Alternative Cancer Therapies Go Mainstream
What it is: A strict diet that eliminates meat and dairy products and derives 50% to 60% of its calories from whole grains, 25% to 30% from vegetables, and the rest from beans, seaweed, and other plant sources.
Summary: There is strong evidence that plant-based diets can help prevent cancer. The effectiveness of these diets as a treatment remains controversial.
The evidence: Although there is no direct evidence yet that a macrobiotic diet will prevent or slow the growth of tumors, there is plenty of evidence that its components are potent cancer-fighters. In a report in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in August 1998, epidemiologist Larry Kushi, PhD, and his colleagues showed that a diet very rich in whole-grain foods can protect against a variety of cancers. Hundreds of studies have found an association between vegetable consumption and a lower risk of many forms of the disease, including colon, lung, prostate, and breast cancers, according to epidemiologist John Potter, PhD, of the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle. More clinical trials are under way.
Side effects and cautions: Although a macrobiotic diet is very rich in vitamins and minerals, it is low in protein compared with the average American diet. Patients are advised to talk to their doctors before beginning any strict diet regimen.
Peter Jaret is a freelance writer based in Petaluma, Calif. His work has appeared in Health, Hippocrates, National Geographic, and many other publications.
Originally published July 24, 2000.
Medically updated April 9, 2003.