Miso Soup - The Ultimate Anti-cancer Food
Much more than the proverbial apple, a daily bowl of miso soup made with shiitake broth, wakame, onion, carrots, kale and garnished with scallions will not only keep the doctor away, but will add vitality to your life. This flavorful combination of ingredients not only supplies the body with a good source of several important vitamins and minerals, they also work synergistically to help prevent cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD), diabetes, heavy metal poisoning, reduce blood pressure, and even aid in weight reduction. It is beyond the scope of this book to go into all the benefits of eating a bowl of miso soup every day, however, let's focus on one of the world's deadliest degenerative diseases, cancer.
The many ways miso can help reduce the risk of cancer were explained in detail above, however, in their ancient wisdom the Japanese have traditionally combined miso with other important medicinal foods to maximize its healing potential. In rural Japan, where we lived during our miso apprenticeship, miso soup was frequently made with shiitake broth. Shiitake have been called the "healing mushroom," and the scientific literature supporting this view is prolific. In the last three decades scientists have confirmed what traditional healers have known for centuries; shiitake are one of nature's most potent natural medicines. Scientists now believe that a polysaccharide called lentinan and virus-like particles found in shiitake trigger the increased production of various serum factors associated with immunity and inflammation. These so-called lymphokines, such as interferon and interleukin, stimulate the defense system, spurring the proliferation of phagocytes, including macrophages and other immune fighters that attack cancer cells. The immune boosting power of shiitake is also effective in fighting bacterial and viral infections. Cancer aside, shiitake have also been shown to lower cholesterol quickly and effectively, especially when combined with miso. On two occasions we have seen friends lower their total cholesterol from over three hundred to less than two hundred in just three months by drinking a bowl of miso soup made with shiitake stock twice a day. Studies with humans have shown that only three ounces of shiitake (five to six mushrooms) a day can lower cholesterol twelve percent in a week.
Brown sea vegetables, such as wakame, are traditionally included in miso soup, and they also provide protection against some forms of cancer. Diets high in brown sea vegetables have been associated with a lower risk for colon, rectal, and breast cancers. A Japanese animal study showed that consumption of sea vegetables inhibited the growth of implanted sarcomas by eighty-nine to ninety-five percent. According to researchers, more than half of the animals studied showed complete regression. The report also showed promising results with leukemia. Besides their anti-cancer attributes, sea vegetables contain high concentrations of calcium and iron as well as several trace elements that are now often missing in the earth's depleted soils. Sea vegetables have also been found to reduce blood pressure and serum cholesterol and help the body eliminate toxic heavy metals.
Along with shiitake and brown sea vegetables, traditional Japanese often include allium vegetables such as onions, leeks, and scallions in their miso soup. Allium vegetables are known to contain a variety of organosulfur phytonutrients, which inhibit both the induction and growth of cancer. Another traditional favorite is carrots, which are rich in carotenoids. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that can neutralize the free radicals that play an important role in cancer development.
Although they are usually not included in authentic Japanese recipes for miso soup, brassica family vegetables, such as kale, collards, and cabbage, are often included in western-style miso soups. These hardy and nutritious plants contain phytonutrients called glucosinolats, which are broken down by the vegetable enzyme myrosinase during the process of chewing into several phytonutrients that help activate the body's mechanism for detoxifying cancer-producing substances. Several population studies have shown a link between the consumption of these vegetables and a reduced risk of lung, stomach, colon, rectum, ovarian, and prostate cancers.
Miso soup made with the ingredients suggested above (see Miso Recipes) may be the best protection nature can offer for the prevention of cancer. Moreover, the phytonutrients, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids, and fiber provided in this medicinal cocktail may be nature's panacea for life in the twenty-first century.
As miso ages soy proteins are broken down and react with sugar to produce the dark pigments that give some varieties of miso their characteristic brown and russet colors. When scientists at Aichi-Gakuin University Hospital, in Nagoya, Japan, isolated the brown pigments in miso and soy sauce, referred to as melanoidins, and mixed them with human colon cancer cells, the cancer cells' growth rate was cut in half. Moreover, closer examination showed that brown pigments disrupted cell growth during very specific phases of cell reproduction. In another study with animals, brown pigments showed a strong scavenging activity against free radicals.