Touted for centuries in the Far East as a folk remedy for poor digestion, cancer, tobacco poisoning, acidic conditions, low libido, and several types of intestinal infections, miso has long had a reputation as one of nature’s most healing foods. By the end of the twentieth century, scientific studies had confirmed this reputation. It is miso’s combination of ingredients and its unique double-fermentation process that transforms soybeans and grains into a potent medicine.
Miso and Western Awareness
Western awareness of miso largely began during the late 1960s when Michio Kushi and Hermann Aihara, students of Japanese teacher and writer George Ohsawa, spearheaded the macrobiotic movement in the United States. The macrobiotic philosophy, which promotes balance in all aspects of life, places emphasis on a diet that includes foods such as whole grains, land and sea vegetables, nuts, seeds, pickles, and miso. Macrobiotics played a significant role in introducing miso to a health-conscious public. During the 1960s, students of macrobiotics and Zen began to learn of Dr. Shinichiro Akizuki, the Director of the Department of Internal Medicine at Saint Francis Hospital in Nagasaki during the Second World War. After the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945, Dr. Akizuki, spent years treating patients who developed symptoms of radiation sickness from the fallout. He fed his patients and staff a strict daily diet that included miso soup. Although they were located only one mile from ground zero, the pro – gressive effects of radiation never manifested. Akizuki hypothesized that the miso soup is what offered the protection.
In 1972, researchers discovered that miso contains dipilocolonic acid, an alkaloid that chelates (binds together) heavy metals, such as radioactive strontium, and discharges them from the body. This discovery helped validate Akizuki’s theory that miso offered protection against radiation exposure. More convincing evidence came in 1989 through the research of Professor Akihiro Ito at Hiroshima University’s Atomic Radioactivity Medical Lab. A few years earlier in April of 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred at a power plant in Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union (now the Ukraine). European countries imported truckloads of miso from Japan and fed it to their people as protection against the radioactive fallout. This prompted Professor Ito to conduct studies on miso’s effects on irradiated laboratory rats. One group of rats was fed a diet that included miso; the other group’s diet did not. The rats that were not fed miso had a liver cancer rate that was 100 to 200 percent higher than the rats in the miso-fed group. Ito also reported that the organs of the miso-fed rats were much less inflamed than those in the other group.
Material and recipes from The Miso Book by John Belleme and Jan Belleme, Square One Publishers, Inc. © 2004. Used by permission of the publisher. To learn more about the publisher, visit www.squareonepublishers.com.