancer remissions associated with this diet, there is no clinical data to support such claims. The macrobiotic diet clearly leads to deficiencies of calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D in children and in adults who forego dairy products and meats. Anemia can be a serious complication of the diet in cancer patients who are prone to develop this as a side effect of cancer treatment. Like other low fat diets, the macrobiotic diet can lower weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels and may help prevent heart disease. However, it is nutritionally inadequate and requires the use of supplements to make up for certain deficiencies.


Judith Headley, PhD, RN, CS, AOCN, works for the School of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

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