article focuses on the possibility of a dialogue between the
macrobiotic yin-yang unifying principle and the modern scientific
method, and on what we can learn from the scientific data
with regard to the recent problem of several macrobiotic friends
who developed cancer.
Some macrobiotic friends and teachers seem
to believe that macrobiotics should not rely on science, but
only on yin-yang, which they consider a firmer foundation
for managing health problems.
However, it could be said that
modern macrobiotics, since its origins, has included western
science in its approach. George
Ohsawa himself interpreted, in a renewed way, the traditional
yin-yang principle, disentangling it from the body of the
traditional Chinese medicine and culture in order to open
a dialogue with western science.
Ohsawa took this courageous and hazardous step because he
felt that this method had to be rescued from the superstition
into which it had fallen along the centuries. All the insights
on chemistry and physics reported in Ohsawa's books are there
to demonstrate the importance of modern science as an unavoidable
reference point for Ohsawa himself.
In the later years, the macrobiotic community
has not really deepened this subject. Instead, the use of
science by the macrobiotic community has ended up being rather
instrumental - for example reporting only the medical data
supporting our views on health and forgetting the controversial
ones - and it does not show a true attitude to learning what
is worthwhile from the scientific community.
Weak and strong points
Actually, the scientific method and community have their strong
and weak points as everything and everyone else in this world.
Among the strong points is that a theory has to be verified
by facts or experiments, in order to be shared by the scientific
community. The facts themselves, or the results of experiments,
have to be independently confirmed by a number of different
researchers, using accepted instruments and methods. The use
of mathematics, and the possibility to address the same issue
from many different approaches, add even more solidity to
the data retrieved.
Of course, we all know that among the weak
points there are the attempts to study a phenomena by isolating
it from its environment (this is true for in vitro studies,
or for the studies addressing a single nutrient among the
multitude present in any food, and so on). Moreover, some
phenomena cannot be properly managed or measured with the
current instruments, and so they are often dismissed as not
worthy of scientific inquiry. And everybody knows too well
the limits of analytical thinking to speak about that here.
But saying that science has its limits is not
saying that it is useless, only that we should not rely on
that as blindly as it is commonly done today. If we say that
science often changes its view about a subject, and so we
cannot rely on it, we say something trivial. Science has
to be in constant change, in order to stay in touch with new
experiences of the reality.
If we say that its answers are incomplete and partial, and
that this is a good reason for not taking them into consideration,
this is even more trivial, because the goal of science is
not giving the final answers but only the most probable ones.
And while it is true that scientific data is often influenced
by commercial, personal, or ideological factors, this is true
for everything that human beings do, including what happens
in the macrobiotic community, and this must be taken into
consideration in drawing our personal conclusions about any
Yin-Yang and Dogma
The strength of our yin-yang method stands in its ability
to show, in its holistic attitude, the relationships between
facts often considered separated from each other. This can
really help give indications for exploring and possibly solving
many different problems. Moreover, yin-yang helps in seeing
things in motion and transformation, so keeps pace with an
ever changing reality.
However, it is not easy to apply yin-yang well,
even after many years of practice, nor do our macrobiotic
schools teach that in depth. Moreover, this method gives always
rather approximate answers to our quests, that must be constantly
checked and refined through our practice. In the worst cases,
it is possible to fall into superficiality or dogma, especially
when we don't take care to check the reality of our intuitions
in our practice, and we are satisfied with their likelihood
or their consistency with our "principles". But
a theory can be consistent with our principles, and still
be false or at least not proved at all.
There are yin-yang theories about terrestrial
axis shifts or solar system births that have been taught for
years in the macrobiotic community without any concern to
check their reality on the basis of the available facts. What's
worse, the same is true also for some macrobiotic theories
regarding health issues, among which is the one regarding
The development of cancer through different phases, from accumulation
to adegeneration and/or discharge, has not ever been adequately
put under scrutiny and evaluated. It just makes sense, but
that's not enough, and a few cases of cancer within the macrobiotic
community, obviously regarding people that did not show any
deposit, urgently ask for a wider approach to this issue.
In all these cases, what were wonderful and
very inspirational insights, that had to be checked in the
spirit of "non credo" in order to become reliable
theories, became "truths" devoid of any possibility
for further evolution or refinement. This is not due to a
negative attitude from some macrobiotic teachers, but it is
an inherent risk of this method itself, of which we need to
Intuition, intellect and science
Exchange and communication between science and yin-yang can
offer a real possibility, for both, to come in closer contact
with the reality. Historically, the scientific method developed
exactly in trying to avoid the pitfalls of dogma, and we should
be grateful to the thousands of persons which helped in creating
it. Even if an overuse of technology (derived by science,
but not properly science in itself) is presently fuelling
our journey to disaster, the scientific method still stays
as an extraordinary realization of the human spirit.
Of course every method with which we explore
the reality has its limits, because everything that we can
reach with our senses or with our intellect has limits. But
this is also true for any formulation of an "absolute
principle", because the "real thing" cannot
be grasped by the intellect but only experienced by a part
of us that goes beyond intellect itself. Every formulation
of the truth is by definition incomplete, as we all know well
that it is only the finger pointing to the moon.
Firmly standing on this realization, we can
still use both intuition and intellect in order to orient
ourselves. We must use both - not only intuition but also
intellect - because very often what we label as "intuition"
is not coming from the real source, and so can be very misleading.
The use of our intellect, both through yin-yang and scientific
thinking, help us to stay in balance along our way to reawakening
our intuitive ability, our supreme judgement. Different from
what happens with scientific thinking, it is true that the
"intellectual" use of yin-yang may in due time help
us to realize a non-intellectual, or intuitive, contact with
the reality. It just may help, although it does not
automatically do that.
If we agree on these premises, and appreciate
the importance of including data from science in our reflections
about the macrobiotic way of eating, and the cancer problem
in particular, there are a few things that I believe can be
of interest for us all. I will shortly introduce them in the
following pages, while a few introductory references are given
at the end of this article, for whoever wishes to go deeper
into this subject.
The Vitamin B12 and Animal Food Issue
Both nutritionists and macrobiotic teachers did not recognize
until very recent times the central role of Vitamin B12 in
health. We used to think that there was a B12 insufficiency
only when signs of anemia were present. Now it is becoming
clear that even a mild insufficiency, with the usual blood
tests still in the norm, can already create problems.
When B12 is not sufficient, a substance called homocysteine
rises in the blood, and high levels of homocysteine are associated
with a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis
and cancer. Several studies involving both vegetarians and
macrobiotic people demonstrate that, from this point of view,
these groups fare worse than omnivores, showing higher levels
of homocysteine in the blood.
Probably, macrobiotic people fare even worse
that vegetarians with regard to this issue, also the situation
of vegans not taking B12 supplements is still worse. So, if
for other risk factors we are on a safer stand than omnivores,
under this point of view we don't do well at all. Probably
this situation can influence in particular our risk to develop
cancer and osteoporosis, as vegetarian and macrobiotic people
present, for the rest, very low risk factors for cardiovascular
This seems proven by the data showing that
vegetarians, and semi-vegetarians as we are, die far less
from cardiovascular disease than omnivores, but there seems
to be no difference with regards cancer.
For osteoporosis we are probably at the limits
of the risk, if our intake of calcium and proteins is only
marginally adequate for a long time - and this is probably
the case for not so few macro friends - or even at risk if
the intake is not adequate, which could be true for a larger
number of friends than we think. With regards cancer, which
is the main subject of this article, the facts of life are
showing us that we are not immune at all.
As active Vitamin B12 is only present in animal
foods, and not in miso, seaweeds, tempeh or other commonly
eaten foods, the homocysteine issue raises the problem of
our attitude toward animal food. We always associated it with
disease, ecological imbalance and poor spiritual development,
and this is true if the quantities that we consume are high
and the quality is poor.
But human beings need some animal foods, and
always did eat them in the past if only available. So we need
to discover the right quantity for our present / modern needs,
and the best way to prepare it. Maybe we just need more fish,
but probably eggs and poultry are also ok, in lower amounts,
and even red meat if our conditions of life are very demanding,
as doing physical labour daily in the cold.
Epigenetic Theory of Cancer
Recently, a whole new avenue has opened in cancer research.
While until a few years ago it was believed that cancer starts
with changes in the genes, it is now becoming clear that the
first step is represented by modifications that influence
the way in which the normal genes are expressed. These modifications,
of which only a few are at present sufficiently known, are
influenced by diet.
This comes as a great confirmation of our ideas about food
and cancer, also because the influence of diet clearly extends
to the foetal development, broadly confirming our theories
about how the constitution forms. However, it must be noted
that one important factor in this game is, again, vitamin
B12. When this vitamin is taken in inadequate amounts, modifications
in both the genes' structure and the way they are expressed
arise. So this nutrient comes again in focus with regard to
the cancer issue.
Fish and Oils
Speaking of fish, it is very clear that the standard recommendations
to consume this food one or two times a week, preferably white
meat fish, are correct only for a short time, and only if
used to cleanse deposits and create a better yin-yang balance.
After this cleansing and rebalancing period, fat fish becomes
more important, as it is the best source of omega-3 fats.
Before going on, please let me say that the
omega-3 issue is a good example of how carefully we should
consider the scientific data. Only applying our yin-yang methods,
we could have not understood this issue properly, and it has
been necessary to use the scientific approach for that. The
same is true for the homocysteine issue, by the way, so we
need to be humble and open.
Probably many macro people still take omega-6
in too high an amount compared to omega-3. The improper use
of oil, and the fats included in many ready to eat foods and
sweets, can create this problem. It is becoming increasingly
clear that an excess of omega-6 raises the risk for cardiovascular
disease and cancer, and negatively influences the immune responses.
Since the most useful omega-3 polyunsaturated
fatty acids are also present in naturally raised meats and
free-range eggs, not only in fish, this seems to be, again,
a problem with the proper use of animal food.
Vitamin D and Physical Activity
Fatty fish is important for another nutrient that it is more
and more considered essential to health, i.e. Vitamin D. It
is now clear that its role goes far beyond that of calcium
and the bones, this nutrient is instrumental in cancer and
degenerative diseases prevention. A very recent analysis of
all the studies done on this subject has showed that the importance
of vitamin D for the prevention of cancer is so strong that,
if an adequate amount could be taken with food or be produced
by our skin under the action of the sun, probably half of
the most common cancers could be prevented.
Now, everybody living in northern latitudes has problems with
vitamin D, as we live too little outside in the sun and too
much indoors, so this is not true for macro people only. However,
fatty fish is one of the very few foods that contain good
levels of vitamin D, so reducing it too much in favour of
white fish cannot be a long time strategy.
Apart from getting this nutrient from the food
we eat, it is clear that we should do our best to stay outdoors
and take some sun, as this is a more central necessity for
the human being than any specific food. Human beings adapted
to eat a great variety of different foods during their evolutionary
and historical time, but sun is the same on the whole earth
and has always been necessary for everybody. Our focus on
the importance of food should not make us blind to other basic
necessities for us as human beings.
As with vitamin D, physical activity is also
a basic necessity. We have often said that, but we rarely
make it a way of living. The most important fact to consider,
with regard to this issue, is that if we have too little physical
activity it is very difficult to widen the diet as we would
need, in order to include more vitamin B12 and D rich foods.
If we eat more animal foods while doing little activity outdoors,
we easily end in creating an imbalance. But the problem stays
in the too little activity outdoors, not in the animal food,
and we should encourage people to pay attention to this issue.
Also, it can be difficult to increase the quantity
of animal food if we eat too many whole grains. Grains should
be reduced when we increase our consumption of animal foods,
while vegetables and fruits should be augmented.
The last point that I wish to consider here regards the use
of sweeteners. After many years of resistance, the scientific
community is now becoming aware that our macrobiotic attitude
toward refined sugars is correct. Humans are clearly not adapted
to consume refined sugars. We have known for a long while
that we can eat a moderate amount of simple sugars, provided
that they are part of a natural food as a fruit, since they
are combined with other nutrients that balance them, and not
in a refined form.
However, in natural food stores plenty of sweeteners are sold,
alone or included in sweets. Some of them are extremely refined,
as agave syrup - which consists essentially of fructose, a
bad choice of itself - or even "organic" plain sugar,
but even the best ones such as fermented grain malts should
be eaten with moderation.
It could be said that standard macrobiotics recommends consuming
these kind of foods in great moderation, but the fact is that
many people need them and eat them. This is due to the fact
that they eat too little good quality fats and animal proteins,
which are the real yin that they deserve, and they try to
substitute them with sweets.
(Please refer to"Some reflections
about the macrobiotic way of eating")
So it is useless to say that certain foods should be consumed
in moderation, if you advise a diet that makes people crave
these same foods. As I said at the beginning, principles must
be checked through practice. If practice does not confirm
them, either the principles are not true, or their application
Many scientific studies underscore the role
of the foods that cause a high insulinemic response in the
body which is the origin of cancer, cardiovascular and degenerative
diseases. Maybe the consumption of high insulinemic foods
like sweets made of flour, fats and sweeteners, do not create
many problems if the diet as a whole is low in calories and
fats as the macrobiotic one.
However, it still remains a source of imbalance and, when
other conditions are poor, maybe it can aggravate them. The
situation is even worse for the sweetened beverages, such
as rice or soy drinks, and others, as it seems clear that
consuming simple sugars in beverages is even worse than doing
it in foods.
Standard Diet and Macrobiotic Way of Eating
If we want to take into consideration this scientific data
and make good use of them in our practice, we should say openly
that the standard macrobiotic diet is a specific diet focused
on cleansing and rebalancing the body, to be adopted for a
limited period of time. After that, the normal macrobiotic
diet should often include moderate amounts of animal foods,
especially fish but also eggs and poultry or other white meats,
provided that their quality is good and their preparation
is balanced. It is our urgent task to explore the traditional
cuisine and to apply our yin-yang understanding in order to
discover the most appropriate ways and recipes for consuming
Compared with the stricter period on a standard
macrobiotic diet, in our daily macrobiotic eating we need
to increase the consumption of vegetables and fruits, and
reduce the amount of whole grains that we eat.
Olive or sesame oil should be the most commonly used fat condiments,
to be used far more liberally than during the cleansing period.
Other oils should be minimized.
Sweets and sweetened beverages, even if organic
and of good quality, should be minimized too. Maybe they are
good for children, but if an adult craves these items often
he is probably lacking good quality fats and proteins, and
this usually comes from eating too much whole grains and too
little oil, vegetables, animal foods and fruits. Fruits are
our natural dessert.
The Jing Issue
Traditional Chinese medicine states that we are born endowed
with a certain amount of Jing, or primal generative
energy. Stress and desires make this energy diminish and ultimately
finish, at which point the person dies. More than fifteen
years ago I started practicing qigong and to work daily on
this issue, and now I feel that this theory is a great gift
from the Chinese tradition. We macrobiotic people should become
very aware of it.
Many macro people did eat in a too strict way for a too long
time, consuming an inadequate amount of animal foods, vitamin
B12 and D, maybe coupling this with an imbalance of omega-3
and 6 fats. However, due to our ability to make balance using
yin-yang, we didn't notice it. What may seem paradoxical,
but it is nevertheless true, is that we may usually stay well
and be energetic, since our food is rather well balanced in
yin-yang terms and since we usually avoid unnatural foods,
but this does not mean that we are really in good health.
In many cases this condition, after a long time, seems to
carry to a depletion of Jing: people become too skinny
and superficially clean, but lacking precious reserves. Maybe,
at this point, degenerative diseases can occur because of
stress, pollution, or according to individual genetic weakness,
or for the sheer lack of some essential nutrients.
If you take a good look around, many macro friends seem to
be clean but too frail. Maybe they have cured themselves of
several ailments and they seem superficially to be in balance,
but you can feel that something is lacking. And for sure many
friends who suffered cancer did not have big deposits in the
body: it is more likely that they developed their problem
because of something lacking than something in excess. Our
theory on cancer must be revised and widened in order to include
the possibility that the lack of essential nutrients, as B12
and D, can create the conditions for its development.
Please note that both B12 and D vitamins are very yang. Vitamin
B12 is essential for the reconstitution of DNA at each cellular
division, so it operates at the very core of our physical
body. The fact that these vitamins are present only in animal
foods should make us think. We can be very yang because of
a clean diet rich in whole grains and free form sugar and
soft drinks, but we can still lack some essential yang factors.
It is interesting to note that
the vegetarian community has been struggling, for a while
to make its members realize the need for vitamin B12 (and
recently also also Vit. D) supplementation. Our macrobiotic
community is not in a better position with regard to this
issue, but I am not aware that a similar effort is under way.
Maybe, since the vegetarian "principles" are based
on ethics, and not on a method (yin-yang) that it is supposed
to replace the scientific one, they are more open to learn
from others than what we are.
It is possible that, thanks to our broader approach to diet,
we can avoid the use of supplements, but this is not certain.
In any case, if this issue is not adequately addressed, we
will never know that.
I believe that it is our duty to learn from what is happening
to a few long time macrobiotic friends. We should not sleep
on the good results we obtained with so many health problems.
Please consider the possibility that, after having learned
fairly well how to cleanse and rebalance ourselves, we must
now learn how to create strong foundations and good quality
This I feel can be done by widening the standard macrobiotic
diet in a conscious and balanced way, after the cleansing
period is ended. We must learn to create a wider, lively balance,
to which a little more animal food and outdoor activity can
be important contributions.
Carl Guglielmo is dedicated to the study of the philosophy
yin-yang and its applications since 1974.
In 1978 he participated in the foundation of the East-West
Center in Turin. In 1982 he was recognized as a Associated
Teacher from the Kushi Institute in Boston.
THE VITAMIN B12/ Cyanocobalamin ISSUE
Some representatives of the vegetarian community have made
an excellent informative work.
Please check:3 Vitamin B12: Are You Getting It? - http://www.veganhealth.org/b12/all
4 What Every Vegan Should Know about Vitamin B12 -
Vitamin B12 Deficiency report http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030301/979.html
Other useful introductory articles are:
5 B12 deficiency more widespread than thought -
6 New thought about Vitamin B12 deficiency -
More technical studies:
7 Vitamin B-12 status, particularly holotranscobalamin II
and methylmalonic acid concentrations, and hyperhomocysteinemia
in vegetarians - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol.
78, No. 1, 131-136, July 2003
8 Total Homocysteine, Vitamin B12, and Total Antioxidant Status
in Vegetarians - Clinical Chemistry. 2001;47:1094-1101
9 Vegetarianism and vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) deficiency -
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 1, 3-6,
10 Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings
from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies - Am
J Clin Nutr 1999;70(suppl):516S-24S.
ABOUT VITAMIN. D:
11 Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of
autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease -
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 6, 1678S-1688S,
December 200412 The Role of Vitamin D in Cancer Prevention
Am J Public Health, Dec 2005; doi:10.2105/AJPH.2004.045260
ABOUT HOMOCYSTEINE AND CANCER + OSTEOPOROSIS
13 Hyperhomocysteinemia is a risk factor for cancer and a
new potential tumor marker - Clin Chim Acta 2002 Aug;322(1-2):21-8
14 Homocysteine Levels and the Risk of Osteoporotic Fracture
- N Engl J Med 2004;350:2033-41.
15 Homocysteine as a Predictive Factor for Hip Fracture in
Older Persons - N Engl J Med 2004; 351:1027-1030, Sep 2, 2004
A COUPLE OF REFERENCES FOR OMEGA-3 AND CANCER:
16 Dietary long-chain n-3 fatty acids for the prevention of
cancer: a review of potential mechanisms - American Journal
of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 6, 935-945, June 2004
17 Dietary intake of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids and the risk
of prostate cancer - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,
Vol. 80, No. 1, 204-216, July 2004
AN INTRODUCTION TO EPIGENETICS:
18 Epigenetic regulation of gene expression: how the genome
integrates intrinsic and environmental signals - Nature Genetics
33, 245 - 254 (2003
19 Role of DNA Methylation in the Regulation of Cell Function:
Autoimmunity, Aging and Cancer - J. Nutr. 132:2401S-2405S,
20 Diet, Methyl Donors and DNA Methylation: Interactions between
Dietary Folate, Methionine and Choline - J. Nutr. 132:2333S-2335S,
Feedback to this article by Carlo Guglielmo
Update on Yin-yang,
science and 'macrobiotic' cancer By Carlo Guglielmo
Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article
By Michael Rossoff
The article by Carlo Guglielmo, Yin-Yang,
Science and Macrobiotic Cancer, reflects
an important step in a necessary dialogue between macrobiotic
friends and educators.
To me his article represents a continuation
of my article in Macrobiotics Today, Macrobiotics at
a Crossroads (Jan., 2005). My article looked back in
time and called for a new reflection and revision of macrobiotics
approach to health. Guglielmos article is that new,
The dietary changes that he calls for parallel
mine: less grains, more vegetables and an increased variety
of animal protein (especially poultry, eggs and fatty fish).
The only factors that I added were a call for less salt and
pressure cooking, and using culinary herbs.
The need to find common ground with the scientific
approach is well articulated by Guglielmo. Indeed, the core
emphasis on repeatable results and the truth that new knowledge
brings new change must be a center piece to macrobiotic development.
Everything changes is a vital expression of self-developmentof
any individual or an organization or a movementotherwise
it will dwindle and disappear.
As I understand Guglielmo, his message
(1) Deficiency, not excess, is the cause
of longtime macrobiotic peoples diseases;
(2) these deficiencies are principally
due to lack of ample sources for vitamin B12, vitamin D and
(3) even though longtime macrobiotic
followers can seem clean, they become too skinny because their
jing is depleted, which contributes to disease
My response to these issues are:
(1) It seems to me that those who continue
to hold onto a narrow practice of macrobiotics have become
depleted over time. Indeed, if a longtime practitioner becomes
unhealthy, then if he makes his diet even more strict (healing
diet) this will give him less to build upon for his
healing. There is a circular thinking process that assumes
that all disease is fundamentally yin, so a more yang, strict
diet is the remedy; and if things get worse, then become even
more strict. Of course this is dangerous; it is more like
fasting (which can benefit newcomers who are already ill).
Appropriate widening of the diet is best. There is a long-standing
bias that certain foods make disease. Unwavering
belief in this is blinding and generates fears. I remember
one teacher saying that if a woman eats an egg she will surely
create ovarian cancer.
For over 25 years I have said that food is
never more than 49% the cause or the healing of disease. The
other 51% must be addressed: emotional issues (expressed or
repressed), mental issues (like obsessions or phobias); spiritual
issues (connections to the greater meanings to life) and daily
life practices (such as proper breathing, good sleep and good
(2) Highlighting factors such as B12
and vitamin D and omega-3 is a good point of departure for
bringing science and dietary practices together. Since all
of these elements are storable, particularly in the liver,
it can take 5-10 years to become deficient. They are vital
for blood, nervous system, bone and immune functions. While
macrobiotics never presented itself as a strict vegetarian
diet, it never allowed itself to go beyond fish in the animal
realm (though in the earliest days, 1960s and early 1970s,
eggs and chicken and herbs were clearly used in cookbooks).
Why has there been a rule against other animal
foods that could provide valuable nutrients? Basically it
is an anti-cancer view, which blames the excess intake of
animal foods for most modern degenerative diseases, particularly
because of the fats. If we are sincere about our guiding principles,
then moderation must be a meaningful word.
It could also be said that there are other
nutrients that can lead to deficiencies with a strict practice
of macrobiotics. Some examples are vitamin E, vitamin C and
trace minerals. Science easily distorts what is significant
and by its part-separate-from-the-whole approach to food can
loose insights into the full nature of foods and their energies.
There is another point that needs to be stated.
Macrobiotics has its yin-yang approach and science has its
analytical approach, yet there is still another important
way to evaluate dietary needs. This could be called an empirical
approach, by exploring healthy peoples and cultures
over the centuries. Here we can find much evidence that animal
food intake has been a vital portion of their diet, whether
in the East or the West. One organization that has focused
on this is the Weston A. Price Foundation (www.westonaprice.org).
(3) Raising the issue of jing
(constitutional power) is useful in that death, whether by
disease or natural old age, represents the final utilization
of this innate power. But to say that because some people
are too skinny and superficially clean, means
that they must be deficient in jing and by implication that
someone who is robust must be full of ample jing is misleading
and inaccurate. In addition to genetics, some classical Chinese
medicine views for depletion of jing include: stress, over
consumption of foods, alcohol and drugs, excessive sex, excess
or lack of exercise, lack of sleep, poor breathing and natural
aging. In modern times we can add pollution of water, land
and air, plus the endless array of western medicines that
are over-prescribed and over-used.
I look forward to further discussions because
the revival and re-orientation of macrobiotics hinges upon
Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article
by Phiya Kushi
I enjoyed the article from Carlo Guglielmo.
It was carefully written and well thought out; apparently
the fruit of years of observation. I have some specific and
some general concerns that I feel should be addressed in the
same spirit of his thoroughness.
First, addressing more specific issues; regarding
vitamin B12 there is an article here on this site: http://www.notmilk.com/vitaminb12.html
that contradicts the B12 premise that Carlo writes about upon
which he also bases his concern about cancer. Second, his
reasoning does not explain away all
the vegan buddhists in Japan and other vegan groups around
the world that have and continue to live healthily for generations
and across various geographies.
In other words, from the above article and
the reference articles he cites, it is agreed that B12 comes
from bacteria and not necessarily from animal foods. This
is not to say that I specifically advocate veganism but as
I choice I believe it can still provide adequate nutrients
as "historical" evidence does show when it includes
such bacteria foods. Furthermore a healthy gut with plenty
of active bacteria may also be able to produce B12 on its
own. Similar arguements could be made concerning the other
nutrients mentioned in his article to show that it is possible
to avoid all animal products completely and still be healthy.
In otherwords, one could assume that he is
advocating the consumption of animal foods which, when looking
at other evidence could be erroneous. (What I personally do
believe is that it is essential to include fermented products
regardless of whether they are consumed solely from animal
products (like dairy) or solely vegetable quality or a combination
of both. I call fermentation an essential "yin"
Generally speaking though I would have to say
that while I understand where his Yin/Yang vs. Science concerns
come from, (because certainly macrobiotic proponents in the
past have presented the two paradigms in opposition,) I, personally,
do not see them as different.
To me, how we ascribe yin/yang characteristics to things is
no different then scientifically/objectively measuring them
and observing them and creating theories based on those findings.
Indeed the application of Yin and Yang is solely based on
that. For example, George Ohsawa classifed all the atomic
elements into yin and yang based on their atomic weight, spectography,
boiling and freezing points and other specific measurable
data. There is nothing else upon which he could have made
Yin and yang classifications of food are also
based on measurements of size, shape, growth direction, cycle,
and season, nutrient content and so on. Yin and yang is based
on the same objective precise measurements used for scientific
theories. It is not any different from science. They are one
and the same. It could be said that yin and yang is the theory
of relativity made really simple and applied
to everyday things. There is nothing esoteric or "quasi-spiritual"
Where there may be a divergence (hence a concern
on accuracy) is when it comes to looking at things from a
"holistic" (or "wholistic") view. When
doing this, there is so much (or too much) data to take into
consideration that what happens is that the only way for anyone
to arrive at a comparative yin/yangness quality of something
from such an all-encompassing collection of data is to be
extremely open-minded and take a good "guess." If
you increase the speed at which your brain does this then
it goes from being a
"possibility" to an "educated guess" to
your "intution." It could be said that intuition
is the fastest speed at which your brain calculates things.
If you've a sharp, observant and healthy brain
and input correct up-to-date data then it is likely that whatever
conclusion arrived by intuition is probably close to being
nearly correct. But if one's brain is off or not all the facts
are in then any conclusion could be way off.
That also happens when we become overly confident or arrogant
in our intuitive abilities and forget to stay present and
humble to the immediate moment that might reveal other data
that would lead to different conclusions. But then there are
times when what is arrived at repeatedly by intution seems
to contradict what seems to be factual cornerstones. Then,
time and the advancement of scienctific experimentation may
eventually topple such conerstones and prove the original
intuition as correct.
Also, overtime, as our experiences accumulate
then the speed of intuiting can increase and the accuracy
can get better provided the input (awareness) always remains
active and as broad as possible and attentive to the moment.
When we're not sure about the accuracy of the
conclusions that we arrive at by our intution then also remembering
and applying the dynamic principle of complementary opposites
can come in handy like a compass for our brain; reminding
us to consider that there is always an opposite possibility
that might exist. By following such a thread then we are able
to arrive at a closer approximation to a more accurate conclusion.
At that time, such a conclusion, like science, is still only
a hypothesis that must further
be explored and verified through measurement and experience
- hence the emphasized motto: "non-credo."
I believe the idea of "Non-Credo"
is not so much to refute what someone else claims as true
but instead to question what each of us within ourselves;
you in yourself and me in myself believe to be as truth and
factual. We need to question the foundations of our own beliefs
instead of argue what other people say. Regarding what other
people say, we should try to understand the foundations of
what they say; why they say what they do. This spirit of "Non-credo"
also applies to the collective belief systems of groups of
people and generations of groups of people that we might socially
So, while Carlo's article does point out the
merits of science in opposition to "macrobiotic"
or the "yin/yang" perspective, to me they are one
and the same. I think it would be helpful to legitimizing
macrobiotics and theyin/yang paradigm in the mainstream if
macrobiotic proponents began presenting it as the same or
not as different from science.
Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article by
Woody Allen makes a comment upon the fickleness of scientific
research in his movie Sleeper: a man wakes up
in the future and it has been discovered that smoking is actually
good for you! I loved that and have to say that I have always
had some trouble with a scientific approach only because it
seems to be so blinkered. It is not sciences fault (!),
we just have to look back in time when no-one knew what vitamins
were or even what power food had on the body (eg. When
doctors were telling us that food we eat has nothing to do
with cancer or health in general).
Someone great said, or maybe a lot of great people have said
that what we know is so small compared to what we dont
know and even microscopic, compared to what we dont
know we dont know. So, my point is that we name a series
of symptoms B12 deficiency, but it could be that and something
else entirely and maybe we wont be living when science
figures that out. Taking B12 might right the problem but may
make wrong or mini-havoc somewhere else in the body. The body
is without doubt a fine balance, an exceptional wealth of
innate wisdom too complex for total understanding, in my opinion.
The problem with science when looking at how
the things we eat affect the body is that every body is so
unique, every one lives their lives in such unique ways, the
way they eat, what they enjoy, where they live, who they live
with etc.. It stems from where we came from our parents
what we know as comfortable, home, good food
it is all so ingrained but it is even different from child
to child in one family how on earth does one expect
to get solid results from such variables? There will be certain
commonalities but is that enough?
We already know from experience that the same affliction can
have a different cause and so needs a different approach,
as well as taking into account the individuality of the person
concerned. In my consultations, I have become acutely aware
of the intricacies involved and it really can make a brain
hurt if too much time is spent intellectualizing. Intuition
has to be the deciding factor and that is a very far leap
from science. My role is to get people on the whole grain,
vegetable, fermented food etc. track and be a guide as things
start to unfold (discharge, discomfort etc.).
When I was 7/8 years old I had a fever and
was very sick in bed and I know now that I had a profound
realization that the doctor might not know how to make me
better and that I was alone. I knew I could only rely on myself
and that I knew nothing and I felt sick to my stomach at that
at that feeling of aloneness. I describe it as feeling the
very foundations of who you think you are falling away from
you, knowing that there are no guarantees. I felt this again
after being macrobiotic for a few years. It is an awful but
wonderful feeling as an adult. We only have ourselves to rely
on and it is good.
We can learn from others, of course, but we need to integrate
that advice and then discard what isnt true for us.
Jessica Porter (Hip Chicks book) was saying on
a macro chat line that she eats less rice now and more barley
because she likes the effect it has on her body she
says it makes her more outgoing although admitting
that it doesnt taste as good to her. I find that kind
of dialogue interesting in macrobiotic discussions
the sort of food for thought that you dont have to have
a science degree to understand. You can take that information
and try it out for yourself without injury and draw your own
conclusions. This is the very essence of macrobiotics, I believe,
making the knowledge your own, saying yes that is true
People are always looking for certainties perhaps
to make them feel safe. We categorize and pigeon-hole in a
desperate attempt to organize and make sense of the senseless.
It is fine to do that and be aware that it necessarily reduces
possibilities. I like macrobiotics because of the idea of
the infinite possibilities it gives my life. There are no
hard core rules and no hard core outcomes. We cannot rely
on anything or anyone and so it is true autonomy. It is self-discovery
and we make the map on the journey. Unnerving perhaps, but
what an adventure
Practically speaking, I teach people how to cook, how to prepare
things from scratch; how to change themselves, to steer themselves
to better health and what I advocate is variety in all things.
I was on a macrobiotic chat line last night and people are
having oats for breakfast everyday and I think that is nuts
it sets you up for deficiencies. Some were saying they
take supplements to cover themselves, equally crazy to me
as the solution would be just more variety, which would make
life more interesting anyway! This last year I have eaten
chicken and turkey 5 times, more than in over 20 years of
being macrobiotic, but somehow I felt that I wanted it, perhaps
even needed it, but go figure? I consider myself mostly vegetarian
because that works best for me in my daily life but I also
am not rigid about it and I listen to what my
body is expressing hopefully I am getting the right
end of the stick but if not, I will learn how to right
that. I advocate movement and self-expression as well
living your life beyond the kitchen I belly dance and
walk my dog and garden in the summer and clean my own house
when the kids wont help! I always want to try
new things because I know I dont know it all and so
I stay open to possibilities.
I question every little thing that society
tells me is right from big questions as to whether
to vaccinate my children, (which I didnt) to the smallest
detail, like locking my house at night (which I dont
do). Most of the time, the answers I get clearly are those
based on a gut feeling rather than intellectual process. So
I teach that too how to develop your intuition.
So if you want to take B12 then by all means
try it out, make notes and do your best to discern whether
it is making a difference. And for me it is not the blood
test that tells you it is making a difference but your own
true feelings with a blood test as validation if you
Macrobiotics can be very simplistic,
it is true and sometimes that is just great to reduce something
to its essence.
Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article
by Steve Acuff
I want to reply to the 2 latest
comments above concerning Carlo's article. First, Carlo deserves
praise for his sharp analysis of some key problems in macrobiotics.
This is not only interesting from a philosophical and theoretical
standpoint, but also important because some children of macrobiotic
people have suffered deficiencies from the lack of knowledge
Phiya is right to point out that macrobiotics should not be
understood as veganism. However it seems odd that he approves
of a vegan food regimen which must rely on supplements, as
he does in his support of Dr. Barnard's supplemental veganism.
Is that a natural way to eat? It is really irrelevant whether
some people in India can live on purely vegan food.
The macrobiotic community is morally bound to prevent any
child in this society from suffering deficiencies as a result
of curiosity about the macrobiotic way of eating. In the 80's
Michio Kushi's grandchild got a
serious vitamin B12 deficiency that was resolved with an injection
by a doctor.
At that time in Connecticut there were several cases of nutritional
deficiencies in children, which were repeated a short time
later in Holland. I saw the little children in Holland with
rickets (vitamin D
deficiency) and I was horrified. I was also angered by the
babble from macrobiotic teachers
who were not particularly interested in protecting the children
from this happening again.
It was rather a time to explain that the food guidelines were
just fine as they were. I think it is outrageous that these
incidents have not taught Phiya and the defenders of the Kushi
standard way of eating how dangerous this near-vegan approach
As Carlo rightly points out, Ohsawa listed 10 food plans as
ways to health, 5 of which contain animal food. Kushi of course
made a great contribution to the development of macrobiotics,
but he simply does
not understand the weaknesses of his "Kushi diet".
Anna Rosenberg's contribution seems to me to be nothing but
intellectual fluff. It is fine for each individual to experiment
on the path of "self-discovery", but what about
the kids?! They do not have the vitmain B12 stores from past
animal food consumption. Anna's attitude is exactly the problem
She wrote a lengthy philosophical response, but never addressed
the real issues Carlo raised. Approving of everything that
is happening sounds cosy, but it is disastrous for the future
Response to Carlo Guglielmo's
by Dunja Seselja
After reading the article "Yin-Yang, Science
and "Macrobiotic" Cancer" by Carlo Guglielmo,
I felt a need to reply to this text. First of all, it is interesting
how the scientific research and its results are
presented in this article as absolute facts, almost like pure
"self-givennesses" that reveal the truth, in spite
of the introductory "warning" related to the scientific
The author nevertheless, sticks to an approach to science,
well known as scientific realism, which bares an enormous
burden of proof, and this already when we talk about physics,
not to mention medicine. There are many reasons, most of which
are of pure logical nature, but let me just mention the most
famous one (not only logically based), which the author himself
scientific theories are constantly being falsified and replaced
by "better" ones - which is the condition to speak
at all of the possibility of the growth of scientific knowledge.
This is the case already in physics, where the tests and experiments
are far easier to control than in medical science. Medicine
has always been a problematic science because of its unquestioned
mechanical view on human body, unquestioned problem of mind-and-body
relation, extremely complex calculations of mutual relation
of factors constituting and influencing our body, etc. The
field of medicine dealing with nutrition is one of those showing
the biggest lacks exactly in these matters.
Now, Mr. Guglielmo says: "If we say that its [scientific]
answers are incomplete and partial, and that this is a good
reason for not taking them into consideration, this is even
more trivial, because the goal of science
is not giving the final answers but only the most probable
First of all, what does it mean that science is giving "the
most probable answers"? If a theory is falsified (as
the growth of scientific knowledge shows us), in how far were
its results "the most probable"? They could have
been just the most probable according the the present research,
which has nothing to do
whatsoever with any kind of Truth or a "real" probability.
The fact that it was believed that the Earth
is in the centre of the Universe, and that this was "the
most probable" of all contemporary results many centuries
ago, does not make this claim any more probable as seen from
the perspective of the modern scientific thought.
To be more concrete, nutritional science has been changing
its opinion ever since its constitution, creating myths at
each stage of its development that were presented as "scientific
facts". Thus, 20 years ago we had a myth of lack of proteins
in vegetarian diet, then came the myth of the lack of calcium,
the myth of the lack of particular amino-acids, and finally
we have a myth of the vitamin B12.
It is interesting that each of these stages
of the fight against the vegan diet was full of scientific
researches, statistical data and examples. And equally interesting
is the fact that at every new stage, the previous myth would
be forgotten, not even mentioned as a reminder of the mythical
past of scientific life. (The word "myth" is not
used here as a mean of rhetorical brilliance, but according
to the critical point of view which can be found in, for example,
work of Paul Feyerabend - see his "Against Method".)
Mr. Guglielmo continues: "And while it is true that scientific
data is often influenced by commercial, personal, or ideological
factors, this is true for everything that human beings do,
including what happens in the macrobiotic community, and this
must be taken into consideration in drawing our personal conclusions
about any subject." Nicely said. However, if this should
be an argument for the theses presented in the article, then
it contains the following logical mistake:
from the fact that both scientific data and macrobiotic
community are often influenced by commercial, personal and
ideological factors, we should conclude that we should trust
the first one. Well, this is a wrong conclusion, as it simply
doesn't follow from the given premise.
The only thing we can derive from that premise
is that results of such researches should be taken with skepticism
and be compared to different researches and our own experience.
But let me shortly develop on the argument given by Mr. Guglielmo.
We live in the world where meat and milk industry is gigantic
and very powerful.
A huge number of scientific researches is being not only sponsored
by it, but also directed so that the outcome fits its interests.
Few years ago, when the vegan
lifestyle stated to grow more than ever before, meet and milk
industry started to feel the loss of the consumers (especially
in UK where the vegan movement became extremely strong).
It is no argument, but just an interesting "coincidence"
that the B12 topic started to be researched exactly after
this decrease of meet-and-milk consumers. What is even more
surprising is that the research from 20 years ago, which showed
that vegans are by far the healthiest humans, is suddenly
forgotten. I am
referring here for example to the book of John Robbins, Diet
for a New America from 1987 (which was nominated for the Pullitzer
Price). Robbins' research shows the percentage of vegans suffering
from heavy illnesses is enormously smaller compared to meat-eaters.
How suddenly vegans who lived 20 years ago
had enough of B12 as well as other substances?
It is really a shame that even in these macrobiotic circles
such propaganda finds its place.
Response to Carlo Guglielmo's article by
Thank you so much for this very interesting
article, to which I agree
In our 30 years of macrobiotic practice and teaching we see
that it is true that many macrobiotic friends, certainly in
their beginning years have either a fear or denial towards
scientific approaches. Most of us get over that after a while
and learn how to integrate.
The problem is also however that very little
or no scientific studies are done on macrobiotic lifestyle
and diet. The reasons I can think of can be:
-no interest of society, that is not ready
yet to acknowledge the responsibility of the individual
towards his/her health
-no economic benefit for companies who often
pay for studies and research
As for the number of people who developed cancer while practicing
macrobiotics: no studies have been done, so it is difficult
to judge whether macrobiotic people develop cancer to the
same amount as others. I still think that in spite of some
cases there is less cancer among macrobiotic people than
Also other factors than food contributing to the development
of cancer should be studied.
As for B12: Our family and many other macrobiotic
families have participated in a study in the 80s of Dr. Deslypere
from Gent. There were some problems but rather minor in Belgium.
Same studies were done in Holland which showed serious deficiencies
among some macrobiotic families. Only the Dutch study got
international attention. It seems that negative results get
much more attention.
However this issue needs very serious attention
as deficiencies may easily arise. And macrobiotics has never
claimed a meatless diet. Fish has always been a weekly part
of our diet.
Thank you for presenting this article. It addresses
several issues that I've been wondering about (B12, Homocysteine,
The yin-yang concepts vs scientific data was
also very interesting. If either one or both are valid, they
should pass close scrutiny. To avoid examining them for fear
of finding mistakes/problems leads us down an ignorant &
possibly dangerous road.
I hope that you can continue these discussions.
What an inspiring article. It's about time
someone said this!
Macrobiotics is about continuously discovering
the biggest life and the biggest view of life. It is not about
health, as many people think. In fact, it is not about any
dietary plan. Macrobiotics is about life, which is continuously
changing, and so does our diet.
The standard macrobiotic diet as presented by Michio and Aveline
Kushi is a simple base for which to discover, learn, and grow.
It is a starting point, and a returning point, not an ending
point. It is a home where we can rest and recharge, but we
don't have to always stay home. We can go out to eat and stay
at a hotel, and it can be very nice and enjoyable, but we
can't stay forever. It is too expensive and luxurious for
us to live like that all the time, for most people.
We can't penetrate life's mysteries and wonders if we are
always eating animal food. It is too excessive. It clogs our
organs, our mind, and our heart. Most people have already
consumed more than their life's supply of animal food, so
why should it be reccomended for them to be eating more?
Science is not needed to live a big life, nor is any kind
of safety, protection, or precaution. The biggest life is
without a net. The biggest life risks all. Living safely with
all kinds of protection is a small life. It is an illusion
to think that we can actually protect ourselves from life's
grasp anyway. Life has its way with us whether we like it
or not. So nevermind. It is an illusionary net that people
try and put up. Life has its way, and when we fall, there
is no net. We hit the hard, cold, earth, and we kiss the foot
What choice do we have but to live in the realization that
there is no net. The alternative being to live religiously,
thinking that there is something that can protect us from
life as it is. What a waste of energy!
This is my opinion about that.
Thanks for the Guglielmo article. I am in total
agreement with Carlo's thinking. Actually, this is an open-minded
macrobiotic perspective that is urgently needed in the macro
community at this time. As you may be aware, I am active in
advancing macrobiotic philosophy through the marriage of holism
and scientific analysis, so I am certainly in favor of the
type of balanced view that Mr. Guglielmo advocates.
Furthermore, I have experienced some of the health issues
addresses in this article. After many years of macrobiotic
living with inadequate exercise, some years ago I began a
vigorous fitness habit, along with a necessary increase in
macrobiotic quality animal foods. I have lived both sides
of that lifestyle situation and can state from experience
that a sedentary, quasi/vegan macrobiotic lifestyle can be
improved with a broader approach.
Thank you for such a great article.
I now appreciate Macrobiotics more whole heartily.
After being raised a too strict Catholic (perhaps a
redundant statement), I have to be mindful that I don't follow
and believe in absolutes!
This article is brilliant
I love how much I continue to learn from teachers