use of alternative medicine is rising dramatically as the new century approaches.
The number of Americans who use alternative therapies at least once a year increased
to 42% in the 1990s, according to a new study by Harvard Medical School researchers
published in a special issue this autumn on alternative medicine in the Journal
of the American Medical Association.
The number of total visits to alternative
medicine practitioners rose 47% in the same period to 629 million, thereby exceeding
the total visits to all U.S. medical doctors. Expenditures for alternative services
increased 45% and were estimated at $21.2 billion a year.
The new study came
as Congress established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine (formerly the Office of Alternative Medicine ) and more than doubled
its annual budget to $50 million.
Compared to the United States, recent surveys
have found that 15% of Canadians have seen alternative practitioners in the past
year; 10% of people in Denmark; 33% in Finland, and 49% in Australia.
therapies included in the Harvard study included a lifestyle diet such as macrobiotics
or vegetarianism; prayer or spiritual healing; energy healing techniques
as laying on of hands; and relaxation techniques such as meditation or the relaxation
response. Visits to massage practitioners and chiropractors constitute nearly
half of all visits to alternative therapists.
Use of herbal remedies increased
380% since 1990 and high-dose vitamins 130%. "Use of alternative therapies
in 1997 was not confined to any narrow segment of society," the researchers
reported. However, it was more common among women (49%) than men (38%) and less
common among African Americans (33%) than other racial groups. People aged 35
to 49 reported higher rates of use (50%) than either older or younger people.
Use was higher among those who have some college education (50%) than with no
college education (36%) and more common with those with annual incomes above $50,000
Noting that alternative therapies are only infrequently included in
insurance benefits and that a majority of users do not disclose their use of alternative
therapies to their physicians, the researchers concluded that "the current
status quo, which can be described as 'don't ask and don't tell,' needs to be
abandoned. Professional strategies for responsible dialog in this area need to
be further developed and refined."
The JAMA issue also published the results
of several randomized clinical trails that evaluated the use of alternative medicine
therapies for treatment of common clinical conditions. Researchers found that:
Moxibustion (stimulating an acupressure point by heat generated from burning mugwort)
is helpful for correcting a breech presentation in late pregnancy
Chinese herbal medicine compound improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
Yoga-based intervention helps relieve some symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome
also reported that claims against chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists
generally occurred less frequently and involved less severe injury than malpractice
claims against medical doctors.
In an accompanying editorial, the editors of
the journal called for further research, including priority funding for alternative
medicine, and increased dialogue between the conventional and complementary communities.
"Ultimately, answering fundamental questions about efficacy, safety, appropriate
clinical applications, and meaningful outcomes for all medical therapies, including
those considered alternative medicine, requires critical and objective assessment
using accepted principles of scientific investigation and rigorous standards for
evaluation of scientific evidence."
Reprinted from the Winter 1999 One
Peaceful World Journal, © 1999, all rights reserved.
modern low-fiber diet has wreaked havoc on the digestive systems of millions of
people. It is rare to find someone with healthy digestion and smooth elimination.
Digestive disorders are so common that most people regard them as a normal part
Tight, narrow lips are a sign that the digestive system has become
tight and constricted. This more yang condition is caused by too much animal food
and not enough fiber. A lack of whole grains, beans, and fresh vegetables is a
common cause. If the upper lip is thin and tight, the stomach and solar plexus
are tight and blocked. Among modern foods, chicken and cheese frequently cause
tightness in this part of the body. This tightness interferes with smooth digestion
and may be a sign of hypoglycemia, or chronic low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia arises
when the pancreas becomes tight, hard, and blocked, as a result of the repeated
consumption of foods such as eggs, chicken, and cheese. In this condition, the
pancreas is unable to secrete sufficient glucagon, the hormone that causes the
blood sugar to rise.
Tightness in the lower lip is a sign of tightness in the
intestines. The cause is similar to the above: repeated consumption of meat, chicken,
cheese, and other forms of animal food, and not enough grains, vegetables, and
other plant fibers. Tightness and constriction in the large intestine is a common
cause of chronic intestinal stagnation and constipation.
Puffy of swollen lips
have an opposite, or more yin cause. A swollen upper lip is a sign of possible
stomach disorders, including heartburn, overacidity, and ulcers resulting from
the repeated consumption of sugar, caffeine, spices, alcohol, soft drinks, refined
flour, potatoes and other nightshades,
and other yin extremes. When the stomach becomes lose and swollen, the muscular
valve, known as the cardiac sphincter, at the opening of the stomach relaxes or
operates inefficiently. The sphincter is normally closed when food is in the stomach.
The contents of the stomach, including stomach acid, are regurgitated into the
esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest and neck after a meal. This
symptom, commonly known as heartburn, affects millions of people daily. Heartburn
drugs, most notably antacids such as Tums, Rolaids, and Mylanta, or acid blockers
such as Zantac and Tagamet, are currently a $5 billion industry in the United
A swollen lower lip is a sign of chronic over expansion in the intestines
resulting from too many yin extremes in the diet. In this condition, the intestines
lose the contracting power of peristalsis. Stagnation occurs and the result is
chronic constipation. As we can see, constipation can result from an overly expanded
or an overly contracted condition.
When the diet is deficient in whole grains,
vegetables, and other foods rich in fiber, a person tends to produce small hard
stools. These stools accumulate in the large intestine, and can not be passed
without straining. Constant straining at stool raises the blood pressure in the
veins, causing them to become permanently dilated, leading to hemorrhoids and
varicose veins. Eventually, the outward pressure caused by the accumulation of
small hard stools can cause small pockets, called diverticuli, to form in the
wall of the colon. About 40 percent of those over age 65 have this condition.
When these pockets bleed and become infected, the condition is known as diverticulitis.
bowel syndrome, sometimes called spastic colon, is also the result of modern eating
habits. The intake of sugar, chocolate, honey, milk, ice cream, strong spices,
tropical fruits, and refined foods, in combination with yang extremes such as
meat, chicken, and cheese, can cause symptoms such as alternating constipation
and diarrhea, abdominal pain, mucus discharge, and the passage of small-caliber
stools. These symptoms are known collectively as irritable bowel syndrome. This
condition is exacerbated by the chronic use of antibiotics, aspirin, and nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen. These medications kill normal
intestinal bacteria and disrupt the healthful ecology of the colon. Up to two
thirds of persons using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs suffer from inflammation
of the small intestine.
The use of medications, in combination with the modern
diet, can also lead to overgrowth of intestinal yeast (candida) and an increase
in intestinal permeability, a condition known as "leaky gut syndrome."
Foods such as sugar, soft drinks, tropical fruits, spices, and chocolate accelerate
macrobiotic understanding of energy-balance can help us determine the type of
home remedies to use when treating common digestive disorders. Diarrhea, for example,
represents an overly-yin or expanded condition. Its symptoms can be categorized
internal remedy with the following energy characteristics would help offset these
Stabilizing, soothing, or calming
on these criteria, our remedy of choice would be Ume-Sho-Kuzu. Kuzu is a root
that grows deep in the earth. It is strongly charged with yang or contracting
energy. It is used often as a thickener in macrobiotic cooking, and has contracting
or solidifying energy. It helps consolidate the bowel movement and has a quieting
effect on an overactive stomach and intestines. Umeboshi neutralizes excess acid.
An overly acid condition promotes diarrhea. Moreover, umeboshi has strong antimicrobal
power. It can neutralize micro-organisms, including those that cause dysentery.
is a constant balance in the stomach between the hydrochloric acid secreted by
one set of gastric cells and the mucus secreted by another set of cells. Hydrochloric
acid is strongly yin; gastric mucus is comparatively yang. When secreted in proper
amounts, the mucus in the stomach has a protective effect, preventing gastric
acid and enzymes from irritating, ulcerating, or even eating-away the lining of
the stomach. Kuzu has a thick, viscous consistency, not unlike that of gastric
mucus. It coats the stomach and protects it from excess hydrochloric acid. Umeboshi
plum, which is strongly alkaline, neutralizes the harmful effects of excess stomach
As we can see, Ume-Sho-Kuzu is broad-spectrum remedy that benefits the
digestive system as a whole. Together with a balanced macrobiotic diet, it can
be used to relieve such conditions as stomach ulcers and heartburn. The fiber
in kuzu, in combination with the anti-inflammatory effects of umeboshi, are helpful
in easing the symptoms of acute diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Moreover,
because it is more contractive, Ume-Sho-Kuzu can reduce intestinal permeability,
thus relieving "leaky gut syndrome."
prepare this broad-spectrum natural remedy:
one heaping teaspoon of kuzu (kudzu) in two to three teaspoons of cold water.
one cup of cold water to the diluted kuzu.
over a medium flame. Stir constantly to prevent lumping, until the liquid becomes
translucent. Reduce the flame as low as possible.
the pulp of one-half to one umeboshi plum that has been chopped or ground to a
drops of shoyu and stir gently. Simmer for two to three minutes and drink hot.
can sometimes be made with grated ginger. However, ginger is an energy-activator,
and for acute conditions involving inflammation, or in cases of active diarrhea,
it is best omitted. Ume-Sho-Kuzu can be taken once a day for several days until
the condition improves. In addition, it is important to make dietary changes so
as to allow the digestive organs to heal and prevent a recurrence of the condition.
It is also important to chew well, eating regular meals, and not eat before bedtime.
These practices ease chronic distress in the digestive system resulting from modern
© 1996 by Edward Esko, all rights reserved
Basics & Benefits of Macrobiotics
of the most basic principles of macrobiotics is to eat an ecological, environmentally
- based diet. That means to rely primarily on foods native to the climate and
environment in which we live. Until the modern age, people were more or less dependent
on the products of their regional agriculture. Foods that grew in their area formed
the basis of their daily diet. It was not until modern technology that it became
possible for people to base their diets on foods from regions with far different
it is common for people to consume bananas from South America, sugar from the
Caribbean, pineapples from the South Pacific, or kiwi from New Zealand. However,
our health depends on our ability to adapt to the changes in our environment.
When we eat foods from a climate that is very different from ours, we lose that
adaptability. As society moved away from its traditional, ecologically-based diet,
there has been a corresponding rise in chronic illness. Therefore, for optimal
health, we need to return to a way of eating based on foods produced in our local
environment, or at least on foods grown in a climate that is similar to ours.
with more yang, or contracted energy remain viable longer and can come from a
greater distance than foods with more yin, or expansive energy. Sea salt and sea
vegetables are examples. They are rich in contracted minerals and can come from
the oceans around the world, provided these waters are within your hemisphere.
Grains, especially with the outer husk attached, remain intact for a long time,
even thousands of years, and can come from anywhere in your continent. Beans also
travel well and can come from a similarly wide area. However, vegetables and fruits
are more yin or expansive; they decompose more rapidly than grains and beans,
and unless they are naturally dried or pickled, are best taken from your immediate
Changing with Our Environment
is also important to adapt our cooking and eating to seasonal changes. The modern
way of eating does not do this, as people eat pretty much the same diet throughout
the year. High temperatures and bright sunshine produce a stronger charge of upward
energy in the environment. Water evaporates more rapidly and plants become lush
and expanded. Spring and summer are times of upward, expansive energy. Then toward
the end of summer, energy starts to change, moving downward and inward. In colder
and darker conditions, such as those of autumn and winter, downward or contracting
energy is stronger.
can we adapt to these changes? During spring and summer, we can make our diet
lighter and fresher, meaning that we use less fire in cooking. We do not need
as much fire in our cooking because fire is already there in the form of strong
sunshine. When it is hot, we do not need warmth from our food. As we move into
autumn and winter, with cooler temperatures and stronger downward energy, we make
our food hearty and warming by using more fire in cooking.
the seasons change, we also need to utilize the natural products of our environment.
Our gardens are filled with vegetables and other foods during the spring and summer,
so we can naturally eat plenty of fresh garden produce during these times. For
example, summer is the time when corn is readily available, so it is fine to eat
plenty of fresh corn in that season.
season to season, atmospheric energy alternates as part of the daily cycle. Upward
energy is stronger in the morning, while downward energy is stronger in the afternoon
and evening. In order to eat in harmony with this cycle, breakfast should be light,
not heavy. A breakfast of eggs and bacon is dense and heavy, and goes against
the movement of energy. Breakfast grains can be cooked with more water, so that
they become lighter and more easily digested. Dinner can include a greater number
of side dishes, and we normally eat more in the evening, since at that time, atmospheric
energy is more condensed and inward-moving. Lunch can also be quick and light,
since at noon, atmospheric energy is very active and expansive. Quick light cooking,
such as that in which we reheat leftovers, can be done at that time.
important principle is to eat according to our distinctive needs as a species.
Our teeth reveal the ideal proportion of foods in the human diet. We have thirty-two
adult teeth. There are twenty molars and premolars. The word molar is a Latin
word for millstone, or the stones used to crush wheat and other grains into flour.
These teeth are not suited for animal food, but for crushing or grinding grains,
beans, seeds, and other tough plant fibers. There are also eight front incisors
(from the Latin, to cut) and these are well-suited for cutting vegetables. We
also have four canine teeth. The canines can be used for animal food, not necessarily
meat, but foods such as white-meat fish. The ideal proportion of foods as reflected
in the teeth is five parts grain and other tough fibrous foods, two parts vegetables,
and one part animal food. The ideal ratio between plant and animal food is seven
diet does not reflect this pattern. Rather than whole grains, meat or other types
of animal food are the primary foods. Vegetables are often used as garnish to
the main course of animal food. Cereal grains are eaten almost as an afterthought,
and are eaten in the form of white bread, white rolls, and other highly refined
products. Refined bread or rolls are used simply as a vehicle to carry a hot dog,
hamburger, or some other type of animal food. Grains are an incidental part of
the modern diet.
people are eating the opposite of what they should be eating. That is why so many
health problems exist in the modern world. One of the clearest messages I received
from the books of George Ohsawa was that plant-based diets are superior to animal-based
diets. When Ohsawa presented that idea many years ago, Western doctors and nutritionists
laughed. They believed that animal protein was superior to plant protein, and
that cultures in which animal protein formed the basis of the diet were more advanced
than cultures that relied on grains and other plant foods.
that view is changing. The vanguard of modern nutrition now agrees that plant-based
diets are better for our health. If we compare the health patterns of people who
are eating plant-based diets with those who are eating animal food, the grain-
and vegetable-eaters have far lower rates of chronic disease. There is an exception
to this of course. If you would like to eat animal food, it would be better for
you to move to the Far North, above the Arctic Circle. Then you can eat plenty
of animal food. But if you live in Houston, where it is a hundred degrees in the
summer, then it is out of order to eat barbecued steak. It does not fulfill our
biological needs nor does it make our condition harmonious with our environment.
also recommends respecting dietary tradition. In the Bible we read, "give
us this day our daily bread." Bread is symbolic of grain itself. Wheat, barley,
and other grains were considered the staff of life. In the Far East, rice was
considered the staple food, the staff of life. Native Americans respected corn
as their staff of life. Wherever you look, no matter what your tradition is, if
you go back far enough, you find that your ancestors were eating grains as their
principal foods. They used local vegetables and beans as secondary foods. They
were eating much less animal food than at present.
vegetables, especially tomatoes and potatoes, were originally not a part of the
diet in Europe. These vegetables were brought to Europe from Peru. The original
Italian diet did not include tomato sauce. It was very close to a macrobiotic
diet. Originally they did not use much meat, they used more seafood, because Italy
is a peninsula. They did not use butter, but used olive oil in cooking. Instead
of umeboshi plums, they used pickled olives. The basis of the diet was whole grain
pasta and rice. As people abandoned these traditional eating patterns in favor
of the modern diet, their rates of degenerative disease, especially heart disease
and cancer, increased dramatically.
Source: Basics and Benefits of Macrobiotics,
Copyright © 1995 by Edward Esko, all rights reserved.
Basics & Benefits of Macrobiotics
practice of macrobiotics is based on the understanding of food as energy. Electrons
and protons are not solid particles, but condensed packets of energy. Everything
is actually energy, everything is composed of vibration. There is no unchanging
or fixed substance in the universe. Therefore, our understanding of food incorporates,
but is not limited to, theories of modern nutrition. In modern nutrition, food
is viewed as matter. In reality, there is an invisible quality to food (and to
life itself) that cannot be measured scientifically. We must perceive that invisible
quality directly through our intuition.
macrobiotics, we employ a very simple tool for understanding the movement of energy.
We understand food in terms of yin (expansion) and yang (contraction). All foods
are made up of varying degrees of these two basic forces. We use this understanding
to see how food affects us in a very dynamic and practical way. By understanding
food as energy, we see that it affects not only our physical condition, but our
mind, emotions, and even our spirituality. These invisible aspects of life are
a function of the quality of energy we manifest.
we eat a food such as steak, which is very yang or contracted, we are naturally
attracted to foods with the opposite quality of energy. So we eat the steak with
potatoes, alcohol, or a sugary dessert such as ice cream. All of these foods are
extremely yin. In order to balance extremes, we have to add many things that we
don't need. We wind up taking in excess fat, excess protein, excess carbohydrate,
and excess water. Our body is constantly being challenged.
what happens when our main food is more balanced? If you look at a nutritional
analysis of whole grains--brown rice, barley, millet, whole wheat--you discover
that their ratio of minerals to protein and protein to carbohydrate approximates
one to seven. Short grain brown rice comes closest to the one to seven ratio,
that, nutritionally speaking, represents the balancing point between expansive
and contractive energies on the planet. If you eat whole grains every day, your
main foods are balanced in themselves. It is much easier to balance yin and yang
in your diet as a whole. Eating whole grains as your primary food makes it much
easier to maintain optimal nutritional and energetic balance.
recommends that our foods be as natural as possible. Today, however, people are
using poor quality table salt, treated city water, animal protein instead of plant
protein, saturated animal fat instead of vegetable oil, chemically processed rather
than organic foods, and plenty of simple sugars instead of complex carbohydrates.
It is no wonder that modern people's health is suffering, because the quality
of each of these nutritional factors is poor.
The understanding of food as
energy can guide us not only in creating an optimal diet, but in the use of simple
home remedies for the relief of illness. For example, suppose someone has a kidney
stone. What type of energy does that represent, more expansive, yin energy or
more condensed, yang energy? A kidney stone is condensed, something like hard,
frozen energy. In order to offset that, we need to apply something with the opposite,
activating energy. Should we apply heat or cold? We should apply heat. Heat will
activate this frozen energy and make it melt and break down. A hot ginger compress
can be applied for that purpose.
represents the opposite type of energy. Fever is an example of hot, overactive
energy. What would balance that? Something with cool, inert energy. Ice is too
cold for this purpose. Ice is so cold that it makes the body contract, so that
the excess that is trying to come out through the fever will, instead, be held
inside. Something a little milder is needed. Also, our body is part of the animal
world, so something from the plant kingdom helps to make balance. A simple macrobiotic
remedy for fever is to apply a cabbage leaf or another leafy green directly to
the forehead. Another remedy is to take raw tofu, which is cool and inert, mash
it, and apply it to the forehead. This application, known as a tofu plaster, draws
heat out of the body. It can lower a fever in a matter of minutes. The principle
of energy balance can help you manage a variety of minor conditions at home without
aspirin or other medications.
also teaches that we respect biodiversity, or the tremendous proliferation of
life on earth. Many people are concerned with preserving the wealth of species
on our planet because biodiversity is now being threatened by civilization. Many
species, including those in tropical rain forests, are disappearing. Others are
in danger. Scientists have discovered that amphibians such as frogs and salamanders
are diminishing, perhaps because of ozone depletion or acid rain. The tiger, the
symbol of power and beauty, is vanishing from the wild. However, in nature, biodiversity
is the rule, not the exception. To reflect this in our eating, we need to practice
what I call dietary diversity. There is a wide proliferation of life on earth,
a wide range of species, and to translate that into our day to day eating, we
need plenty of variety in our selection of foods, and also in our cooking methods.
Macrobiotic eating is not narrow or strict. Through macrobiotics, we discover
a wide range of healthful new foods.
also need to respect the endless diversity of individual needs. Although we share
certain fundamental things in common, each of us is different. If we are active,
we should eat a certain way for physical activity. If we are sitting behind a
desk, our diet should be somewhat different. Men and women also need to eat differently.
Between men and women, who can eat more animal food? Men. Who can eat more raw
salad and sweets? Women. Children and adults also need to eat differently. Babies
are already yang--small and contracted--so their diets need to be more yin--soft
and sweet-tasting, with little or no salt. If you have eaten plenty of animal
food in the past, in order to restore balance, you need to base your diet on plant
foods. Or if you have a health problem caused by your past way of eating, you
can emphasize certain foods in order to offset that.
what are the benefits of macrobiotic living? Eating this way can help us maintain
optimal health and achieve longevity. People such as the Hunza in Kashmir, known
for their good health and longevity, eat grains and vegetables as their main food.
They were eating more or less a macrobiotic diet adapted to their mountainous
terrain and climate. The first benefit of macrobiotic eating is physical health
second benefit is peace of mind. That peace of mind comes from the awareness that
we are living and eating in harmony with the universe. We are living in harmony
with the movement of energy. That is the source of inner peace. Our mind and emotions
are very much conditioned by what we eat. If you feed your child plenty of sugar,
what kind of mind or emotions result? Children become hyperactive or cry a lot,
and become overly emotional. If we eat plenty of meat, what kind of mind and emotions
are produced? We become aggressive or in the extreme, even violent. What happens
when we eat plenty of nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes or potatoes? We become
depressed. Incidentally, these vegetables have recently been found to contain
nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive substance, and that may explain why many people
find it difficult to stop eating these vegetables.
your mind and emotions become more stable and peaceful, you naturally develop
a sense of family and community. Modern values--such as competition, dog eat dog,
survival of the fittest, etc.--have all arisen from a carnivorous diet. Grain-eating
people develop a completely opposite view. Instead of seeing scarcity on the earth,
we realize that we live in a universe of abundance. Rather than fighting over
resources, the issue becomes how to share the tremendous natural wealth on our
planet. Meat-eating tends to produce isolation, something like the lone hunter
or lone wolf, rather than a sense of community. Hunters such as lions and hyenas
are constantly fighting with each other. Grain-eaters develop a completely opposite
way of thinking based on cooperation.
also leads to a more nomadic lifestyle, following the herd, and we tend to become
unsettled, rather than stable or settled down. Grain-eating agricultural life
is more stable, more settled. Which way of life encourages more stable family
life? When the men are off hunting all season, or if the entire village has to
constantly be on the move, it is difficult to maintain stability. Macrobiotic
living strengthens our community and family life. People naturally desire to help
and support each other. Through macrobiotics, you become friends with everyone.
As we continue to eat this way, our concept of family expands to include all of
humanity. We reconnect with our human family on planet earth.
living can also help us gain spiritual understanding. Do you think it is easy
to meditate if we eat hamburgers, or if our mind is very angry or upset, or if
we are always stressed out? Or if we are eating sugar or drinking Coke all the
time, so that our mind is often hyperactive and scattered, can we really stabilize
and center our energy? These conditions make if very difficult to enter into deep,
tranquil, and peaceful meditation. In order to allow spiritual energy to smoothly
channel through us, and to use that energy, macrobiotic eating --grains and vegetables--
not forget that all great spiritual traditions included some form of dietary discipline.
In the Orient, the cooking in Buddhist and Taoist monasteries was called shojin
ryiori, or "cooking for spiritual development." These traditions were
based on the understanding that food accelerates our spiritual consciousness.
By selecting the proper food, we develop our spiritual quality. In these traditions,
do you think animal food was a part of their diets? No. They were completely vegetarian.
However, in traditional times, vegetarian eating, especially in cooler climates,
meant eating cooked brown rice, daikon and other vegetables, tofu and bean products,
etc., rather than a lot of raw fruit or salad.
as we achieve good health, peace of mind, a sense of family and community, and
spiritual understanding, we gain the ability to play and have a big dream or adventure
in this life. Macrobiotics is based on change or transmutation. In other words,
we try to gain the ability to change things into their opposite according to our
free will. So if we are experiencing difficulty, using macrobiotic understanding,
we try to change that into pleasure or enjoyment. Or if we are experiencing sickness,
we self-transform that into health. Or if the world is in danger of war, as our
adventure, as our play, as our challenge, we transform that into peace. You can
even gain the ability to transmute or transform any type of food into your health
and vitality. In other words, you embrace your antagonist and turn it into your
friend. As George Ohsawa said, ultimately there are no restrictions. The realization
of total freedom, or the freedom to play endlessly in this infinite universe,
is the ultimate benefit of macrobiotic living.
Source: Basics and Benefits
of Macrobiotics, Copyright 1995 by Edward Esko, all rights reserved.
its structure and function, the brain and nervous system is a masterpiece of complementary
balance. The cells in the nervous system, known as neurons, come in a variety
of forms, but share the same basic structure. The sections of the neuron include
branched dendrites, which receive incoming impulses; the yang or compact cell
body, where impulses gather and are processed, and the yin, extended axon where
impulses are dispatched to neighboring cells.
On the whole, each cell in the
nervous system functions as a spiral made up of incoming and outgoing impulses
When nerve impulses arrive at the end point, or terminal of the
axon, they travel across the synapse, a narrow space that separates the axons
of nerve cells from the dendrites of others. When impulses reach the terminal,
they stimulate the release of neurotransmitters, substances that determine the
way that the message will affect the neighboring cell. More yang, activating transmitters
cause nerve cells to become excited and generate impulses at a higher rate. More
yin, inhibiting transmitters slow or block the production of nervous impulses.
such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables rich in complex carbohydrates increase
the brain's supply of serotonin, a more yin neurotransmitter that is believed
to induce calm and relaxed mental states. Eggs and other animal food increase
the levels of acetylcholine, another neurotransmitter. That may help explain why
persons who consume grains and vegetables and little or no animal food often seem
calm and even-tempered in comparison to persons who consume plenty of meat and
other animal foods.
The low levels of serotonin that result from a diet high
in animal foods may contribute to impulsive behavior. In studies of prison inmates
conducted in Finland, those with the most impulsive behavior patterns were found
to have the lowest levels of metabolized serotonin in the spinal fluid when compared
to non-impulsive prisoners and controls. The impulsive inmates were also found
to have low blood sugar levels. The researchers found that 81 percent of repeat
offenders had abnormally low blood sugar levels. Low levels of serotonin, together
with low levels of blood sugar, characterized 84 percent of the repeat offenders
the body's secretion of hormones, and these influence behavior. In a study conducted
at Yale, the intake of refined sugar was found to dramatically increase blood
levels of adrenaline in children. In children who were tested after being given
an amount of sugar equivalent to two cupcakes, levels of adrenaline increased
ten times. Adrenaline, secreted by the adrenal glands during times of stress,
initiates the "fight or flight" response. It produces such effects as
rapid heartbeat, quick shallow breathing, and nervousness.
levels lead to anxiety and difficulty in thinking clearly. Parents often notice
that children behave in an aggressive, hyperactive, and erratic manner after eating
plenty of sugary foods, and this study offers a possible biochemical explanation
for this reaction. Researchers are becoming aware that diet has a profound effect
on the the brain and nervous system, and thus on our mental and emotional condition.
to the National Institutes of Mental Health, about 5 percent of the American population
suffers from major depressive illness. Milder forms of depression are much more
common. Suicide is often the outcome of severe depression, and about 75,000 people
commit suicide every year in the United States. Suicide is the second leading
cause of death among men between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five, and the
rate is increasing among young people.
Bouts of depression often occur in cycles.
A bout of depression may last for one or two days or for several months or longer.
Researchers have begun to observe a correlation between episodes of depression
and natural rhythms such as the 24-hour daily cycle and the cycle of the seasons.
Depression tends to be more severe in the afternoon and evening, and during the
autumn and winter, times when the energy of the earth's atmosphere becomes more
yang or condensed.
many cases, depression is the by-product of a condition known as hypoglycemia,
or low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia is produced by an extreme or unbalanced diet,
especially the regular intake of cheese, chicken, eggs, and other forms of animal
food. These more yang or contractive items cause the pancreas to become hard and
tight, and inhibit its secretion of glucagon, or anti-insulin, the more yin pancreatic
hormone that raises the level of glucose in the blood. When the pancreas becomes
hard and tight, it cannot secrete glucagon properly, although insulin, the more
yang hormone that lowers blood sugar, keeps being secreted. The result is hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia creates the desire to consume sugar, soft drinks, chocolate, alcohol,
or drugs, all of which raise the level of sugar in the blood.
The brain is
utterly dependent on glucose for its functioning, and when a deficit arises, the
higher brain centers, including those governing imagination and creativity, shut
down in order to conserve more fundamental brain activity essential for survival.
The result is a sinking feeling or a feeling of being boxed in by circumstances.
A person becomes unable to imagine a solution to whatever problems he may be experiencing,
and, because of a lack of blood sugar, may not have enough energy to change his
circumstances. The result is depression and a sense of hopelessness.
of yin and yang can help clarify the biochemistry of depression and other mood
disorders. When the blood sugar becomes elevated (yin), the pancreas secretes
insulin (yang), in order to make balance. In the brain, production of more yang
neurotransmitters--those involved in arousal and motor activity--is stepped up.
Conversely, when blood sugar becomes low (yang), the pancreas reduces the output
of insulin, while accelerating production of glucagon (yin). In the brain, production
of activating neurotransmitters is reduced, in some cases, to the point of undersupply.
The resulting shortage can lead to depression.
A naturally balanced, macrobiotic
diet can help correct these imbalances in the internal chemistry of the body.
A diet based on complex carbohydrates, such as those in whole grains, beans, and
fresh local vegetables helps stabilize the metabolism of glucose, and can help
relieve conditions such as depression, fear, and anxiety. Mind and body are one.
The application of diet to the relief of mood disorders represents a new frontier
in the field of psychology.
sugar imbalances also play an important role in schizophrenia, a more severe form
of mental illness. Chronic low blood sugar leads to cravings for refined sugar,
alcohol, chocolate, drugs, and other extreme forms of yin. The repeated consumption
of extreme yin items can cause the cells of the brain and nervous system to become
chronically overexpanded, producing an eventual deterioration of mental functioning.
The result can be schizophrenia.
Our mental processes depend on the brain's
ability to concentrate and simplify information. The concentration of information
is more yang. In The Healing Brain, Robert Ornstein and David Sobel describe this
process as follows:
Since the world is constantly changing, the brain is flooded
with information. How would it know which of all these changes are important and
which are irrelevant? A strategy emerged in which the brain and nervous system
evolved to radically reduce and limit the information transmitted to the brain.
nervous system organizes information so that a few actions, the appropriate actions,
can take place. Much of the intricate network of receptors, ganglia, and analysis
cells in the cortex serve to simplify. Senses select only a few meaningful elements
from all the stimuli that reach us, organize them into the most likely occurrence,
and remember only a small organized sample of what has occurred.
cells become chronically yin or expanded, they easily become overly sensitive
to yang stimuli, including activating neurotransmitters such as dopamine. According
to a popular hypothesis, oversensitivity to dopamine produces chronic overstimulation
in the brain. The patient becomes hypersensitive to stimulation from the immediate
environment and loses touch with vibrations coming from greater distances. This
leads to cognitive overload and a decline in more refined thinking abilities.
A person in this condition has difficulty organizing the world by going beyond
the immediate information he receives.
the varied functions of the brain requires strong yang, or centripetal power.
Ornstein and Sobel describe these varied functions as follows:
The brain is
divided into very many independent and well-defined areas, each of which possesses
a rich concentration certain abilities. In this view, which is becoming more and
more established, the brain is seen not as a single organ, but as a collage of
different and independent systems, each of which contains component abilities.
schizophrenia, the yang power of coordination and control breaks down. The various
centers of the brain may start to act independently. The spiral of coordination
begins to spin out of control. Loss of control is due to an overly yin condition
in the brain and nerve cells. People with schizophrenia often show signs of excess
sugar consumption. Refined sugar disrupts the balance of vitamins and minerals
in the body. A common symptom of schizophrenia is numerous white spots on the
fingernails, a sign of mineral deficiency resulting from the repeated consumption
of simple sugar. Many schizophrenics have a sweet odor on their breath, also the
result of consuming sugar. A variety of mineral deficiencies and imbalances are
common among schizophrenics, especially deficiencies in zinc, manganese, magnesium,
and sodium, and these result primarily from the repeated consumption of sugar.
regular intake of simple sugars depletes B-complex vitamins that are necessary
to smooth mental functioning. More than fifty years ago, it was discovered that
vitamin B deficiencies were related to mental illness. About 10 percent of the
people who were diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed to mental hospitals
in the South were found to be suffering from pellegra, a vitamin B deficiency.
When they were placed on corrective diets, their previously diagnosed "schizophrenia"
A naturally balanced, macrobiotic diet, rich in B vitamins, minerals,
complex carbohydrates, and other essential nutrients, could help many patients
with schizophrenia. Restoring the brain and nervous system to a more normal balance
of yin and yang is the first step toward the recovery from mental illness.
This essay is from persnal notes and lectures, including research for the book,
Crime and Diet: The Macrobiotic Approach, Japan Publications, Tokyo and New York,
1987, © all rights reserved.
recommendations of caloric intake made by scientific and medical institutions
tend to overestimate the volume of calories required by the average person.
modern method of calculating the calories required for various activities is based
upon expenditure of energy as measured by discharge following activities rather
than the actual amount of calories really required to carry on those activities.
Guidelines based on such analytical examinations result in progressively higher
recommendations of caloric intake needed in prosperous countries, where people
are eating more rich and refined food, and progressively lower recommendations
in countries where the people are eating more simply.
According to the macrobiotic
view, one's natural appetite for whole, natural, properly cooked foods and one's
regular bowel movements are more practical barometers for determining the necessary
volume of food as well as required calories. Caloric requirements vary generally
between 1,400 and 1,800 daily depending upon age, sex, and personal condition
and need, if the standard macrobiotic diet is generally practiced in a temperate
region, with two or three meals consumed per day. In contrast, the average American
consumes about 2,400 to 3,300 calories daily.
Furthermore, it is necessary
to consider that some foods convert into calories with higher speed than other
foods. For example, sugar processed from sugarcane produces calories rapidly,
but the caloric discharge soon ceases, while glucose metabolized from whole cereal
grains burns slowly and produces caloric energy lasting longer. In this respect,
a low-calorie diet centered around grains and vegetables is far superior to a
high-calorie diet centered around meat and sugar. Recent scientific studies have
borne out the theory that a low-calorie diet, or caloric restriction, can add
years, possibly decades, to life. In laboratory studies, animals put on low-calorie
diets lived significantly longer than usual.
are generally known as sugars, but in speaking of sugar we should specify the
sugars or monosaccharides are found in fruits and honey and include glucose and
fructose. Double sugars or disaccharides are found in cane sugar and milk and
include sucrose and lactose. Complex sugars or polysaccharides are found in grains,
beans, and vegetables and include cellulose. In the normal digestive process,
complex sugars are decomposed gradually and at a nearly even rate by various enzymes
in the mouth, stomach, pancreas, and intestines. Complex sugars enter the bloodstream
slowly after being broken down into smaller saccharide units. During the process,
the pH of the blood remains slightly alkaline.
In contrast, single and double
sugars (together known as simple sugars) are metabolized quickly, causing the
blood to become overacidic. To compensate for this extreme yin condition, the
pancreas secretes a yang hormone, insulin, which allows excess sugar in the blood
to be removed and enter the cells of the body. This produces a burst of energy
as the glucose (the end product of all sugar metabolism) is oxidized and carbon
dioxide and water are given off as wastes. Diabetes, for example, is a disease
characterized by the failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin to neutralize
excess blood sugar following years of extreme dietary consumption.
the sugar that enters the bloodstream is originally stored in the liver in the
form of glycogen until needed, when it is again changed into glucose. When the
amount of glycogen exceeds the liver's storage capacity of about 50 grams, it
is released into the bloodstream in the form of fatty acid. This fatty acid is
stored first in the more inactive places of the body, such as the buttocks, thighs,
and midsection. Then, if cane sugar, fruit sugar, dairy sugar, and other simple
sugars continue to be eaten, fatty acid becomes attracted to more yang organs
such as the heart, liver, and kidneys, which gradually become encased in a layer
of fat and mucus.
This accumulation can also penetrate the inner tissues, weakening
the normal functioning of the organs and causing their eventual blockage as in
the case of atherosclerosis. The buildup of fat can also lead to various forms
of cancer, including tumors of the breast, colon, and reproductive organs. Still
another form of degeneration may occur when the body's internal supply of minerals
is mobilized to offset the debilitating effects of simple sugar consumption. For
example, calcium from the teeth may be depleted to balance the excessive intake
of candy, soft drinks, and sugary desserts.
order to prevent these degenerative effects, it is important to avoid or minimize
the consumption of refined carbohydrates, as well as naturally occurring lactose
and fructose in dairy foods and fruits, and to eat carbohydrates primarily in
the form of polysaccharides found in grains, beans and bean products, vegetables,
Tribute to John Denver
John Denver died in a plane crash this autumn, I felt as if I lost a brother.
We had both grown up in the Southwest and attended Texas Tech (though I did not
meet him until many years later). We both became macrobiotic about the same time.
I attended several of John's concerts in Boston with Alex and other macrobiotic
friends, and once in Texas I cooked for John while he was on tour and speaking
on world hunger.
John's music, of course, has become an anthem for our generation.
Blending folk, country, and pop, his gentle rhythms and heart-felt words hearken
back to a time when people cooked their own food, cared for their surroundings,
and took the time to cultivate friendships and build community.
bent (he was a #3 Tree in the Nine Star Ki system of Oriental cosmology) brought
him to macrobiotics.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he gave several benefit concerts for the Kushi
Institute, helping to raise money for the new campus in Becket. (We still have
some of the photographs that John took, mounted on the walls in the chapel at
the K.I.) In Boston, he visited the East West Foundation, East West Journal, and
other macrobiotic organizations of the time, giving impromptu sing-alongs and
holding court on a variety of social issues.
Behind the granny glasses and
"aw shucks" demeanor existed a will of steel and tremendous dedication
to bettering the planet. Long before the Cold War ended, John fostered peace and
cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union, and his work in the environmental field
and the campaign to end world hunger, decades before they became fashionable,
qualify him as a prophet.
John was humorous, generous, and unfailingly polite.
I remember a concert at Great Woods in which he introduced Michio Kushi who was
in the audience and asked everyone to give him a round of applause for his contributions
to human health and happiness. The Kushis served on the board of Wind star, John's
environmental foundation in Aspen, Colorado.
In Tokyo, John was a favorite
of Lima Ohsawa, and into her late nineties she regularly attended his concerts
and make arrangements to see him privately.
days are diamonds and some days are stones." John's words hold special meaning
for each of us. He has now gone on to the world of spirit, but his dream will
continue in the music, his good works, and the vision that he inspired in those
he left behind.
& Disease: An Overview
illness which can be treated by diet should be treated by any other means."
There is now an increasing volume of evidence linking the way
we eat with our physical and mental health, leading to a widespread and growing
interest, among both medical professionals and the public at large, in applying
diet as a solution to the modern health crisis.
There is no question that our
health needs have changed over the last eighty years. At the turn of the century,
the most important diseases in the United States were infectious diseases such
as influenza, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. Since then, the incidence of infectious
disease has declined. However, during the same time, the rate of chronic illnesses,
such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, has risen substantially.
the 20th century, a profound change took place in the way people eat, leading
many to believe that modern dietary habits are the leading cause of the increase
in chronic illness. That was the conclusion of the landmark report issued in 1977
by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, entitled Dietary
Goals for the United States, and of reports issued by public health agencies around
To date, more than a dozen international health organizations have
issued reports that implicate the modern diet in the rise of chronic disease.
Most of these reports make dietary recommendations aimed at prevention. There
are signs that preventive dietary guidelines issued over the last decade are producing
positive results. For example, the rate of heart disease in the United States
and several other countries has declined somewhat over the past ten years. There
is evidence supporting the view that this may be due to health conscious dietary
Although many of us have had direct experience with degenerative illness
- either personally or through family members or friends - we tend to think that
on the whole, those of us in the affluent nations have the best medical care and
the most abundant diet, and are thus healthier than ever before. Consider, however,
that of the ten leading causes of death in the United States, six-heart disease,
cancer, stroke, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, and arteriosclerosis-are degenerative
diseases. These disorders are directly linked to diet. In 1977, about 75 percent
of all deaths in the U.S. were from one of these causes, a clear indication that
our population is not as healthy as we would like to believe, despite the increasing
deployment of medical technology and the convenience of the modern food system.
is commonly believed that this degenerative epidemic is due to our lengthened
lifespan-that the conquest of infectious diseases and consequent lowering of infant
and child mortality, in other words, have actually allowed more people to grow
older, and that more old people naturally means more degenerative disease. In
fact, an increasing proportion of younger persons are suffering from chronic disease.
Cancer, for example, is the number one cause of death, excepting accidents, of
children under fifteen. According to the Summer 1978 issue of Working Papers,
"The percentage of people under seventeen years old limited in activity due
to chronic ailments nearly doubled from 1968 to 1974." Degenerative disease
is not an old people's disease, nor is it a necessary result of gains in child
survival rates. It affects all people, at all ages, in virtually all populations.
Changing Modern Diet
of overall patterns of food consumption during the 20th century reveal a number
of interesting trends: (1) there has been a substantial increase in the intake
of saturated fat and cholesterol, due largely to rising meat and poultry consumption;
(2) there has been a substantial increase in consumption of refined sugar, resulting
largely from the addition of sugar to processed foods and increasing soft drink
consumption; (3) there has been a tremendous increase in the consumption of chemicals,
additives, and preservatives, and a variety of artificial or highly fabricated
foods; and (4) there has been a substantial decrease in the consumption of complex
carbohydrate foods such as cereal grains, beans, and fresh local vegetables.
the early part of the 20th century, Americans derived about 40 percent of their
caloric energy from complex carbohydrates-cereal grains, beans, and vegetables.
This percentage has declined to less than 20 percent. Whole unrefined grains and
grain products are practically nonexistent in the modern diet. At the same time,
the consumption of fats and simple sugars has risen so that these items now comprise
over 60 percent of the diet.
From 1889 to 1961, the ratio of complex to simple
carbohydrate dropped more than three times. In 1976, the average person in the
United States ate about 120 pounds of refined sugar, compared to less than 40
pounds per person in 1875; an increase of over 300 percent. A large portion of
the sugar consumed in the U.S. is eaten in processed foods and beverages, including
soft drinks, canned foods, bread, candy, cake, ice cream, breakfast cereals, and
others. Soft drink consumption doubled in the United States between 1960 and 1975;
increasing from an average per-person intake of 13.6 gallons to 27.6 gallons.
In 1975, the average person drank about 295 12-ounce cans of soda, containing
21.5 pounds of sugar.
In 1976, the average person ate nearly 165 pounds of
red meat (pork, beef, mutton, veal). The rising popularity of beef is largely
responsible for the overall increase in meat consumption. For example, in 1910,
the average person ate about 55 pounds of beef. In 1970, this figure had risen
to over 113 pounds.
These changes in diet parallel the rise of chronic illness
in the 20th century. The connection between diet and disease becomes even more
apparent when we review evidence linking diet and cancer.
of the scientific evidence linking cancer and diet has come from two sources:
(1) epidemiological studies, such as those of overall cancer incidence and changing
dietary patterns in the United States, Japan, and other countries; and (2) animal
studies such as those which suggest that a restriction of caloric or protein intake
has an inhibiting effect on the development of tumors.
Examples of the epidemiological
links between diet and cancer are presented below.
decline in cancer incidence in Holland following World War II food shortages.
Between 1942 and 1946, the incidence of cancer in Holland dropped
35 to 60 percent, depending on the region of the country. A Dutch epidemiologist,
Dr. F. De Waard, has correlated this decline with the changes in diet that
occurred as a result of the German occupation of the country. During the
occupation, the Germans took most of the cheese, butter, milk, eggs,
and meat in the country, leaving the Dutch to live on home- grown vegetables,
bread, whole grain porridge, and other basic staples. With the return to
normal conditions after the war, the cancer rate jumped back to its pre-war
Changes in cancer incidence among Japanese migrants to the United
States. The rates of colon and breast cancer in Japan have, until
now, remained rather low, while the incidence of stomach cancer has been high.
The opposite is true in the United States. Within three generations, however,
Japanese immigrants in the U.S. shift from the cancer incidence patterns
common in Japan to those common in the United States. This shift correlates
with a change from the standard Japanese way of eating to the modern American
one, with a corresponding increase in the intake of meat, chicken, cheese,
and dairy food.
The worldwide correlation between meat and fat intake
and a high incidence of breast and colon cancer. In countries where the
intake of meat and animal fat is high, such as Scotland, Canada, and the
United States, the mortality rates from colon and breast cancer are
high. Countries such as Japan and Chile, where meat and fat consumption
are low, have correspondingly low incidences of these diseases.
difference between the high incidence of these illnesses in the United States
and their low incidence in Japan is consistent with the differences
in fat intake between these two countries, and correlates with the increase
in the incidence of colon cancer in Japanese migrants to the United States
following their adoption of Western dietary habits.
from specific population groups in the United States reinforces the connection
between fat consumption and cancer. Groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists,
who generally follow a semi-vegetarian regime with a limited fat and meat
intake, have a much lower rate of some forms of cancer, especially breast
and colon. These diseases have been found to correlate with a low intake of cereal
grains which contain dietary fiber. For example, certain African populations
who, like the Japanese, have a low-fat, high- fiber regimen, have been
found to have correspondingly low incidences of colon cancer. The same appears
true for the Seventh Day Adventists.
correlation between the incidence of breast and colon cancer in the United States
and increasing consumption of meat and saturated fat, and the declining
consumption of grains. The rising incidence of these illnesses correlates
with significant changes in the American diet since 1900, especially the rising
consumption of meat and saturated fat, and the declining consumption of
grains and their products.
increasing incidence of breast and colon cancer in Japan following Westernization
of the Japanese diet. The rising consumption of milk and milk products,
meat, eggs, oil, and fat that has occurred in Japan since World War II correlates
with an increase in the incidences of breast and colon cancer over the past several
decades. According to the National Cancer Institute, this increase is "consistent
with the Westernization of the Japanese diet during recent decades, particularly
with an increased intake of fat."
epidemiological evidence has been accumulating, animal studies have reinforced
the link between cancer and diet. Examples quoted below are from the 1977 Status
Report of the Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer Program of the National Cancer Institute.
showing that a restriction of calories inhibits the development of tumors. A number
of animal studies have shown that of all dietary modifications tried so far, the
restriction of food intake has had the most regular influence on the development
of tumors. A restriction in overall caloric intake has been regularly found to
inhibit the formation of tumors and increase life expectancy of experimental animals.
Similar trials have shown that among rats fed identical diets, the incidence of
tumors is consistently higher in heavier animals.
Studies showing a
higher incidence of tumors in animals fed high-protein diets. According to the
NCI report, a lower protein intake inhibits the development of spontaneous or
chemically induced tumors. Comparisons of a 5 percent and a 20 percent casein
diet on aflatoxin induced tumors showed rats on the higher protein diet had a
50 percent greater incidence of cancer. All of the high protein rats developed
tumors or precancerous lesions, while those on the lower protein diet had no tumors
or precancerous lesions.
Studies showing a relationship between a high-fat
diet and a higher incidence of breast and colon cancer. A number of studies have
shown that an increase in the amount of fat in animal diets produces an increase
in the incidence of certain cancers, and that the cancers tend to develop earlier
in the life of the animal. According to the NCI report, "Tannenbaum has shown
that an increase from 25 percent to 28 percent fat in the diet of mice results
in a double incidence of spontaneous mammary cancers."
suggesting that a natural foods diet contains "protective factors" against
cancer. In one group of studies mentioned in the NCI report, irradiated mice consuming
a natural foods diet had a markedly lower incidence of tumors than similar mice
receiving a highly refined diet. According to the report, these studies suggest
"the presence of a protective factor in natural food diets."
with scientific evidence, a small but significant number of case histories and
personal accounts have been gathered and publicized, pointing to the use of the
macrobiotic diet in the prevention and control of cancer and other chronic illnesses.
Although much of the evidence is anecdotal, and has come from outside the realm
of official research, many of these accounts begin to seem plausible when considered
together with mounting scientific evidence linking diet and cancer.
1975, the East West Foundation has compiled and published case histories which
show that a balanced macrobiotic diet can aid in the recovery from cancer. These
published case histories (such as those in the book Cancer-Free, Japan Publications,
1992) represent only a small number of the thousands of similar experiences that
have yet to be documented and published.
a Preventive Nutrition
we saw in our study of changing dietary patterns in the United States, the modern
diet has become much more extreme. Overall consumption of humanity's traditional,
centrally balanced staples-whole grains, beans, and fresh local vegetables-has
declined, while more extreme foods, such as meat and sugar, chicken and tropical
fruit, eggs and chocolate, have become the mainstay of the diet. The modern shift
in dietary patterns has had a disastrous effect on human health, and is the underlying
cause of the rise of degenerative illness in the 20th century. Regardless of whether
we approach the modern decline in health from the more traditional, macrobiotic
perspective, or through modern epidemiological studies, our conclusion is similar.
In order to secure health, both individually and as a society, we must return
to a more naturally balanced way of eating in harmony with our environment and
with our dietary traditions.
The Pulse of Life, © 1994 by Edward Esko, all rights reserved.
And The New Ecology
of years ago, Hippocrates taught that food was the best medicine. He used the
term macrobiotics to describe a way of eating and living in harmony with nature's
laws. A naturally balanced diet is central to the practice of modern macrobiotics,
just as it was in the system of healing developed by Hippocrates. Food is the
vital link between our bodies and the environment, and the quality of food determines
the quality of our life. A balanced diet is the key to personal health and well-being.
It is also a key to solving the environmental crisis.
was able to develop and flourish on earth because of the delicate balance of yin
and yang, or the energies of expansion and contraction, on our planet. The earth's
large, but structurally compact form (yang) is counterbalanced by the more diffuse,
liquid and gaseous envelope that surrounds it (yin). Plants, which are yin, maintain
the dynamic balance of the atmosphere. They absorb and utilize more yang carbon
dioxide and expel yin oxygen. The oxygen they provide is essential to human and
animal life. Animals, which are yang, interact with the atmosphere in the opposite
way. They absorb yin oxygen and discharge yang carbon dioxide. Together, plants
and animals create a beautiful harmony that sustains life on earth.
civilization is disrupting the natural balance of yin and yang that has existed
on the planet for millions of years. On the whole, civilization has become increasingly
yang: the speed of change is accelerating daily and we are using more and more
intense forms of energy. Rather than slowing down, we can expect these trends
to accelerate in the future.
of these activities, the atmosphere is changing. Since 1958, atmospheric concentrations
of carbon dioxide have increased by 25 percent, mostly as the result of burning
oil and coal. The United States and the former Soviet Union account for about
45 percent of worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, we are systematically
destroying tropical rain forests that absorb carbon dioxide.
in carbon dioxide and other gases produced by industry, agriculture, and the modern
food system are causing the atmosphere to become yang-dense, thick, and heavy.
Ideally, the atmosphere should be light and clear (yin), in order to balance the
compact structure of the earth and support life. According to environmental scientists,
these changes could lead to problems on a global scale. Proponents of global warming
believe that some of the reflected heat produced by sunlight no longer radiates
back into space. If we view this theory according to macrobiotic principles, we
see that the atmosphere, which has become more yang, causes heat radiation (also
yang) to be deflected back to earth, creating what is known as the greenhouse
growing number of people believe that the greenhouse effect is causing average
temperatures on earth to rise, a phenomenon known as global warming. As a result,
the polar ice caps could melt, resulting in worldwide flooding, and climatic patterns
that have existed for centuries could change drastically. Modern technology has
disrupted the natural cycle of carbon in the atmosphere, with potentially far-reaching
consequences. Disruption of the carbon cycle by modern technology parallels the
inefficient use of organic carbon compounds-or carbohydrates-in the food chain.
Before the industrial revolution, the majority of people ate carbohydrates in
their most efficient form. Traditional diets were based on whole grains, beans,
fresh local vegetables, and other complex carbohydrate foods.
modern food system no longer relies on these energy-efficient foods. It is based
instead on the highly inefficient conversion of complex carbohydrates, often in
the form of grains and beans, into animal protein and fat. Feeding these valuable
foodstuffs to livestock and then eating them in the form of animal food wastes
a tremendous amount of raw materials and energy. One expert estimated that if
the world were to adopt these methods of food production, all of the known reserves
of petroleum would be exhausted in thirteen years.
food production contributes a great deal of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse
gases to the atmosphere. Cattle ranching, for example, is the single largest source
of methane, a leading greenhouse gas. Whole grains, beans, and vegetables are
far more energy-efficient than animal products. Corn or wheat return 22 times
more protein per calorie of fossil fuel expended than does beef produced on the
modern feedlot. Soybeans are 40 times more energy efficient than modern beef.
Diet for a New America, John Robbins describes the energy savings that would result
from a shift toward whole grains, beans, and vegetables. He cites a report by
economists Fields and Hur:
nationwide switch to a diet emphasizing whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables-plus
limits on export of nonessential fatty foods-would save enough money to cut our
imported oil requirements by over 60 percent. And, the supply of renewable energy,
such as wood and hydroelectric, would increase 120 to 150 percent.
order to slow the expected rate of global warming predicted to occur because of
the greenhouse effect, scientists estimate that fossil fuel emissions would have
to be cut by about 60 percent. Unfortunately, however, as the modern diet and
way of life spread around the globe, economists predict that these emissions will
actually double over the next forty years.
of forests, including tropical rain forests, can be traced to the modern diet.
Forests are being cut to make room for grazing livestock or for growing livestock
feed. According to one estimate, if deforestation continues at the present rate,
there will be no forests left in the United States by 2040. Moreover, countries
in Central and South America are systematically destroying tropical rain forests
that contain up to 80 percent of the world's land vegetation and provide a substantial
amount of the planet's oxygen.
refining, processing, refrigeration, and other techniques used in the modern food
system waste a tremendous amount of energy and contribute to global pollution.
Sugar refining, for example, is a highly mechanized process that utilizes fossil
fuels, as does the production of the chemical fertilizers and pesticides used
in modern agriculture. Nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas, is largely a product
of chemical fertilizers.
the human body, the intake of animal foods causes saturated fat and cholesterol
to build up in the blood and eventually clog the arteries and blood vessels. If
the accumulation of excess continues unchecked, it can lead to collapse of the
body due to heart attack or stroke, or to accumulation of fats and toxic substances
in the organs leading to cancer. A similar situation is developing in our environment,
due to the inefficient use of carbohydrates in the form of animal protein and
fat. Pollution caused by industry and the modern food system is contributing to
the accumulation of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, and
toxic chemicals in the environment. The buildup of these substances threatens
the earth's ecosystem with collapse.
of the Ozone Shield
the outer reaches of the atmosphere is found a very thin envelope of gas, ozone,
that acts as a natural screen for the sun's rays. Solar radiation polarizes into
more yin ultraviolet and more yang infrared rays. Ozone is a very yin gas made
up of three atoms of oxygen. Because like repels like, it blocks or repels ultraviolet
radiation while letting infrared rays pass through. Now, however, because of the
modern diet and lifestyle, we are punching holes in the delicate layer of ozone
high in the stratosphere. According to Newsweek:
problem is a close as the air conditioner in your window or the fast-food container
at your feet. Both can release chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere.
Once free, these chemicals float toward the heavens. About 15 miles up they encounter
the ozone layer, a paper-thin (three millimeter deep) sheet that envelops the
planet and shields it from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Under the right conditions,
the CFCs destroy ozone.
light can weaken or damage the cells of the immune system. Cells that initiate
the immune response are more yang and are especially vulnerable. At the same time,
UV radiation causes the body to accelerate production of more yin suppressor cells
that shut down the body's immune response. Depletion of the ozone layer could
lead to an increase in immune deficiency diseases, including leukemia and skin
cancer, especially when extreme yin foods and beverages such as sugar, tropical
fruits, and oils and fats are weakening the immune response from the inside.
our diet is based on a high intake of animal foods that contain plenty of fat,
and when these foods are cooked with modern energy intensive methods, such as
grilling, broiling, or deep frying (as they are in fast food restaurants), our
body temperature rises and we become less able to tolerate warm weather. This
increases our need for air conditioning, and our desire for iced foods and beverages
that require constant refrigeration. CFCs are used as coolants in refrigerators.
and the New Ecology
whole grains, beans, fresh local vegetables and other whole natural foods is the
first step toward restoring the environment. By eating energy-efficient foods
in harmony with climate and season, especially those grown organically, we are
supporting a system of farming and food production that will preserve the soil,
water, and air for a countless number of future generations.
to a diet of whole grains and vegetables produces immediate and practical benefits
both for the environment, and for our individual health. Planetary ecology begins
in the kitchen. Below are some basic principles to consider as you move toward
a healthful, ecological lifestyle.
Eat Lower on the Food Chain
we move up the food chain from plant to animal foods, the amount of energy required
to produce, transport, and store foods increases dramatically. Grains, vegetables,
beans, sea vegetables, and other plant foods are lower on the food chain and require
much less energy to produce. Researchers at Ohio State University compared the
amounts of energy required to produce plant and animal foods and discovered that
the least energy-efficient plant food was still nearly ten times as efficient
as the most energy-efficient animal food. Eating a plant-based diet reduces the
use of fossil fuels and eases the pollution burden entering the environment, including
carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, all of which are greenhouse gases.
Reduce or Avoid Extreme Foods
like everything else in our environment, can be classified into yin and yang.
Eggs, meat, chicken, hard cheese, and other animal products, and foods high in
sodium, are extremely yang or contractive; while refined sugar, tropical fruits,
spices, coffee, chocolate, ice cream, artificial sweetners, soft drinks, nightshade
vegetables, and foods high in postassium are extremely yin or expansive.
balanced foods include whole grains, beans, fresh local vegetables, sea vegetables,
non-stimulant beverages, non-spicy seasonings and condiments, and other whole
natural foods. These foods have a more even balance of yin and yang, or expansive
and contractive, energies.
Centrally balanced foods are highly energy-efficient.
They were humanity's staples before the industrial age and when grown organically,
are the product of non-polluting, self-sustaining agriculture. On the other hand,
extremes of yin or yang are often the product of modern industry. It takes 78
calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein from beef. Only 2 calories
of fossil fuel are needed to obtain 1 calorie of protein from soybeans.
simply reducing or avoiding the intake of animal foods is not enough to reverse
the disruption of the environment. Extreme yin foods such as refined sugar, tropical
fruits, processed soft drinks, and others require a great deal of energy to produce,
store, and transport. It is also helpful to reduce or avoid using them.
Eat Foods From Your Climatic Zone
people in the temperate zones eat a "polar-tropical" diet. They have
replaced the whole grains, beans, fresh local vegetables, and other foods appropriate
to their region with meat, eggs, cheese, poultry, and other foods more suited
to cold, polar climates, and with sugar, chocolate, spices, coffee, tropical fruits
and vegetables, and other foods more suited to equatorial zones.
tremendous amount of energy is required to maintain this unnatural dietary pattern.
It is far more economical and energy-efficient to base your diet around foods
that are naturally abundant in your immediate environment or in a climate that
is similar to the one in which you are living.
Vary Your Diet with the Seasons
eating foods that are naturally available in season, we take advantage of the
cycles of nature. During the winter, dishes that are strongly seasoned and well
cooked help us generate and retain heat. In summer, lightly cooked dishes, including
salads, keep us cool. These natural adjustments help us stay in touch with nature
and make it easier to adapt to climatic changes without excessive heat in the
winter or air conditioning in the summer. Eating fresh seasonal foods helps minimize
the need for refrigeration and other artificial methods of food preservation or
Select Organically Grown Foods
great deal of fossil fuels are used in the production, transport, and storage
of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and other artificial substances
used in modern chemical agriculture. Moreover, these substances enter the environment
and pollute the air, water, and soil. Nitrous oxide, produced by nitrogen-based
fertilizers, is a major greenhouse gas. When you select organically grown foods,
you do not contribute to pollution of the environment, the unnecessary use of
fossil fuels, or to the buildup of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere.
Start a Backyard Garden
organic vegetables in your own garden reduces your reliance on foods that require
fossil fuel to transport. Moreover, many garden vegetables can be left in the
soil until they are ready to eat and don't need to be refrigerated. If you don't
have space to begin your own garden, look for an organic farm or cooperative in
your area. Rather than being thrown away, uneaten food can be recycled as compost
in your garden.
Base Your Diet on Naturally Storable Foods
grains, beans, sea vegetables, and other complex carbohydrate foods don't require
refrigeration or artificial methods of storage or preservation to keep them fresh.
They can be kept as is in your pantry or cupboards. On the other hand, meat, eggs,
cheese, chicken, and other animal foods rapidly decompose into toxic bacteria
and compounds and therefore require artificial preservation. Tropical fruits,
vegetables, and other extremely yin foods or drinks also decompose rapidly and
thus require refrigeration, canning, or other artificial methods to preserve or
keep them fresh.
Eat Whole Foods
foods in their whole form saves energy and makes use of the nutrients that are
naturally available. The process whereby brown rice is milled into white rice,
or whole wheat flour into white flour, represents an unnecessary waste of energy.
The outer coat of cereal grains contains beneficial fiber and other valuable nutrients.
When whole grains are refined, these valuable nutrients are lost. The green tops
of vegetables such as daikon, carrots, and turnips and the roots of scallions
are also a good source of nutrients and can be cooked and eaten rather than discarded.
Restore Home Cooking
great deal of disposable waste, including paper products, Styrofoam containers,
and plastic utensils is generated by restaurants and public eating places. Cooking
and eating at home helps reduce the use of the fossil fuels that go into producing
these products as well as the buildup of inorganic waste in the environment, including
the CFCs contained in plastic foam containers. Moreover, for optimal health, and
to mimimize electro-pollution, it is better to cook on a gas flame, rather than
on the artificial energy of electric stoves or microwave ovens.
Make Your Own Snacks and Specialty Foods
possible, bake your own whole grain breads, and make foods such as tofu, tempeh,
amasake, noodles, pasta, seitan, pickles, and others at home. A great deal of
fossil fuels are used in the processing, packaging, and transportation of processed
foods. Home processing saves energy. Homemade foods are also fresher and more
delicious than those bought at the store.
chewing allows for the efficient digestion and absorption of foods. When you chew
well, you obtain more nutrients from your foods and can get by with a smaller
volume of food. Your diet becomes more energy-efficient. Both for health and vitality,
and to minimize waste, try not to eat for three hours before sleeping, except
in unusual circumstances. Also, you might find that your energy levels are higher
if you eat a light breakfast or skip breakfast on occasion.
Practice an Ecological Lifestyle
much as possible, use natural, chemical-free fabrics and body care products, as
well as biodegradable soaps and cleaning materials in your home. Minimize the
use of electric devices, in order to conserve energy, for example, by turning
off the lights when you are not using a room or watching less television. Buy
your foods in bulk, rather than in individually packaged containers. Recycle paper,
glass, and plastic. Recycle leftover food by including it in new dishes rather
than throwing it away. Keep physically active, and rely less on automobiles, elevators,
central heating, and air conditioning. Finally, learn to appreciate our planetary
environment. Develop gratitude and appreciation for the earth, water, ocean, and
air. See your foods as the condensed essence of nature, and offer thanks before
and after each meal.
internal and external environments are intimately related. Personal health is
equivalent to planetary health. The principles of natural living that underlie
the macrobiotic way of life apply as much to healing our planet as they do in
restoring our personal health.
Source: The Pulse of
Life, © 1994 by Edward Esko, all rights reserved.
macrobiotic natural foods diet is very economical and in the long run results
in substantial savings in many areas of life.
to weekly market basket surveys, the typical macrobiotic household, for example,
spends about 35 to 50 percent less on its weekly food budget on grains, fresh
vegetables, and naturally processed items than an ordinary family spends eating
meat, dairy foods, highly processed foods, canned foods, frozen foods, and a variety
of foodstuffs imported from distant climates. In a pilot program, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture introduced a meal plan for low-income families in the Washington,
D.C. area calling for more whole grains and their products, vegetables and fruit,
and dry beans and nuts and calling for less meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, sugar,
and soft drinks. Not only did the meals save considerably on food expenses, but
also the new meals were readily accepted, found to be not hard to prepare, and
"families in the study felt there was, in some cases, too much food."
addition, the macrobiotic family generally takes major responsibility for its
own health care, requiring little or no insurance payments, medical costs, and
pharmaceutical expenses. At the social level, a dietary change in this direction
would result in vast savings. The direct medical costs, nursing expenses, and
lost output due to cardiovascular disease alone exceeds $100 billion annually.
As public health improved, the economy would improve. Government expenses for
health and medical care, welfare and disability payments, and other social services-now
currently greater than defense expenditures-would substantially drop. The national
debt would lower, interest rates would fall, employment would rise, productivity
and efficiency would increase, international trade would flourish, and generally
people would take more pride and interest in their work. Lowered food costs as
a whole for each family would further contribute to an increase in real income,
more leisure time, and a general improvement in the quality of life.
modern food and agricultural system requires enormous amounts of energy, mostly
in the form of fossil fuels, to run.
17 percent of America's energy resources go into producing and operating oversize
farm equipment, center-pivot irrigation, chemical fertilizers and pesticides,
food processing, food distribution, consumer shopping, food preparation and cooking,
and other aspects of food production. The two largest energy users are the meat
and meat products industry and the sugar processing industry, followed closely
by soft drinks and beverages. This type of system is very wasteful of energy.
For example, in the Midwest, farmers require from 5 to 12 calories of petroleum
for every 1 calorie of food produced. In contrast, traditional societies using
labor-intensive cultivation techniques and small, appropriate technological methods
can produce 3 to 10 calories of food for every 1 calorie of energy expended. In
addition, about 24 percent of all the food produced in the United States is later
wasted due to poor and inefficient harvesting techniques, transportation, storage,
processing, marketing, and kitchen and plate waste.
a more natural and organic system of food production and delivery, reduced processing
and packaging of foods, independence from chemical, oil-based fertilizers and
pesticides, and lessened need for heavy farm equipment would result in substantial
energy savings. The consumption of local, regional, and seasonally grown food-in
line with macrobiotic dietary principles-would further cut back on food imported
long distances and from different climates, thus reducing transportation networks
and their resulting pollution and other social costs. The need for less metals,
chemicals, petroleum, and other raw materials would further ease international
competition and crises.
Environment and Global Warming
chemical farming has resulted in tragic consequences to the land and natural environment.
an average depth of 36 inches in pioneer times, America's topsoil has declined
to about 6 inches in depth today. Meanwhile, as a result of hybridization, crop
strains have grown weaker. Today there are hundreds of species that are resistant
to pesticides, herbicides, and other sprays. Moreover, 70 percent of all folk
varieties of wheat and garden vegetables once grown in North America and Europe
disappeared. The remaining seeds face rapid extinction from new corporate patent
laws favoring hybrid and genetically altered seeds. As a result of modern agricultural
practices, the United Nations has estimated that one-third of the world's remaining
arable land will be lost to desertification in the next quarter century. Two-thirds
of the pesticides highlighted in Rachel Carson's 1962 classic, Silent Spring,
are still being manufactured and used around the world.
patterns of food consumption have also had a tremendously negative impact on wilderness
lands, deserts, and other ecosystems. For example, in Latin America, large areas
of the tropical rain forests-which supply much of the world's oxygen-have been
cleared for beef production, much of which is exported to the hamburger and steak
market in the United States, Europe, and other modern societies. One-third of
the world's different species of plants and animals are located in these regions
and face extinction as a result of modern development. In addition to reducing
biodiversity, clearing of the rain forests for pasture contributes to global warming.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. Livestock production
also produces methane, another greenhouse gas which contributes up to 10 percent
of global warming. If this trend continues, temperature rises over the next several
decades will cause tremendous climatic and meteorological changes, including possible
melting of polar ice caps, rise of sea levels, and inundation of coastal regions
in which hundreds of millions of people live.
changing to a more natural and organic food and agricultural system, the world's
farmland could be regenerated, the environment could be preserved, and global
warming forestalled. Monoculture would gradually be replaced with mixed crops.
Heavy mechanical cultivation would give way to small-scale appropriate technological
methods, and chemical fertilizers and insecticides would be retired in favor of
organic compounds and wastes. These changes would start building up the tilth
of the soil, contribute to the return of plants and wildlife, and purify the air
and waterways. In time, this approach would help restore thousands of hardy varieties
of seed that have adapted over centuries to local climates and soils but which
have been abandoned by the modern food production system and its emphasis on uniform
size, shape, color, and taste.
modern societies, fat is consumed in much larger amounts than in countries where
people are eating whole grains as their principal food.
example, in the United States, about 42 percent of the ordinary diet is composed
of fat, while in rural Mexico among the Tarahumara, a native people renowned for
their health and longevity, the amount is only 12 percent. About 15 percent of
the standard macrobiotic diet consists of fat.
are the family name for fats, oils, and fatlike substances including fatty acids,
cholesterol, and lipoproteins. Fats are solid at room temperature, while oils
are fluid. Solid lipids tend to contain more saturated fatty acids. Fatty acids
are long chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms including an oxygen molecule at one
fatty acids are bonded or saturated to hydrogen atoms.
fatty acids lack at least one pair of hydrogen atoms.
fatty acids are those in which more than one pair is missing.
acids are the building blocks of fats, just as simple sugars are the fundamental
units of carbohydrates. In order to help digest fats, which are insoluble in water
and form large globules, the liver secretes bile, a yellowish liquid stored in
the gallbladder. In the intestine, bile serves to emulsify fats and enables them
to be broken down into fatty acids and glycerol by digestive enzymes.
are essential to digestion but can be harmful to the body, especially saturated
acids like stearic acid, found in animal tissues, which coats the red blood cells,
blocks the capillaries, and deprives the heart of oxygen. One of the main constituents
of lipids is cholesterol, a naturally occurring substance in the body which contributes
to the maintenance of cell walls, serves as a precursor of bile acids and vitamin
D and also a precursor of some hormones. Cholesterol is not found in plants foods
but is contained in all animal products, especially meat, egg yolks, and dairy
products. Since cholesterol is insoluble in the blood, it attaches itself to a
protein that is soluble in order to be transported through the body. This combination
is called a lipoprotein. However, excess cholesterol in the bloodstream tends
to be deposited in artery walls and as plaque eventually causes constriction of
the arteries, reduces the flow of blood, and can lead to a heart attack, stroke,
or peripheral artery disease. Normally, fat is absorbed by the lymph and enters
the bloodstream near the heart. However, if excess lipids accumulate in the body,
eventually some will become deposited in the liver. Such stored fat, primarily
from meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, is usually the chief source of liver
malfunctions. Excess fat, especially saturated fat, is also stored in and around
vital organs, such as the kidneys, the spleen, the pancreas, and the reproductive
organs and is a leading cause of cancer in these sites.
of the increased public awareness of the connection among cholesterol, saturated
fat, and heart disease and cancer, many people have switched to unsaturated fats
and oils, including vegetable cooking oils, mayonnaise, margarine, salad dressings,
and artificial creamers and spreads. Today, these make up the large single source
of fat in the American diet. However, unsaturated fats, especially those of a
refined quality, serve to redistribute cholesterol from the blood to the tissues
and combine with oxygen to form free radicals. These are unstable and highly reactive
substances that can interact with proteins and cause the loss of elasticity in
tissue and general weakening of cells.
fats, moreover, such as margarine, are specially treated to remain solid at room
temperature, a process that converts their unsaturated fatty acids into saturated
fatty acids to a significant degree. Hydrogenated fats are also known as trans
grains, beans, seeds and nuts contain polyunsaturated fats and oils, but these
are naturally balanced by the right proportion of vitamin E and selenium, which
are usually lost in the refining process. Similarly, unrefined polyunsaturated
cooking oils (in which the vitamin E remains) such as dark sesame oil are a balanced
product and, if used moderately, will contribute to proper metabolism, including
more flexible motion and thinking.
food has the power to heal or make us sick; to keep us healthy or accelerate our
decline. The importance of food in health and healing cannot be overemphasized.
However, unlike modern nutrition, in which foods are analyzed according to their
biochemical effects, the macrobiotic view is based on an understanding of food
as energy. Rather than being analytical and partial, the macrobiotic approach
is dynamic and whole.
we approach food on two levels. In the first, more fundamental level, we apply
the principle of yin and yang to balance our daily diet as a whole. Yin and yang
help us understand food in terms of energy. Balancing the expanding and contracting
energies in our diet is the basis of health and healing. In the second, or symptomatic
level, we use food to offset or balance a particular condition or symptom.
key to health and healing lies in our ability to understand food in terms of yin
and yang and energy, and to apply that understanding to the structure and function
of the human body. For that purpose, we need to view the body in terms of yin
and yang. The inner regions of the body, including the bones, blood, and internal
organs, are more yang or contracted, while the peripheral regions, including the
skin and hair, are more yin or expanded. The front of the body is generally softer
and more expanded (yin), while the back is hard and compact (yang). The upper
body is generally more yin, while the lower body has stronger yang energy.
the whole, the right side of the body is strongly charged with yin, upward energy,
while the left side is strongly charged by downward, yang energy. The movement
of upward and downward energy in the body is reflected in the structure of the
large intestine, and in the function of the brain. The large intestine moves upward
on the right side of the body, and downward on the left. The right hemisphere
of the brain generates more yin, aesthetic or artistic images, while the left
is the source of more yang, analytical and rational abilities. Using these basic
classifications, we can begin to make specific correlations between the energy
of food and the energy of the body.
to day, the atmosphere cycles back and forth between upward and downward, or yin
and yang energy. Morning is the time when upward energy prevails. Evening and
night are the times when downward energy is strongest. In order to maintain optimal
health and well-being, we need to orient our lives in harmony with the movement
of energy. In other words, we need to wake up in the morning and be active during
the day, and need to get adequate sleep at night. If we go against the movement
of atmospheric energy, for example, by sleeping during the day and being active
at night, we risk losing our health.
the most fundamental level, health and healing operate on the same principle.
The organs on the right side of the body, including the liver and gallbladder,
are strongly charged by yin, upward energy. Those on the left, including the pancreas
and spleen, receive a stronger charge of yang, downward energy. Do foods with
more expansive energies benefit the pancreas and spleen, or those with more contractive
energies? Similarly, what types of foods benefit the liver and gallbladder? As
we can see from the daily cycle, we need to go with the movement of energy. Thus,
foods that match the energy of a particular organ are the most appropriate.
healing works in the opposite way. Symptoms can be caused by extremes of either
yin or yang. In order to neutralize or offset a particular symptom, we use foods
that have the a quality of energy that is opposite to that of the symptom. If
the symptom is caused by too much yang, we supply the body with yin. When a symptom
is caused by excess yin, we need to supply yang.
offers an example of this principle. Constipation can result from either an excess
of yin or yang in the diet. Yang constipation is caused by the repeated intake
of meat, cheese, eggs, chicken, and other forms of animal food, and an insufficient
intake of grains, vegetables, and other plant foods containing fiber. It occurs
when the intestines become overly tight and contracted. To relieve that symptom,
we use foods with an opposite, or more yin energy, such as kanten, lightly steamed
greens, grated raw daikon, or vegetables that have been lightly sauteed in oil.
constipation occurs when the intestines become loose, weak, and stagnant because
of too much sugar, chocolate, alcohol, spices, ice cream, or soft drinks. To restore
the intestines to a more normal, contracted state, a slightly more yang preparation,
such as ume-sho-kuzu, would be appropriate.
Five Energies in Health and Healing
we saw above, the liver and gallbladder are nourished by yin, expanding energy;
the pancreas and spleen, by yang, contracting energy. Therefore, according to
the principles stated above, if we wish to strengthen the liver and gallbladder,
we choose foods that have a slightly more yin, or expansive quality of energy.
If we wish to strengthen the pancreas and spleen, foods with slightly more yang
energy would be appropriate.
whole grains are generally the most balanced among foods, each variety has a slightly
different quality of energy. Corn, for example, grows in the summer, and is soft,
sweet, and juicy. It has a more yin quality of energy. Buckwheat, on the other
hand, grows in cold, northern regions and is very hard and dry. It rapidly absorbs
water, and has strong yang energy. Rice has a different quality of energy than
barley; millet is different than wheat. Short grain rice is very different than
long grain rice. Among the whole grains, therefore, which one is best for the
liver and gallbladder, and which one most benefits the pancreas and spleen?
philosopher-healers referred to the upward energy that nourishes the liver and
gallbladder as tree energy. The name tree energy implies growth in an upward direction,
as well as movement that branches outward. Among the grains, barley has a light,
expansive quality and is classified under the tree energy category. Adding it
to brown rice produces a lighter, fluffier, and less glutinous dish. The energy
of barley is compatible to that of the liver and gallbladder. Hato mugi, or pearl
barley, a species of wild barley originally grown in China, is especially charged
with upward energy. Both regular and pearl barley can be eaten several times per
week, in soup or with brown rice. Barley tea supplies the body with light, upward
energy and can be used as a regular beverage.
Spleen, and Stomach
spleen and pancreas are charged by an opposite quality of energy that traditional
philosopher-healers referred to as soil energy. The name soil conveys the image
of more compact, downward energy. Millet, a compact grain with a hard outer shell,
is a product of soil energy and can be eaten on a regular basis to strengthen
the pancreas and spleen. It is helpful in aiding recovery from blood sugar disorders,
including diabetes and hypoglycemia. Millet can be cooked with brown rice or used
to make delicious millet soup. The stomach is located toward the left side of
the body, and is energetically compatible with the pancreas and spleen. Millet
is also useful in strengthening the stomach.
us now see how the principles of energy balance apply to the selection of whole
grains for the other primary organs.
and Small Intestine
to the liver and spleen, the heart has a more dynamic, active quality of energy.
The heart is located higher in the body (more yin), and is positioned at the heart
chakra, a very highly charged region in the center of the chest. Traditional healers
referred to such active movement as fire energy. The small intestine is compatible
with the heart, and is charged with active energy. At the center of the small
intestine is the highly charged region known as the hara chakra, the primary source
of life energy for the entire lower body. Among the grains, corn, a more yin product
of summer, is charged with fire energy. It is energetically compatible with the
heart and small intestine. It can be eaten fresh in season or used in such traditional
dishes as polenta. Whole corn meal or grits can be used as breakfast cereals.
and Large Intestine
to the heart, the large intestine has more condensed, yang energy. It is located
in the lower body, where downward energy is stronger, and although it is large,
it is compressed into a small space. The lungs are energetically compatible with
the large intestine, and contain many air sacs and blood vessels compressed into
a tight space. Traditional healers named this condensed stage metal energy. They
considered it to be more yang or condensed than the downward, soil energy that
charges the pancreas and spleen. Brown rice, especially pressure-cooked short
grain rice, has strong condensed energy that corresponds to the metal stage. It
can be used as a main daily grain to strengthen and vitalize these organs.
kidneys lie in the middle of the body; with one on the right and the other on
the left side of the body. Traditional healers felt that the energy that nourishes
the kidneys is like water, floating between yin and yang, up and down, although
on the whole, downward energy is slightly more predominant. Appropriately enough,
they referred to this stage as water energy. Beans, which are more yang or contracted
than most vegetables, and more yin or expanded than most grains, are a manifestation
of floating, or water energy. They strengthen and nourish the kidneys, and their
related organ, the bladder. Smaller beans such as azuki and black soybeans have
more concentrated energy and are especially beneficial. Beans and bean products
can be eaten as a regular part of the diet.
five stages of energy are actually part of a a continuous cycle. Energy constantly
cycles back and forth from yin to yang, moving through the more yin stages tree
and fire, and then through the more yang stages soil, metal, and water. The cycle
repeats every day and from season to season. Our bodies are comprised of a complex
mix of energies that reflect each of these stages, and to maintain optimal health,
we need adequate variety in our daily diet.
five energies can guide our selection of vegetables and other supplementary foods,
as well as our choice of cooking methods. In general, leafy greens are charged
with strong upward or actively expanding energy (tree and fire), while round vegetables,
such as squash, onions, and cabbage are strongly charged with soil energy. Roots
such as carrots, burdock, and daikon have even stronger yang energy (metal), while
sea vegetables represent floating or water energy.
cooking, we change the quality of our foods, by making their energies more yin
or more yang. Methods such as quick steaming, blanching (quick boiling), and sauteing
accelerate upward (tree) and active (fire) energy, while slow boiling, such as
that used in making nishime, condenses the energy in food and corresponds to the
soil stage. Pressure cooking is a more yang method of cooking that corresponds
to metal energy, while soup corresponds to water energy. Once again, we need a
wide variety of vegetables and cooking methods in order to provide the body with
a wide range of energies.
grains and other foods in the macrobiotic diet work on both the symptomatic and
fundamental levels. On the fundamental level, a food such as hato mugi, or pearl
barley, supplies the liver and gallbladder with the upward energy necessary for
smooth functioning. At the same time, because of its expansive nature, pearl barley
acts symptomatically in dissolving more yang, hardened deposits of animal fat
and protein, including cysts and tumors caused by the repeated consumption of
animal food. Pearl barley tea, for example, is used in Oriental medicine as a
beverage to dissolve moles, warts, and other skin growths resulting from excess
is our best medicine. Balancing the energy of food provides the foundation for
achieving good health. Without the foundation of daily diet, our approach is symptomatic
and limited. Understanding food as energy lies at the heart of macrobiotic healing.
This essay appeared in Macrobiotics Today, Oroville, Ca, November/December, 1993,
© Edward Esko, all rights reserved.
Disease and Takayasu Arthritis
the many diseases considered incurable by modern science are Crohn's disease and
Takayasu arteritis. In this moving case history, Virginia Harper, a wife and mother
from Tennessee describes how she overcame these two, often fatal, afflictions
can turn this around. You can change this," are the words I'll never forget.
After eight years of living with Takayasu arteritis and Crohn's disease and seeing
only a dim future ahead, these words filled me with hope.
age 14 I started having strong symptoms of discomfort and pain on the right side
of my abdomen. At 15 they removed my appendix but discovered it was normal. From
15 to 23, I was in and out of hospitals at least twice a year with the symptoms
getting more severe. I had not only the increasing abdominal problems but I started
to develop fainting spells, dizziness, weakness in my right should and arm down
to my hand. At age 19 I discovered a lump on my neck. I was away at college in
Tennessee and the school doctor decided it was a benign cyst and could be easily
removed during the Thanksgiving holidays.
undergoing an arteriogram at home in Connecticut, I suffered a stroke. When I
awoke, I was temporarily paralyzed on my right side and had lost my ability to
speak. The test showed a blockage on my rights carotid artery. In April of that
next year, I was sent to Mass General Hospital in Boston to undergo bypass surgery
and a biopsy and it was determined that I had a very rare blood condition. Takayasu
arteritis is an autoimmune deficiency where the blood passing through the arteries
causes them to act as if they are damaged so they start repairing themselves and
this creates blockages. Takayasu has no known cause and no known cure. The main
arteries were so dramatically affected that my blood flow was distressed. I was
told to stop all my sports activities and "to take it easy." But the
real devastating news was that I should not plan on having children.
was put on an anti-inflammatory drug called prednisone, a steroid, and an aspirin
a day to help with my blood flow. The next few years I learned to live within
the confines of Takayasu and I suffered from the side effects from the drug more
than the disease itself. I would awaken ravished with headaches, swollen aching
joints, ringing in my ears, upset stomach, low energy and feeling depressed. And,
when I was on high doses, I would be so hyper I would work to exhaustion and still
only need three or four hours of sleep before I was ready to go again.
top of all this, my abdominal symptoms began to get worse as the years went by.
The pain became paralyzing, along with constant headaches, bloody diarrhea, constipation
and weight loss. At times I would lose so much blood that I would go to the emergency
room completely debilitated. The X-rays showed nothing. Eight years of different
doctors, specialists, tests, and drugs, yet the cause and cure were still a mystery.
when I was 22, I had a severe attack which landed me back in the emergency room.
But this time, the technicians were finally able to detect something on the X-rays.
The doctors diagnosed Crohn's disease. I was so relieved to have a name for what
I had gone through all those years. Crohn's disease has no known cause and no
known cure. It causes a slow deterioration of the intestinal wall, the lining
become inflamed and irritated, and loses its elasticity resulting in impaired
digestion and absorption. Crohn's can manifest anywhere in the digestive tract.
drugs and/or surgery were the only recourse. Surgery can remove the affected area;
however, Crohn's usually spreads again in three years or less and you will face
more surgery. It didn't take me long to realize that if I lived to be 30, I would
not have any intestines left.
"good news" was that I was already taking the anti-inflammatory drug
used to treat it. When I inquired how I could develop something so severe when
I was already on the drug that supposedly helped it, I got no response. And so,
I learned to live within the confines of Crohn's and Prednisone.
complicate matters, that same year I became pregnant while using the IUD. Instead
of this being a happy time for my husband and me, it was quite traumatic. The
doctors thought I would lose the baby when they removed the IUD. However, the
pregnancy continued and went smoothly while the doctors watched me very closely
and I stayed in bed most of the time. Being as determined as I am, our beautiful
daughter was born.
months later, the Takayasu and the Crohn's both flared up again and so did my
trips back to the hospital and doctors for more tests and different drugs, except
this time nothing seemed to work for very long. My parents and I, being open to
alternative methods, started searching for real cures. I tried megavitamin therapy,
reflexology, herbs, and hospital-based nutritional approaches. It was during this
search that my father heard about macrobiotics. He cried as he told me what would
work this time and shared what little he knew. He flew me to Connecticut to see
teacher. I was ready to deal with this doctor, too. I took all my X-rays, filed,
and paperwork to show him, but the experience was totally different.
wanted to know specific details of my symptoms and my lifestyle. There was no
prodding, poking, sticking, undressing, or cold intrusive instruments to deal
with. He used Oriental diagnosis to evaluate my condition by observing my eyes,
tongue, hands, and feet. Finally, he told me what I had longer to hear, "You
can turn this around."
macrobiotic teacher proceeded to explain that there were certain foods that weakened
my body and it was struggling to get rid of excess. All my body needed were the
correct tools to naturally heal itself. The main foods that aggravated my condition
were dairy food and sugars. For maximum health, he explained the importance of
keeping the body alkaline by eating neutral or balanced foods. These include whole
grains, beans, land and sea vegetables, and some fruit, seeds, and nuts.
grew up with my grandmother and she strongly believed that God's abundance provides
everything one needs to naturally heal. All I heard finally was making sense.
I did not recognize half of the foods he mentioned because after all, I was a
fast-food, junk-food, pre-prepared, vegetable-come-in-a-can baby-boomer.
had answers and most of all, for the first time, I had hope. My teacher told me
that one day I would appreciate and be thankful for my illness. I thought, "This
guy has been eating too much seaweed he just doesn't realize all I've been
15 years later, I continue to live a symptom-free, drug-free, pain-free, doctor-free
life. Full of energy, I anticipate a health-filled future with my two children
and family. I truly understand those prophetic words. I do appreciate my illness
and all I went through. My experience led me to macrobiotics and that led me to
the path of healing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And that quality
of healing you can never get from a pill.
article originally appeared in the One Peaceful World Journal, Spring, 1995 ©
One Peaceful World, all rights reserved. To become a membership to One Peaceful
World and receive a quarterly newsletter, please call 413-623-2322.
I was visited by a young woman who was experiencing irregularities with her menstruation,
along with a persistent, growing pain in her lower back, and facial blemishes.
A medical examination revealed that she had an ovarian cyst, about the size of
an orange, in one of her ovaries. Her doctor had advised exploratory surgery,
with the likelihood that the tumor, and possibly the ovary itself, would be removed.
felt that the problem was caused by improper balance in her daily diet, especially
the consumption of milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy foods. During her visit,
I recommended that she begin the macrobiotic diet, together with several basic
home remedies. She followed my instructions. To her surprise, the cyst was no
longer detectable after six weeks of practicing a macrobiotic regime. Her physician,
a well-known gynecologist, remarked that in all her years of practice, she had
never seen a case like that.
my years studying and practicing macrobiotics, I have witnessed hundreds of cases,
involving a wide range of illnesess, with a similar outcome. My own experience
with macrobiotic healing began in the late 1960s when I was a student at Temple
University in Philadelphia. It was at that time that I started seeking a deeper
understanding of life through the study of Oriental philosophy.
search began with Vedanta, the traditional wisdom of India, proceeded through
Taoism and Chinese philosophy, and then led to Buddhism and Shintoism. I discovered
the macrobiotic teachings of George Ohsawa at that time, and realized that macrobiotics
offered the means to transform humanity's timeless spiritual wisdom into a living
reality. Through macrobiotics, I came to understand that the spiritual knowledge
I had been searching for was within myself and that my day to day eating played
a pivotal role in the development of spiritual consciousness.
I adopted the macrobiotic lifestyle, allergies and other minor health problems
began to disappear, I lost excessive weight, and my outlook grew more active and
1972, I moved from Philadelphia to Boston in order to study with Michio Kushi.
In 1973, I began a five-year period of work at the East West Foundation, a non-profit
educational and cultural organization started by the Kushis. During that period,
I studied intensively with Mr. Kushi, and began to give basic lectures on various
aspects of the macrobiotic way of life. I edited numerous publications dealing
and natural healing. I also gave personal advice on the macrobiotic way of life
to hundreds of people.
these experiences, I came to realize that health, happiness, and freedom are actually
the natural human condition. My observations and experiences with the effects
of food on our physical and mental health have convinced me that the most fundamental
way to achieve health and happiness is to begin selecting, preparing, and eating
our daily food in accordance with the law of nature. This universal, common sense
method is available to everyone. All that is required is a desire to enjoy a life
free from sickness and unhappiness and the wish to claim the human birthright
of a happy, free, and healthy life.
age of dietary anarchy now prevails throughout modern society. Traditional patterns
of eating--based around whole cereal grains and cooked vegetables as the staple
foods--which were followed for thousands of years have been abandoned. The modern
diet consists of large quantities of animal food, heavily refined and processed
flour and grain, refined sugar, dairy products, fruits and spices imported from
great distances, chemicalized, industrialized, and artificial foods, and powerful
drugs and medications. Not only is the modern way of eating widespread in the
industrial nations in both East and West, but it is being exported at an increasingly
rapid rate throughout the world. As a result, in spite of great prosperity brought
on by technological advances, we are in the midst of a biological Noah's Flood
which is reflected in the increasing worldwide incidence of degenerative disease
and social breakdown.
the Second World War, Dr. Alexis Carrel, a Nobel Prize-winning physiologist at
the Rockefeller Institute, foresaw our current situation and in his book, Man
the Unknown, proposed a complete re-evaluation of our modern understanding of
life, nature, and ourselves. In the preface to his book he stated:
beginning this work the author realized its difficulty, its almost impossibility.
He undertook it merely because somebody had to undertake it, because men cannot
follow modern civilization along its present course, because they are degenerating.
They have been fascinated by the beauty of the science of inert matter. They have
not understood that their body and consciousness are subjected to natural laws,
more obscure than, but as inexorable as, the laws of the sidereal world. Neither
have they understood that they cannot transgress these laws without being punished.
They must, therefore, learn the necessary relations of the cosmic universe, of
their fellow men, and of their inner selves, also those of their tissues and their
mind. Indeed, man stands above all things. Should he degenerate, the beauty of
civilization, and even the grandeur of the physical universe, would vanish. For
these reasons this book was written.
natural laws of which Dr. Carrel wrote are expressed in macrobiotics as the principle
of dualistic monism: yin changes into yang, and yang changes into yin, everywhere
and forever. The most grandiose civilizations have all experienced eventual decline
and decay. Nothing is exempt from this fundamental law. At the same time, however,
within the decline of modern civilization, the seeds of the biological, psychological,
and spiritual restoration of humanity are beginning to grow, just as the depth
of winter produces spring, and the peak of night leads to dawn.
the 20th century, the most fundamental way to achieve the restoration of humanity
has been taught throughout the world as the understanding and practice of macrobiotics.
When Michio Kushi graduated from Tokyo University after the Second World War,
prior to coming to the United States for graduate studies at Columbia, his interest
in world peace through world government led him to investigate the work of George
Ohsawa. Mr. Ohsawa proposed that only with the biological reconstruction of humanity
on an individual basis through the means of daily life and diet, could world peace
be established. Observation of the human condition for over half a century had
led Mr. Ohsawa to such a simple but profound insight. His conclusions are contain
in three works available in English: Zen Macrobiotics, The Book of Judgment, and
Guidebook to Living. (George Ohsawa's basic writings have recently been compiled
in the book, Essential Ohsawa, published by Avery Publishing Group, 1994.)
by the macrobiotic view of life, Michio Kushi has been teaching, writing, and
lecturing throughout the world in order to further the understanding and practical
application of the macrobiotic way of life. Many of his conclusions are presented
in The Book of Macrobiotics: The Universal Way of Health, Happiness, and Peace,
published by Japan Publications, Inc. He is the author of more than a dozen books
on macrobiotic philosophy, health care, and way of life.
aim of macrobiotic healing extends beyond the relief of individual symptoms to
the eventual realization of a healthy and peaceful world. The goal of planetary
health and peace, toward which so many of history's greatest personalities have
dedicated their lives, can at last be realized as increasing numbers of people
begin to apply the order of nature to their daily lives. A healthy nation is composed
of healthy communities, which are, in turn, the product of strong and healthy
families. The basis of family health is the understanding and ability of each
member to take responsibility for and successfully manage his or her own health.
is a natural result of maintaining dynamic balance between the two primary forces
in the universe. Thus, with a simple scale used for measuring weight, balance
is achieved by placing equal amounts of material on either side. If one side contains
less weight, it will begin to rise, as the heavier side sinks. The side that falls
does so as a result of the influence of downward, or centripetal force, while
the other side rises because of the influence of centrifugal, or expanding force.
two forces, known in the Orient as yin and yang, are universal tendencies that
govern all things. For example, on the earth we are constantly receiving an incoming,
downward force from the sun, stars, planets, and constellations that pushes everything
onto the surface of the planet and causes the earth to turn and revolve around
the sun. At the same time, the earth, because of its rotation, generates an opposite,
expanding or outgoing force. The interplay between these two forces --centripetality,
or yang, and centrifugality, or yin-- creates all things on our planet and throughout
force creates respective physical tendencies. Centripetal or yang force creates
contraction, density, heaviness, rapid motion, and high temperature. Centrifugal,
or yin force creates expansion, diffusion, lightness, slower motion, and low temperature.
At their extreme, each force changes into its opposite, as high temperature causes
expansion and low temperature results in contraction. Yin and yang are not static
conditions but rather tendencies that cycle continuously or change into each other
as is obvious in the sequence of day changing into night and then night giving
way to the day. The progression from winter to summer and then back to winter
is another example of the interplay of opposites that governs life.
is the natural result of maintaining a dynamic balance of yin and yang in our
daily eating and way of life. An understanding of the laws that govern these two
antagonistic, yet complementary tendencies can unlock the secrets of life and
health. It can lead to an understanding of our origin and destiny as human beings.
My hope is that, through the practice of a macrobiotic way of life, all people
can come to will discover the wonderful order of nature and realize health, happiness,
and infinite freedom.
This essay is from the Introduction to The Macrobiotic Way of Natural Healing,
East West Foundation, Boston, Mass., 1978 ©, all rights reserved.
less industrial societies, modern food and agriculture have proved disruptive
on an even larger scale than in industrial areas.
use of marginal lands, and the export of cash crops have overturned patterns of
farming and cultural life extending back thousands of years. In the wake of monocropping-growing
one major crop or livestock for foreign export such as coffee, bananas, sugar,
tomatoes, cattle, or sheep-tens of millions of families, uprooted from their ancestral
lands, flocked to urban metropolitan centers such as San Paulo, Cairo, or Calcutta
in quest of employment and opportunity. The vast urban slums created by this exodus
from the land offer only poverty, hunger, and emergency relief consisting of infant
formula, refined foods, and artificial birth control devices and artificial immunizations
that further contribute to disease and destitution.
grain directly for human consumption, meanwhile, would result in greater utilization
of land and a more abundant food supply. At the present time it takes from five
to ten times as much land to raise beef, pork, lamb, and dairy cattle as it does
grains and vegetables. An international economy based on whole foods and organic
agriculture would reverse the trend toward concentration of farmland in fewer
hands. Hundreds of millions of families living in squalor would return to the
lands from which they were driven off and find food, shelter, and meaningful employment.
World hunger and poverty,
largely the result of modern agricultural dislocations and changing patterns of
food consumption, would end and tensions among states, aggravated by competing
cash crops for foreign export, would diminish as local communities and regions
became more self-sustaining. World population would also stabilize at much lower
natural levels as high birth rates-largely a survival mechanism, common to other
threatened species as well as humans-returned to normal.
a few emergency relief agencies, including the United Nation's Food and Agricultural
Organization and the International Red Cross have begun to distribute brown rice
and other whole grains rather than refined grains in selected refugee camps around
the world. These and other positive interim measures should be encouraged until
more basic solutions can be achieved.
Importance of Sleep
diet, lifestyle has the most significant impact on health. Our lifestyle must
put the right amount of stress on the body and mind. If our lifestyle doesn't
put enough stress on our body and mind, we become weak. If too much, or the wrong
kind of stress is given, we become exhausted. The very important other side of
the coin of stress or activity is rest.
greatest balance in our lifestyle is between activity and rest. Right kinds of
activity include moderate exercise, regular stimulation and use of the mind, and
healthy interactions with our family, friends, co-workers and the world. Although
activity plays a huge role in health, the opposite -- rest -- is equally important.
In today's world, the mind is usually too active while the body doesn't get enough
of the right stimulation from balanced foods and exercise or too much stimulation
from excesses of chemicals, fats, sugars and proteins in the diet. In this article,
I will focus on the importance of rest.
There are many ways within our
lifestyle to give our mind a break. Less entertainment from television, the internet,
and video games would help. Learning meditation is also a great rest for the mind.
I believe these suggestions would help everyone. The greatest rest, though, comes
from our daily sound and deep sleep.
Scientific research has indicated
the following symptoms can arise from a lack of sleep; attention deficit like
symptoms, depression, decreased mental activity, and concentration, lower immune
function, dizziness, general confusion, high blood pressure, memory loss and weight
gain. According to a 2000 study, researchers in Australia and New Zealand reported
that sleep deprivation can have some of the same hazardous effects as being drunk
(Williamson, AM, Feyer, A., "Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments
in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of
alcohol intoxication," Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2000; 57:649-655),
Several other large studies using nationally representative samples suggest that
the obesity, epidemic in Europe and the United States, might have as one of its
causes a decrease in the average number of hours that people are sleeping (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_deprivation).
traditional oriental medicine, which modern systems of macrobiotics draws upon,
the balance of opposites is known as yin and yang. Rest and activity is one expression
of this balance in day to day life. Simply put, activity of the body and mind
is yang (an active state) while rest is yin (the quiet state). Both are necessary
for good health.
During sleep our body enters into the greatest resting
and rejuvenating state. This occurs because of the part of your autonomic nervous
system known as the parasympathetic nervous system. This system, when active,
as it is during sleep, causes the body to conserve energy and absorb nutrition.
Under the parasympathetic influence, our body rebuilds itself. Over a period of
days, weeks, months and years, all the cells of the body are replaced. This happens
while we are sleeping. Inadequate sleep leads to premature breakdown of the body
which will lead to premature aging and a greater opportunity for degenerative
diseases such as cancer.
Another mechanism for this process is described
by Allan Hobson, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and
director of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the Massachusetts Mental Health
Center. "To make a long and fascinating story short, it turns out that when
animals are sleep deprived, a protein known as di-muramyl peptide accumulates
in their spinal fluid. The peptides do not originate in the brain. Instead, they
come from bacteria in the body, suggesting that sleep deprivation may enable bacterial
growth and that sufficient sleep impedes bacterial growth." (see Hobson,
Allan J. The Chemistry of Conscious States: How The Brain Changes It's Mind
Little, Brown, 1994) In other words, sleep is the great rejuvenator. This is the
time of day that your body gets to go into the deep yin state of rest. Adequate
and deep sleep aids all levels of health and wellbeing.
What time you go
to sleep makes a huge difference in health. During the day, the atmosphere as
a direct result of the sun's radiation is full of positive ions. These ions signal
your sympathetic nervous system to become activated and our body, in response,
uses up nutrients and energy for our daily activities. In the evening as the sun
retreats, the atmosphere is flooded with negative ions. Negative ions stimulate
the parasympathetic nervous system into action. The parasympathetic nervous system
causes your body to go into the rebuilding and cleansing mode. All the tissues
of the body are rebuilt while you sleep. Most of the toxins that our body makes
and we take from foods are cleansed from the body. Going to bed earlier causes
your parasympathetic system to work better at building and cleansing. This happens
because the body is exposed to more of the negative ions when you sleep in the
Part of the immune boosting effect was confirmed by a study of sleep
in darkness with women with breast cancer (http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/66/10/5521.short),
published in the December 2005 issue of Cancer Research. Researchers found that
sleeping for several hours in nighttime darkness promotes a healthy blood level
of a hormone called melatonin, which can significantly suppress the growth and
proliferation of breast tumors. Melatonin is one of the hormones that aid the
functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system during sleep. Most people will
notice the effects of good and adequate sleep after a short time. There are some,
though, who can't fall asleep. There is quite a bit of research that indicates
this is related to a deficiency of the neurohormone, serotonin. Serotonin is directly
linked to diet and lifestyle. This hormone causes us to relax and sleep deeply.
High amounts of simple sugars, stimulants, animal proteins, proteins and fats
in general and alcohol overproduces this brain chemical, in turn, exhausting the
body's ability to manufacture it.
This article gives a good argument for
the importance of adequate sleep. For most people eating a typical American diet,
it will be impossible to get a good night's sleep. The typical modern American
diet consists of foods that are high energy, low nutrient and toxic. Fiber, the
bulking agent of grains, beans, vegetables and fruits, makes you feel physically
full. Americans consume very little fiber. These same fiber rich foods are nutrient
rich. Nutrient rich foods tell your brain to stop eating because you've received
adequate nourishment. People eating modern diets of meat, refined sugars and grains
overeat to try to get satisfied but end up unsatisfied with too much energy rich
foods (calories). The end result is excessive amounts of protein and fat rich
animal foods, along with excessive intakes of refined sugars and carbohydrates
create an over stimulated and toxic, but exhausted state.
diet to a more vegetarian, macrobiotic way of eating is essential for getting
a good night's rest. A macrobiotic diet that consists of whole grains, beans and
bean products, a variety of vegetables, mild natural seasonings and beverages,
fruits, a moderate intake of fats, and fish, will easily induce sound and deep
sleep. Activity in the day is what people value the most in life. As this article
shows, rest is equally important. The best rest comes from a good night's sleep.
Healthy eating is the key to making it happen.
by Michio Kushi
All rights reserved. This material constitutes a complete work
copyrighted under United States law and international treaty by Michio Kushi.
No part of the material presented here may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,
without prior written permission of Michio Kushi. No alteration is permitted without
the express written consent of Michio Kushi.
Any work credited by Michio
Kushi to another is solely the work of that other author who retains exclusive
ownership of the content of their work and copyright in their work except where
specifically noted. Such references are used with permission of their authors
except in the case of works created by the Government of the United States which
are in the Public Domain. No affiliation with or ownership by any other organization,
including any regulatory entity, such as the Department of Agriculture of the
United States of America is expressed or implied.