Macrobiotic Diet for Cancer Treatment

Monday, May 7, 2007 - 12:08pm

By Erin Dummert RD, CD

The macrobiotic diet was invented in the 1930s by a Japanese philosopher who sought to integrate Zen Buddhism, Asian medicine, Christian teachings, and some aspects of Western medicine. Proponents claim that it is the key to preventing and even curing many diseases, including cancer. Following a diagnosis of cancer, many patients initiate a macrobiotic diet with the hope of curing their cancer. Many who recover believe that their renewed health was a result of the macrobiotic diet they followed. Can this diet really cure cancer? Let's look at what it means to follow the macrobiotic diet, and if it is safe during cancer treatment.

The macrobiotic diet

According to the macrobiotic diet principles, cancer and other diseases are classified into categories of yin or yang, which dictate specific dietary restrictions and cooking styles. While the diet is modified for an individual based on age, sex, activity, and location, the standard macrobiotic diet is:

  • Low in fat
  • High in fiber
  • Predominantly vegetarian.

It emphasizes organic whole grains, fruits and vegetables, soups made with vegetables, seaweed, grains, beans, and miso. Occasional servings of fresh whitefish, nuts, seeds, pickles, and Asian condiments are allowed. Some vegetables including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, asparagus, spinach, beets, zucchini, and avocados are prohibited. The diet also discourages eating fruits that are not grown locally, such as bananas, pineapples, and other tropical fruits. In addition, dairy, eggs, coffee, sugar, stimulant and aromatic herbs, red meat, poultry, and processed foods are not recommended.

Macrobiotic principles also dictate cooking techniques and equipment. Pots, pans, and utensils must be made only from wood, glass, ceramic, stainless steel, or enamel. Microwaving or cooking with electricity is also discouraged.

The macrobiotic diet and cancer treatment

The founders of the macrobiotic diet movement traditionally did not encourage conventional cancer treatment, and advised patients to gradually reduce their reliance on mainstream medicine as their health improved. Currently, many macrobiotic practitioners do encourage patients to use the diet in combination with their conventional cancer treatment.

Current studies are underway to determine if the macrobiotic diet may play a role in cancer prevention. However, preventing cancer is very different from curing cancer. Despite proponents' claims that the macrobiotic diet can cure cancer, there is no scientific evidence to support this.

While there are no known side-effects of combining the macrobiotic diet with cancer treatment, many oncology nutrition professionals believe that the diet is too restrictive when followed diligently. Because the diet limits so many foods, including entire food groups, it lacks key nutrients essential to health including calories, protein, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, and calcium.

Conclusion: a macrobiotic diet maybe too much change during cancer treatment

While the macrobiotic diet does include many cancer preventive foods and eliminates known cancer promoters such as alcohol and red meat, it is not recommended for treatment of existing cancer. Not only can changing the way you eat, shop, and cook be stressful during an already traumatic time, the diet is extremely restrictive and makes getting adequate calories and nutrients difficult, if not impossible. The foods used on the macrobiotic diet are healthy foods that can be added to your diet as you feel ready. However, restricting entire groups of food is not recommended during this time of increased nutritional demand.

*This article is intended for general information purposes only, is not individual-specific, nor is it intended to replace the advice of your healthcare team.