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Cancer, Diet and Macrobiotics
by Michio Kushi

author of The Cancer Prevention Diet

Michio Kushi is a best-selling author and the acknowledged leader of the international macrobiotic community. He was born in Japan and currently lives in Massachusetts. He is the founder of the Kushi Institute, the East West Foundation and One Peaceful World.

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In treating illness with dietary methods, it is important that the sickness be properly classified as predominantly yin or yang, or sometimes as a combination of both extremes. This is especially true with a life-threatening disease such as cancer. Yin, or outward centrifugal movement, results in expansion, while yang, or inward centripetal movement, produces contraction. We can see these universal tendencies in the human body as the alternating expansion and contraction of the heart and lungs, for example, or in the stomach and intestines during the natural process of digestion. Once the yin or yang determination is made, dietary recommendations can be more specifically aimed at alleviating the particular condition of excess. Location of the tumor in the body generally determines whether a cancer is more yin or yang. However, in some cases, cancer in a specific organ can take either a yin or yang form.

A failure to understand the distinction between the general tendencies of yin and yang illnesses explains why some people experience serious side effects from certain medications and others do not. It also explains why so many nutritional therapies and popular health diets produce mixed results or fail entirely. Vitamin C, for instance, is a yin substance that can benefit people with a cold caused by overconsumption of contractive yang foods. However, vitamin C taken in supplement form rather than in daily whole foods can further weaken persons with a cold caused by intake of excessive yin because it contributes further expansive energy to their system.

Across-the-board recommendations to take vitamin X, drug Y or food Z to prevent or relieve cancer do not take into account the two opposite forms that illness may take. Nor do they always make room for differing human constitutions and conditions and varying geographical, social and personal factors. Modern science is justified in rejecting alternative cancer remedies that ignore these variables.

On the other hand, holistic medicine is correct in questioning modern science for focusing on quantity rather than quality. Eating whole foods containing vitamin C, such as broccoli, produces a different effect on the body than taking vitamin C pills, even though the actual amount of the nutrient may be the same.

On the whole, dietary suggestions should be directed primarily toward restoring the individual's excessively yin or yang condition to one that is less extreme. Signs of an overly yin condition include passivity, negativity and shyness, while signs of an overly yang condition include hyperactivity, aggression and loudness. Once a more natural, balanced condition has been established and stabilized, the person's body will no longer need to accumulate toxic excess in the form of cancer. If we keep this holistic view in mind, we can avoid being caught up in an endless maze of symptoms.

If there is any uncertainty about whether the cause of a cancer is more yin or yang, we can safely recommend the Central Diet outlined in our book The Cancer Prevention Diet, which minimizes both tendencies.

Since cancer is a disease of excess, someone with cancer should be careful not to overeat. To prevent this, two important practices are advised. The first is to chew very well, at least 50 and preferably 100 times per mouthful, until the food becomes liquefied. A person may eat as much food as he or she wants, provided it is well chewed and thoroughly mixed with saliva. Proper chewing releases an important enzyme in the mouth, which is essential for digestion. The second point of caution is not to eat for a least three hours before going to bed. Food eaten during that time often becomes surplus and will serve to accelerate indigestion, gas, mucous and fat formation, and enhance the development of cancer. Regarding liquid intake, the individual should drink moderately and only when thirsty.

For both yin and yang cancers, all intake of fatty animal foods, including meat, eggs, poultry, dairy food and other oily, greasy foods (including those of vegetable quality) should be strictly avoided. A person with more yin cancer, however, may have a very small quantity of fish once or twice a week if he or she craves it. In such instances, cooking a small portion of dried fish in a soup may be appropriate.

A person with yang cancer should stay away from all animal food, including fish, at least for the initial period of a few months. In both cases, nuts and nut butters should be avoided or limited because they are very oily and contain excess protein. It is also advisable for an individual with a more yin cancer to avoid or limit fruit and dessert completely. A person with a more yang cancer may occasionally have small amounts of cooked, dried and some cases fresh fruit, but only when craved.

The cooking of vegetables is slightly different for yin and yang cancers. In the case of yang cancer, one advisable method is to chop the vegetables while bringing water to a boil. Add the vegetables to the boiling water for a few minutes or even one minute, then remove. A small amount of shoyu may be added for taste. Another method is to sauté the vegetables quickly for about two to three minutes on a high flame, adding a pinch of sea salt. These styles of cooking will preserve the crispness, freshness and slightly more yin qualities of the vegetables. For yin cancer, vegetables should be cooked in a slower, longer and more thorough manner, and shoyu or miso seasoning may be a little stronger.

An emphasis on green leafy vegetables such as watercress or kale produces a slightly more yin effect; an emphasis on root vegetables such as carrots or turnips will produce a slightly more yang effect. An emphasis on round vegetables such as onions or acorn squash will result in a slightly more centered effect.

As for daily beverages, there are now several varieties of bancha tea available in natural foods stores, including green tea, usual bancha tea, and bancha stem tea, also commonly known as kukicha tea. More yin green tea contains plenty of vitamin C and can be used to help offset the toxic effects resulting from the overconsumption of animal foods, while more yang bancha stem tea contains less vitamin C but plenty of calcium and minerals. It is advisable for all cancer patients to use bancha stem tea (kukicha) as their usual beverage. However, persons with more yang cancers may occasionally use the green tea from time. Green tea is not recommended for other types of cancer.

Excerpted with permission from The Cancer Prevention Diet ©1993 by Michio Kushi with Alex Jack. Published by St. Martin's Griffin, New York, NY. Available in stores or visit

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