The macrobiotic diet in cancer

J Nutr. 2001 Nov;131(11 Suppl):3056S-64S. doi: 10.1093/jn/131.11.3056S.


Macrobiotics is one of the most popular alternative or complementary comprehensive lifestyle approaches to cancer. The centerpiece of macrobiotics is a predominantly vegetarian, whole-foods diet that has gained popularity because of remarkable case reports of individuals who attributed recoveries from cancers with poor prognoses to macrobiotics and the substantial evidence that the many dietary factors recommended by macrobiotics are associated with decreased cancer risk. Women consuming macrobiotic diets have modestly lower circulating estrogen levels, suggesting a lower risk of breast cancer. This may be due in part to the high phytoestrogen content of the macrobiotic diet. As with most aspects of diet in cancer therapy, there has been limited research evaluating the effectiveness of the macrobiotic diet in alleviating suffering or prolonging survival of cancer patients. The few studies have compared the experience of cancer patients who tried macrobiotics with expected survival rates or assembled series of cases that may justify more rigorous research. On the basis of available evidence and its similarity to dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention, the macrobiotic diet probably carries a reduced cancer risk. However, at present, the empirical scientific basis for or against recommendations for use of macrobiotics for cancer therapy is limited. Any such recommendations are likely to reflect biases of the recommender. Because of its popularity and the compelling evidence that dietary factors are important in cancer etiology and survival, further research to clarify whether the macrobiotic diet or similar dietary patterns are effective in cancer prevention and treatment is warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet, Macrobiotic* / adverse effects
  • Diet, Macrobiotic* / standards
  • Diet, Vegetarian
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Neoplasms / diet therapy*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome