and, Medical lessons from my Mother-in-Law

As I drove to the airport to pick up my Mother-in-Law, I had no idea that I was starting a seminar in nutritional medicine. She was a warm and delightful woman but she struggled to walk with her 230lb on a 5’ 3” frame. She had high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic fatigue, popping seven medications every day.

Fast forward six months and she weighed 170 lbs, having lost 60 lbs and her blood pressure was 125/70 and her fasting blood sugar was 75. She had stopped all her medications under my supervision as her diabetes and high blood pressure were gone. She was walking two to three miles daily without pain and sun tanning by the pool. She had been medically transformed by a low fat macrobiotic diet of whole grains, vegetables, beans, sea vegetables and more, lovingly prepared by my wife, Vesna, a macrobiotic counselor of 16 years.

The macrobiotic diet is based on the foods eaten by the healthiest societies on earth and it has been used to reverse all types of disease. George Oshawa used macrobiotic principles to cure himself of tuberculosis in 1911 and then spread the word to Europe and America. Mishio Kushi popularized the healing power of whole foods in America. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and many other diseases have resolved using the macrobiotic philosophy, providing strong support for the ancient wisdom of Hippocrates who said, “Let food be by thy medicine.”

Arising from the wisdom of many diverse cultures over hundreds of years, the macrobiotic principles are now merging with modern medical research to create convincing evidence for the best diet for mankind. Consider the following:

      • Dr Neal Barnard’s research showing how the high fat American diet creates excessive fat storage in the cells of the body which in turn contributes to insulin resistance, which is the key element in high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and eventually diabetes. His low fat plant based diet reverses diabetes three times more effectively than the Mediterranean diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association. (Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes)
      • Dr. Dean Ornish’s research at the University of California School of Medicine showing that coronary artery disease can be reversed by a low fat plant based diet. After one year, those that followed his diet reversed their coronary artery disease by an average of 8%, while the control group following the advice of their cardiologist (e.g., statin drugs and blood pressure pills) increased their heart blockage by an average of 38%. (Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease)
      • Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic recognized that conventional cardiology did not treat the cause of coronary artery disease. Therefore, he designed a study for patients with advanced coronary disease, many of which had been told by their cardiologist that they had less than a year to live. Within months of eating a low fat plant based diet, they were free of cardiac events such as angina. Their cholesterol levels plummeted and after 20 years they remained free of heart symptoms. Repeat angiography showed widening of the coronary arteries. (Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Caldwell Esselstyn)
      • Dr. Dean Ornish published a study which provided a low fat plant based diet to men with early stage prostate cancer. After one year, none of the men in the study required conventional treatments and PSA decreased by 4%, while it increased in the control group. Prostate cancer cell growth was inhibited eight times more in the experimental group compared to the control group. (Journal of Urology, 9/06)
      • Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s research on 880 million people conducted by Cornell University and Oxford University over 20 years and published as The China Study, concluded that “diets high in animal protein (including casein in cow’s milk) are strongly linked to diseases such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.” Based on “the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken on the relationship between diet and disease”, Dr. Campbell recommended that people eat a whole food, plant based diet and avoid consuming beef, poultry and milk as a means to minimize and or reverse the development of chronic disease.

While arising from the research laboratory of human experience over hundreds of years and now supported by nutrition and medical laboratories, the modern macrobiotic diet consists of the following:

      • Whole grains: whole oats, brown rice, wheat berries, millet, barley, corn-on-the-cob, whole rye
      • Dried beans: lentils, adzuki beans, garbanzo beans, mung beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, black or yellow soy beans, black-eyed peas, lima beans, great northern beans.
      • Vegetables: leafy greens, root vegetables, sea vegetables
      • Fresh fruit: berries, tree fruits such as apples and pears, ground fruits such as melons
      • Seeds: sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, flax, linseed
      • Nuts: almonds, filberts, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, cashew
      • Fermented foods: miso, shoyu, vinegars, yogurt, tempeh, natto, pickles

The following 12 reasons to choose macrobiotics is taken from Simon G. Brown’s book Modern-Day Macrobiotics:It is a broad, varied diet primarily consisting of grains, vegetables, fish, beans seeds, fruit and nuts.

  1. Many people claim that eating a macrobiotic diet has helped them to recover from illness.
  2. It is a flexible approach to eating that can be used over a few days or for life.
  3. Using macrobiotic principles you can choose and prepare foods to change the way you feel.
  4. You can eat anything as long as you know what the likely influence of that food is and are sure it will lead to good health.
  5. The high fiber used in macrobiotics keeps your digestive system healthy.
  6. Being low in saturated fats, a macrobiotic diet enhances your blood quality, improving your circulation and heart.
  7. Low on the glycemic index, macrobiotic foods encourage even blood sugar levels, making it easier to lose weight and enjoy emotional stability.
  8. The foods are well balanced in terms of acid and alkaline as well as sodium and potassium.
  9. The predominance of complex carbohydrates means that the meals proved plenty of sustainable energy, leading to greater stamina.
  10. The general macrobiotic diet is high in proteins, iron, calcium and other minerals and vitamins.
  11. Macrobiotics is a complete approach to healthy eating that encompasses everything from selecting good ingredients, to cooking methods and eating.

I have practiced medicine since 1970 and over the years I have tried every diet that hits the newsstands and bookstores, usually first on myself and then my patients. From the Atkins diet to the Zone diet, Mediterranean, Blood Type, Metabolic Type, on and on.

Most are based on a little science and some are based on none. Most are nicely written in glossy books and promoted by well meaning and enthusiastic practitioners who in turn transfer that enthusiasm to their audiences. Therefore there is usually success, at least for a little while. But none of them stands on anything near the comprehensive epidemiologic research supporting The China Study, and none of them, except perhaps for the Paleolithic diet, is founded upon hundreds of years of ethnic and cultural wisdom as the macrobiotic diet.

Let us consider for a moment what our ancestors ate on this earth for the past 50,000 years or so. What is the pre-historic “traditional diet” for humankind? What foods is our DNA best suited for? According to Richard Leakey, the well known paleoanthropologist, “our ancestors ate primarily a Chimpanzee-like vegan diet, with an occasional morsel of meat.” Later on Jane Brody, writing in the New York Times states:

“The new view – coming from findings in such fields as archaeology, anthropology, primatology and comparative anatomy – instead portrays early humans and their forebears more as herbivores than carnivores. According to these studies, the prehistoric table for at least the last million and a half years was probably set with three times more plant than animal foods, the reverse of what the average American currently eats.”

shutterstock_419008198But culturally and emotionally based belief systems die slowly, and, you can use “science” to prove almost anything. As Dr. Campbell presents in one of his lectures titled, “The Worship of Protein in Modern Society”, we modern humans love meat. However, just like our ancestors, you can get plenty of protein from plant based foods such as whole grains, beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Basically, macrobiotics evolved from the experience of healthy cultures and astute healers over hundreds of years into a philosophy of living and eating that improves health in mind and body. Not only do most diseases gradually fade away as diabetes and high blood pressure did for my Mother-in-Law, but people experience greater mental clarity and emotional stability. Also, as people progress on the path of macrobiotics, they invariably notice that their body communicates to them and “tells” them what foods are best to eat.

The wisdom of the human body is unfathomably complex and beyond the understanding of any scientist. Once the daily fatigue, aches, pains, stiffness, depression, anxiety, indigestion and other mixed and overlapping communications are cleared through healthy eating, these signals will become the messages and guidance that they were meant to be. As Norman Cousins so aptly wrote: “Your body has been trying to tell you something and you haven’t been listening.”

Vesna Cupara-Peters is the Macrobiotic Counselor at MindBody Medicine Center. She has 16 years of experience in macrobiotic counseling, including serving as personal assistant to the Macrobiotic and yoga teacher Vera Pilipovic from 1994 to 1997. In 2001 she was personal assistant to Mina Dobic, a renowned Macrobiotic Counselor who healed herself from cancer, and wrote a book, My Beautiful Life. And, in 2010 she completed a yearlong training program with David Briscoe, another international macrobiotic counselor who healed himself from schizophrenia, chronicling his experience in a book, titled A Personal Peace, Macrobiotic Reflection on Mental and Emotional Recovery.

Whether your goal is simply to feel better, prevent disease, eliminate diabetes or help in treating cancer, Vesna can assist you on this powerful healing path.