Miso Medicine

Health Giving Properties Of Miso

Touted for centuries as a folk remedy for weak digestion, cancer, radiation sickness, tobacco poisoning, acidic conditions, low libido, and several types of intestinal infections, miso’s reputation as one of nature’s most healing foods has been confirmed by modern medical science.

These studies show what folk healers have known for centuries.

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  • Instant Miso Soup - White (Tofu)
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It is not any one particular component of miso that makes it such an effective healing foods, but rather a complex combination of ingredients and a unique double fermentation process that transforms soybeans and grains into a potent medicine. And although miso can now be found in most natural food stores and is an important ingredient in natural food cookbooks, it is still greatly underrated as a medicinal food.

It may have been our fear of fallout from the impending nuclear holocaust or from nuclear power plant meltdowns that first attracted Westerners to miso.

Dr. Shinichiro Akizuki’s Theory

During the 60’s, students of macrobiotics and Zen began hearing about Dr. Shinichiro Akizuki, director of Saint Francis Hospital in Nagasaki during the second World War. Although Akizuki spent years treating atomic bomb victims just a few miles from ground zero, neither he nor his staff suffered from the usual effects of radiation. Akizuki hypothesized that he and his associates were protected from the deadly radiation because they drank miso soup every day.

In 1972, Akizuki’s theory was confirmed when researchers discovered that miso contains dipilocolonic acid, an alkaloid that chelates heavy metals, such as radioactive strontium, and discharges them from the body.

Miso Research

However, the most convincing evidence demonstrating the protection miso offers to those exposed to radiation was published in Japan in 1989. Professor Akihiro Ito, at Hiroshima University’s Atomic Radioactivity Medical Lab, read reports of European countries importing truckloads of miso after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Ito reasoned that if people were protected from radiation by miso, then rats that were fed miso and radiated should develop less cancer than radiated rats that were not fed miso. Professor Ito was not surprised to find that the liver cancer rate for rats that were not fed miso was 100 to 200 percent higher than that of rats that were fed miso.

Even more extraordinary is the fact that Ito used commercial miso powder, which is considered the lowest quality miso. Many natural healers and miso advocates consider long-aged misos, such as hatcho, brown rice, and barley misos, to be the most medicinally potent.

Potent Medicinal Food?

Although Ito’s radiation studies were very impressive, it was large population studies in Japan that were begun in the 60’s and published in the 70’s and 80’s that first alerted researchers to miso’s potential as a potent medicinal food.

One study of over a quarter of a million men and women showed that those who ate miso soup every day had fewer cases of certain types of cancer. At first researchers associated the lower cancer rates with the orange and yellow vegetables that are traditionally cooked into miso soup, and which were known to have their own health benefits.

Ethyl Ester

However, in the late 80’s a team of medical researchers at Tohoku University, Japan, discovered a substance called ethyl ester, a fatty acid that is produced by the breakdown of complex fats during miso’s fermentation, which acted like an anti- mutagen. The results of this work, which were presented to the Japan Agricultural Society, were extraordinary, because they showed that ethyl ester was only made during fermentation. They also scientifically demonstrated that the small amounts of ethyl ester found in a bowl of miso soup could cancel the effects of large amounts of nicotine and burnt meat mutagens.


During the 90’s there has been an explosion of exciting research pointing to the extraordinary health benefits of soya foods in general and miso in particular. Promoted by population studies in Japan, China, and Singapore that linked lower rates of stomach, breast, prostrate, and kidney cancer and lower cholesterol levels with the consumption of traditional soya foods, scientists around the world began looking for a magic bullet in miso, tofu, soya milk, soya sauce, tempeh and even TVP. What they found in the urine of people who ate these foods, and in the foods themselves, was high concentrations of a potent anticancer agent called genistein, a plant isoflavone.

According to a review article from the National Cancer Institute, in the US, and research at Children’s University Hospital, Heidelberg, Germany, genistein delivers a one- two punch to cancer cells by reducing their ability to form new blood vessels and by attacking the cells reproduction mechanism. Without a growing blood supply, and unable to make new cells, the cancer slowly shrinks and dies.

Genistein’s ability to destroy cancer cells has been demonstrated both in and out of the body in numerous studies. When added to tissue cultures of skin cancer cells, as reported recently in the British Journal of Cancer, genistein rapidly suppresses growth and, before long, cancer cells look very different and begin to die. Genistein and miso have both been shown in laboratory experiments to have similar effects on animals with cancer.

Genistein has been shown to be effective in both hormonal and non-hormonal types of cancer. Scientists believe that genistein, like several other plant compounds called phytoestrogens, may have an influence on cancer via their estrogen-like action in the body. In fact, studies have shown that soya foods can reduce menopausal symptoms and influence the menstrual cycle.

Although most soya products, even TVP, have some genistein, it was discovered recently that miso has about 25 times as much genistein as unfermented soya foods, such as soya milk and tofu. Researchers at Tokyo’s National Cancer Center Research Institute believe that during fermentation microbes cleave the bonds of genistein’s processor molecule, converting it to the active anticancer substance. Other fermented soya foods, such as natto (fermented soya beans), also have higher levels of genistein.

Even the ultra-conservative National Cancer Institute has become interested in isoflavones and has recommended the use of miso and other soya foods in protecting against breast and prostate cancer. There are also early indications that the market will soon be flooded with both natural and synthetic genistein supplements.

Why Is Soya So Beneficial?

Why has nature focused such incredible healing power in soya beans? The answer, oddly enough, may be the soya bean’s abundance of natural pesticides. Research by John Ingham, at the University of Reading, England, has shown that at least one of the functions of isoflavonoids in soya beans and other plants is to protect them from pests.

Nature, of course, favours plants with high concentrations of natural pesticides, because they can grown and reproduce. This may help explain why soya beans grow well without the use of many toxic insecticides. Moreover, some research suggests that plants, such as soya beans, which contain several isoflavonoids, such as daidzein and genistein, enjoy the greatest protection from pests because these substances interact to enhance potency.

In a similar way, USDA botanist and well-known herbal authority, Dr. James Duke, hypothesizes that the soya bean’s abundance of natural pesticides work together synergistically to enhance their medicinal effects on humans. In protecting the soya bean from its natural enemies, nature may have provided mankind with one of its most effective medicinal foods.

There are several studies in the scientific literature that demonstrate the medicinal qualities of miso, but offer no explanation as to why. For example, one little-known study of miso, at Okayama University Medical School, in Japan, has shown that miso is a powerful antioxidant aggressively scavenging free radicals from tissues in test tubes. Another study in Shenyang, China, concluded that miso protects cell membranes from aging and therefore is a "good natural agent for resisting aging."

Fermentation Process

Yet another key to miso’s effectiveness as a medicine may be found in the unique lactobacillus fermentation process by which it is made. Not only does this process produce more genistein, but numerous studies have shown that fermentation of food with lactobacilli increases the quantity, availability, digestibility and assimilability of nutrients.

What’s more, lactobacillus fermentation kills dangerous pathogens both in the foods before they are eaten and in the intestines. One study, published in the Annals of Medicine in 1990, reports the effective use of freeze-dried lactobacillus bacteria for the treatment of salmonellosis, shigellosis, and antibiotic-induced diarrhea. This explains why these types of fermented foods are used in third world countries to prevent and treat various intestinal infections.

Folk Knowledge - Scientific Research

It’s great when medical science confirms the medicinal properties of important traditional foods, but researchers are not even close to understanding the importance of miso. Miso is a nourishing, high energy, whole food that helps maintain health and vitality. And because of the magic of lactic acid fermentation, miso is much more than the sum of its parts.

During fermentation, the complex proteins, oils, and carbohydrates of grains and soya beans are broken down into more readily digestible amino acids, fatty acids, and simple sugars. This is why miso is considered an excellent food for people with a weak digestion and is still used by traditional Japanese women for weaning.

Even today, in some parts of China and Japan drinking miso soup every day is associated with a long, healthy life. Starting the day with miso soup is said to alkalize the body and help neutralize the acid condition caused by eating meat and sugar and drinking alcohol.

For quick relief, miso is like a traditional Alka-Seltzer. Also, once established in the intestine, the acid-loving bacteria found in abundance in sweet, light, unpasteurized misos, promote health and stamina. For smokers, miso is thought to rapidly clear nicotine from the body and is still used to clean tar from smoker’s pipes. Research aside, let long tradition be your guide. Miso may be the world’s most medicinal everyday food, and it tastes good too!

Although there is no research to support what follows, it is common for natural healers to advise cancer and heart patients to use dark, salty, long-aged misos. This is because they know that these types are higher in soya bean content than the sweeter, lighter misos.

More soya beans provide higher concentrations of isoflavones and essential fatty acids, which have been proven effective in fighting cancer and heart disease. In fact, soya beans are one of nature’s best sources of lecithin and linoleic acid, which have been shown to play an important role in cholesterol metabolism. As discussed above, lighter, sweeter misos have the advantage of being lower in salt and, if unpasteurized, they are higher in beneficial lactobacillus bacteria.



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