Alternate Title

  • Diet, macrobiotic

Related Terms

  • Big view of life, Chinese philosophy, crudivorism, diet, dietetics, grain, Japanese macrobiotics, macrobiotism, organic, phytoestrogens, pulses, vegan, vegetarian, whole foods, yang, yin, Zen macrobiotics.


  • The earliest recorded usage of the term “macrobiotics” is found in the writings of Hippocrates. Translated literally, macro is the Greek word for “great” and bios is the word for “life.” The term “macrobiotics” refers to a philosophy of working with the natural order of life. Philosophers and physicians from many parts of the world have used this term to signify living in harmony with nature and eating a simple, balanced diet to live to an active old age.
  • The modern practice of macrobiotics was started in the 1920s by a Japanese educator named George Ohsawa, said to have cured himself of a serious illness by changing to a simple diet of brown rice, miso soup, and sea vegetables.
  • Macrobiotics is a predominantly vegetarian, whole-foods diet that emphasizes whole grains (especially brown rice), vegetables, fruits, legumes, and seaweeds. Some proponents eat white meat or fish once or twice a week, while others eat no animal products whatsoever – an approach referred to as “vegan.” Macrobiotic diets may be individualized based on factors such as climate, season, age, gender, activity, and health needs.
  • Studies have shown increased risk for various nutrient deficiencies. However, proponents argue that with judicious menu planning, most vegetarian diets can supply excellent nutrition. The most common supplementation is with dairy products.
  • The macrobiotic diet is low in saturated fat and high in phytoestrogens, which may help balance a woman’s hormones during menopause, reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, and prevent breast cancer and endometriosis.
  • Both plant-only and plant-based eating patterns have health benefits, most notably in reducing the risk of chronic, degenerative diseases.
  • Macrobiotics is one of the most popular lifestyle approaches to cancer. However, the evidence as to whether or not a macrobiotic diet can help in cancer is mixed and inconclusive. Overall, there has been little evidence on the effectiveness of a macrobiotic diet aside from case reports.

Evidence Table


    These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.


    There is evidence from one study suggesting that a macrobiotic diet might contribute to an improved ratio of HDL (“good” cholesterol) to LDL (“bad” cholesterol). However, more research is needed to explore whether such effects are reliable and meaningful.

    Cognitive function

    The evidence is mixed as to whether or not a macrobiotic diet helps, hinders, or has no effect on cognitive functioning in children.


    There is evidence that a macrobiotic diet may lead to reduced body size and obesity and increased leanness in preschool children compared to children on a normal diet. Studies are needed to determine whether or not these changes contribute to good health in children.

    Intestinal flora – antibiotic resistant bacteria

    A macrobiotic diet has been advocated to preserve intestinal health. However, it apparently does not reduce the incidence of drug-resistant bacteria in the intestinal flora, nor infections caused by resistant strains in the gastrointestinal tract, compared to a diet with animal products.

*Key to grades:



    The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.



    Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.


  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration ().



    Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to . Selected references are listed below.

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  • Brown PT, Bergan JG. The dietary status of “new” vegetarians. J Am Diet Assoc 1975;67(5):455-459.
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  • Carter JP, Saxe GP, Newbold V, et al. Hypothesis: dietary management may improve survival from nutritionally linked cancers based on analysis of representative cases. J Am Coll Nutr 1993;12(3):209-226.
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  • Dagnelie PC, Van Staveren WA. Macrobiotic nutrition and child health: results of a population-based, mixed-longitudinal cohort study in The Netherlands. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59(5 Suppl):1187S-1196S.
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  • Downer SM, Cody MM, McCluskey P, et al. Pursuit and practice of complementary therapies by cancer patients receiving conventional treatment. BMJ 1994;309(6947):86-89.
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  • Dwyer JT, Andrew EM, Valadian I, et al. Size, obesity, and leanness in vegetarian preschool children. J Am Diet Assoc 1980;77(4):434-439.
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  • Dwyer J. Convergence of plant-rich and plant-only diets. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70(3 Suppl):620S-622S.
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  • Elder HA, Roy I, Lehman S, et al. Human studies to measure the effect of antibiotic residues. Vet Hum Toxicol 1993;35 Suppl 1:31-36.
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  • Knuiman JT, West CE. The concentration of cholesterol in serum and in various serum lipoproteins in macrobiotic, vegetarian and non-vegetarian men and boys. Atherosclerosis 1982;43(1):71-82.
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  • Krey SH. Alternate dietary lifestyles. Prim Care 1982;9(3):595-603.
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  • Kushi LH, Cunningham JE, Hebert JR, et al. The macrobiotic diet in cancer. J Nutr 2001;131(11 Suppl):3056S-3064S.
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  • Louwman MW, Van Dusseldorp M, van de Vijver FJ, et al. Signs of impaired cognitive function in adolescents with marginal cobalamin status. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72(3):762-769.
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  • Miller DR, Specker BL, Ho ML, et al. Vitamin B-12 status in a macrobiotic community. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;53(2):524-529.
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  • Parsons TJ, Van Dusseldorp M, van d, V, et al. Reduced bone mass in Dutch adolescents fed a macrobiotic diet in early life. J Bone Miner Res 1997;12(9):1486-1494.
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  • Sanders TA. Vegetarian diets and children. Pediatr Clin North Am 1995;42(4):955-965.
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