Sunday, September 20, 2009

Macrobiotics: medicine for humanity?

I had lunch with my mentor at the CDC and his wife who is also a physician. She did residency in social medicine, followed by an adolescent medicine fellowship, then spent twenty years running a community clinic in downtown Seattle working with street children. Now, she wants to get more involved in bringing integrative health and lifestyle changes to the hospital system in Atlanta. She told me about her own history with breast cancer, and a mindfulness meditation program that she found really helpful. She said we have to start moving towards a prevention and empowerment model and that I have to be "part of the revolution."

We talked about her friend, also a physician, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 aggressive bilateral breast cancer in her 30's while pregnant with her third child. She received all of the standard treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) but on top of that she also radically changed her lifestyle.

Central to this lifestyle change was a switch to a macrobiotic diet. Now, 13 years later, she is still in remission and has had another three children.

A macrobiotic diet? Not something we learn about in medical school! But, it is one of the most popular lifestyle changes in cancer patients. There are case reports of people going on the macrobiotic diet and having complete recoveries from aggressive metastatic cancers (but not too many scientific studies behind them).

The macrobiotic diet 40-60% whole grains, 20-30% vegetables, 5-10% beans, a small amount of fish and seeds/nuts, weekly seasonal fruit, and the avoidance of meat, poultry, animal fats, eggs, dairy products, refined sugars and foods with artificial sweeteners or other chemical additives.

This study demonstrates that women on the diet have lower estrogen levels and higher levels of physotestrogen metabolites in the urine (possibly due to phytoestrogens in plants consumed in the diet). This finding provides some physiologic answers as to why the diet might be beneficial for women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer (similar to the reason Aromatase Inhibitors are effective drugs - they lower estrogen levels).

George Ohsawa, the Japanese prophet and philosopher who popularized the macrobiotic diet, said:
"No illness is more simple to cure than cancer through a return to the most elementary and natural eating and drinking diet." 
And Michio Kushi, Ohsawa's student, said after his experience in World War II:
"I realized that it was essential to recover genuine food, largely of natural, organic quality, and make it available to every family at reasonable cost. Only then could consciousness be transformed and world peace achieved." 
I like Kushi's explanation of macrobiotics:
"Macrobiotics is not simply or mainly a diet. Macrobiotics is the universal way of life with which humanity has developed biologically, psychologically, and spiritually and with which we will maintain our health freedom, and happiness. Macrobiotics includes a dietary approach but its purpose is to ensure the survival of the human race and its further evolution on this planet. In macrobiotics -- the natural intuitive wisdom of East and West, North and South -- I found the Medicine for Humanity that I had been seeking."
The Medicine for Humanity. I like that.

No comments:

Post a Comment