The History of Macrobiotics

The history of Macrobiotics - From ancient times sages, of various cultural backgrounds, realized that the food we eat not only sustains life, but also underlies our health and happiness.

Macrobiotics - The History of Macrobiotics

In 1909, Dr. Sagen Ishizuka, a Western-trained MD in the Japanese Army founded the movement originally named "Shokuyō" (食養 "Food for Health").

 He established a theory of nutrition, based on the traditional Oriental diet, to which he applied the Western medical sciences of chemistry, biology, biochemistry, and physiology. He studied both Western and Eastern medicine extensively and compiled the information in two books:

Chemical Theory of Longevity (1896) and Diet for Health (1898)

Ishizuka’s theory was based on the following principles:

  • Human health and longevity depend on the balance between sodium and potassium. Where Western theories of nutrition insisted on the importance of proteins and carbohydrates, Ishizuka considered minerals, especially sodium and potassium, critical to health as their interrelationship determines the ability of the body to absorb and use other nutrients, the proper functioning of the whole body depends on their balance.
  • Food is the major factor determining this balance. Other factors such as geography or climate, physical activity or psychological stress play a secondary role. Living in the mountains or the sea, a dry or wet place, being sedentary or having a strong physical activity produces a certain effect, but what is inserted into the digestive system is basically what determines the relationship between sodium and potassium in the body.
  • Health and sickness depend on food before anything else. The physical base of operation is achieved through proper daily intake of food, balanced at the level of mineral salts. Disease occurs because of an imbalance between sodium and potassium caused by eating improperly. According to Ishizuka, both acute and chronic diseases (infectious or viral) are due to bad food: germs or viruses cannot attack an organism in which the relationship between sodium and potassium are well balanced, even in a case of physical contact.

Ishizuka collected his studies in a work called "A Chemical Theory of Nutrition on Health and Longevity", which was published in 1897 in Japan but has never been translated into any Western language.

Macrobiotics Definition

Macrobiotics is the art and science of health and longevity through the study and understanding of the relation and interactions between ourselves, the foods we eat, the lifestyles we choose to lead, and the environments in which we live.

At this time Japan was being strongly influenced by European culture and science. Going against this trend, Ishizuka criticized the adoption of the West's modern medicine and dietary theories, and recommended the Japanese traditional diet - whole, unrefined foods, with very little or no milk or animal foods. 

He cured many patients by having them eat a traditional diet based on brown rice, and a variety of land and sea vegetables. His healing technique was based on the recognition of five very important principles:

Foods are the foundation of health and happiness. 

  • Sodium and potassium are the primary antagonistic and complementary clements in food. They most strongly determine its character-or "yin/ yang" quality. 
  • Grain is properly the staple food of man.
  • Food should be unrefined, whole, and natural. 
  • Food should be grown locally and eaten in season.

A continuance of spreading these principals is accounted to George Ohsawa.

Ohsawa learned about this approach to diet from two of Mr. Ishizuka's disciples, Manabu Nishibata and Shojiro Goto. Suffering "incurable" diseases at the age of 18, Ohsawa completely restored his own health and joined Shokuyō.

Ohsawa wrote his first books on the topic in 1928, "Physiology of Japanese Mentality" and "Biography of Sagen Ishizuka". He then established his own organization, where he devoted himself more to the teaching of the yin and yang philosophy rather than the direct treatment of the sick. From that point on Mr. Ohsawa devoted his life to lecturing around the world and to writing on macrobiotic philosophy and its application. His first textual usage of the term "Macrobiotics" was in "Zen Macrobiotics", which he wrote in English in 1959.

The word macrobiotic was originally used in a book on the "Art of human Life Extension" by German scholar Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland in "Makrobiotik" (1842).


For more information and contacts:

GOMF – The George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation

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The information on this site is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition.