top of page

Digestive Disorders


Crohn’s Disease and Takayasus Arteritis

By Virginia Harper


You can turn this around. You can change this, are the words Ill never forget. After eight years of living with Takayasus arteritis and Crohn’s disease and seeing only a dim future ahead, these words filled me with hope.


At age 14 I started having strong symptoms of discomfort and pain on the right side of my abdomen. At 15 they removed my appendix but discovered it was normal. From 15 to 23, I was in and out of hospitals at least twice a year with the symptoms getting more severe. I had not only the increasing abdominal problems but I started to develop fainting spells, dizziness, weakness in my right shoulder and arm down to my hand. At age 19 I discovered a lump on my neck. I was away at college in Tennessee and the school doctor decided it was a benign cyst and could be easily removed during the Thanksgiving holidays.


While undergoing an arteriogram at home in Connecticut, I suffered a stroke. When I awoke, I was temporarily paralyzed on my right side and had lost my ability to speak. The test showed a blockage on my right carotid artery. In April of that next year, I was sent to Mass General Hospital in Boston to undergo bypass surgery and a biopsy and it was determined that I had a very rare blood condition. Takayasu arteritis is an autoimmune deficiency where the blood passing through the arteries causes them to act as if they are damaged so they start repairing themselves and this creates blockages. Takayasu has no known cause and no known cure. The main arteries were so dramatically affected that my blood flow was distressed. I was told to stop all my sports activities and to take it easy. But the real devastating news was that I should not plan on having children.


I was put on an anti-inflammatory drug called prednisone, a steroid, and an aspirin a day to help with my blood flow. The next few years I learned to live within the confines of Takayasu and I suffered from the side effects from the drug more than the disease itself. I would awaken ravished with headaches, swollen aching joints, ringing in my ears, upset stomach, low energy and feeling depressed. And, when I was on high doses, I would be so hyper I would work to exhaustion and still only need three or four hours of sleep before I was ready to go again.


On top of all this, my abdominal symptoms began to get worse as the years went by. The pain became paralyzing, along with constant headaches, bloody diarrhea, constipation and weight loss. At times I would lose so much blood that I would go to the emergency room completely debilitated. The X-rays showed nothing. Eight years of different doctors, specialists, tests, and drugs, yet the cause and cure were still a mystery.


Finally, when I was 22, I had a severe attack which landed me back in the emergency room. But this time, the technicians were finally able to detect something on the X-rays. The doctors diagnosed Crohn’s disease. I was so relieved to have a name for what I had gone through all those years. Crohn’s disease has no known cause and no known cure. It causes a slow deterioration of the intestinal wall, the lining become inflamed and irritated, and loses its elasticity resulting in impaired digestion and absorption. Crohns can manifest anywhere in the digestive tract.


Anti-inflammatory drugs and/or surgery were the only recourse. Surgery can remove the affected area; however, Crohns usually spreads again in three years or less and you will face more surgery. It didnt take me long to realize that if I lived to be 30, I would not have any intestines left.


The good news was that I was already taking the anti-inflammatory drug used to treat it. When I inquired how I could develop something so severe when I was already on the drug that supposedly helped it, I got no response. And so, I learned to live within the confines of Crohn’s and Prednisone.


To complicate matters, that same year I became pregnant while using the IUD. Instead of this being a happy time for my husband and me, it was quite traumatic. The doctors thought I would lose the baby when they removed the IUD. However, the pregnancy continued and went smoothly while the doctors watched me very closely and I stayed in bed most of the time. Being as determined as I am, our beautiful daughter was born.


Nine months later, the Takayasu and the Crohn’s both flared up again and so did my trips back to the hospital and doctors for more tests and different drugs, except this time nothing seemed to work for very long. My parents and I, being open to alternative methods, started searching for real cures. I tried megavitamin therapy, reflexology, herbs, and hospital-based nutritional approaches. It was during this search that my father heard about macrobiotics. He cried as he told me what would work this time and shared what little he knew. He flew me to Connecticut to see a macrobiotic teacher. I was ready to deal with this doctor, too. I took all my X-rays, files, and paperwork to show him, but the experience was totally different.

He wanted to know specific details of my symptoms and my lifestyle. There was no prodding, poking, sticking, undressing, or cold intrusive instruments to deal with. He used Oriental diagnosis to evaluate my condition by observing my eyes, tongue, hands, and feet. Finally, he told me what I had longed to hear, You can turn this around.


The macrobiotic teacher proceeded to explain that there were certain foods that weakened my body and it was struggling to get rid of excess. All my body needed were the correct tools to naturally heal itself. The main foods that aggravated my condition were dairy food and sugars. For maximum health, he explained the importance of keeping the body alkaline by eating neutral or balanced foods. These include whole grains, beans, land and sea vegetables, and some fruit, seeds, and nuts.


I grew up with my grandmother and she strongly believed that Gods abundance provides everything one needs to naturally heal. All I heard finally was making sense. I did not recognize half of the foods he mentioned because after all, I was a fast-food, junk-food, pre-prepared, vegetable-come-in-a-can baby-boomer.

I had answers and most of all, for the first time, I had hope. My teacher told me that one day I would appreciate and be thankful for my illness. I thought, This guy has been eating too much seaweed ­ he just doesnt realize all Ive been through!


Now, 15 years later, I continue to live a symptom-free, drug-free, pain-free, doctor-free life. Full of energy, I anticipate a health-filled future with my two children and family. I truly understand those prophetic words. I do appreciate my illness and all I went through. My experience led me to macrobiotics and that led me to the path of healing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And that quality of healing you can never get from a pill.


This article originally appeared in the One Peaceful World Journal, Spring, 1995 © One Peaceful World, all rights reserved.


By Nancy O'Neil


Most of my life I had a very unhealthy diet consisting mainly of fast food, soda, and high fat, low fiber food. Finally my diet caught up with me.


In late April, 2012, I came to Kushi Institute as a very sick woman with a long list of symptoms including diverticulitis and other digestive problems, vertigo, vision problems, tinnitus, many disabling menstrual problems, obesity, arthritis, and depression. In the prior four years I had gone through three hospitalizations and two surgeries. One of the surgeries was an emergency a life-saving colostomy that resulted from a perforated intestine. The operation was a success, but even six months later I was left suffering from major depression.


I went to Kushi Institute because my older sister was coming for the Way to Health program and she invited me along. Although I did not have much hope at the time, I wanted to see if macrobiotics would help remedy my ongoing health problems. It turns out it was the best decision I ever made.


I stayed at Kushi Institute for two weeks, first attending Way to Health, then continuing on another week for the Way to Health PLUS program. By the time my stay was over, I had already lost nine pounds and was less depressed than I had been in years.


I write this only a few weeks after returning home, and even in this short time, my weight loss has continued, and I am no longer depressed. In fact, I am happy and excited about my future. My body feels stronger. I also have no more diverticulitis and I go to the bathroom with no problems. It is amazing to me, because for years I always had problems going to the bathroom, I was either constipated or had diarrhea. The vertigo and tinnitus are gone. The menstrual problems are gone. I have much less arthritic pain and I feel it will eventually go away after I get down to my ideal body weight. At Kushi Institute I also realized gluten was a part of my health problems and am now eating gluten-free.


I am so grateful to my sister for getting me to Kushi Institute, and also grateful to the staff at Kushi Institute, who were wonderful, supportive and great examples of how life can be if you eat a macrobiotic diet. I keep in touch with the people that went through the programs with me. It is great to have friends now who are working on the same macrobiotic lifestyle. We share a lot of cooking and shopping tips.

I cant wait to see how good I will feel in another year! Now, instead of worrying about my future, I am eager to see how my future unfolds.


When I was at Kushi Institute, Larry and Judy MacKenney, two of our wonderful instructors, would have us get into a circle at the end of class and say, Every day in every way I am getting better and better and better. I continue to say this to myself and for me it has been true every day in every way I AM getting better and better and better! Thank you Kushi Institute for such a wonderful gift. Youve given me the gift of health.

GERD: Macrobiotic Approach to GERD / Acid Reflux Disease

By Edward Esko


GERD or acid reflux disease occurs most often when the esophageal sphincter becomes loose and over expanded. The stomach acid which normally is held in the stomach leaks up into the esophagus, causing burning and discomfort.


This widespread condition is caused chiefly by the over intake of strong yin or expansive foods and beverages. (Yin is the term we use to describe expansive energy. Yang is the term we use to describe contractive energy.)


To alleviate this condition it is important to reduce or eliminate the intake of strongly yin items such as refined sugar, spices, chocolate, tropical fruits, coffee, caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and adopt a plant based diet based on whole grains and vegetables. Chewing is especially important as it diminishes the acidic affect of food and it helps prevent over-eating. Together with a balanced diet, ume-sho-kuzu is an effective remedy for this condition. This traditional home remedy coats and soothes the lining of the stomach while reducing over acidity. It is best taken on an empty stomach everyday for up to several weeks. Umeboshi plum can also be taken in hot water or tea with or without several drops of shoyu to ease over acidity.



Ume-Sho Kuzu is a standard macrobiotic drink used to strengthen digestion, restore energy, reduce inflammation, and help the body discharge acidity.

1. Dissolve one heaping teaspoon of kuzu in two-three teaspoons of cold water.

2. Add one cup of cold water to the dissolved kuzu.

3. Bring to a boil over a medium flame, stirring constantly to avoid lumping, until the liquid becomes translucent. Reduce the flame to low.

4. Add the pulp of one-half to one umeboshi plum.

5. Add several drops to one teaspoon of shoyu/soy sauce and stir gently.

6. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Drink hot.

Ulcerative Colitis

By Marina Marinelli


Halfway through class I begin to struggle. I walk away from the ballet barre and sit down in the corner, no longer able to ignore the unease and discomfort in my stomach. My Advanced Ballet III professor approaches me after class, concerned about my behavior. This might sound weird, I say to him, but I feel like I cant feel my stomach, like its numb. With a look of skepticism and obvious condescendence he replies with minimal sensitivity. Well, I just think you have a weak center.


That memory has always stuck with me; my professor, even with his hint of arrogance, was correct about my weak center. I was a 19-year-old college student, training to become a professional dancer, when I was diagnosed with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the numbness I had been feeling was the beginnings of severe inflammation of the colon.


I have actually been told I’m lucky. It only took two colonoscopies for my doctor to say, Good news! You don’t have Crohn’s Disease, its only Ulcerative Colitis. If that’s luck, I wonder what winning the lottery is like. Having never heard of either disease, at that time I couldn’t understand how my life would never be the same.

Its been a seven year journey of struggles and success, but today I finally understand that my health was not a matter of luck- it was a matter of choice. I was fortunate enough to have learned about macrobiotics; to have the option to choose an alternative healing path, I chose to heal.


After my diagnosis I suffered immensely for several years. Flare-ups would come and go monthly and Id find myself in the hospital for weeks at a time. Severe diarrhea and vomiting caused me to loose so much weight and muscle mass. I had difficulty walking, let alone dancing. I never knew what to eat and I was always in pain. My doctors would treat me with powerful, harsh anti-inflammatory drugs to ease my bouts of illness.


I wouldn’t offer a dose of prednisone to even my worst enemy. The side effects are torturous. I sacrificed whatever healthy organs I had left to prednisone. One year after my diagnosis I learned, in addition to the ulcerative colitis, I was one the 5% of all IBD patients in the world to develop a secondary reaction to the disease called Pyoderma Gangrenosum. In this rare instance, inflammation is no longer contained in the colon; it is systemic.


Ulcers can begin to develop on my limbs. If ulceration grows into the bones, the doctors would have no choice but to amputate that limb. Being that my case was so rare, my doctor had never treated or met a patient with these conditions. Confused, he believed that I was the worst case of ulcerative colitis he had ever seen.

Extreme high dosages of prednisone seemed to be necessary to put me into a temporary remission. Because I had a strong, dancers body, I survived the first huge flare with all my limbs and no surgery. However, a few months after I was off the drug, I would relapse into the same cycle and find myself back in the hospital.

I feared that this drug-dependent life was the only choice I had.


Surgery was never an option for me. Call me superficial, but I wasn’t willing to part with any of my body parts. Drugs were not the answer; they would only weaken my immune system and that’s not something I’m willing to sacrifice. And, who wants to take 20 pills a day for the rest of their life? Doctors could not offer me any other hope, so I began to look for alternative options. Macrobiotics was my answer.

I became friends with a young girl, who also suffered with ulcerative colitis. She gave me a book to read called Controlling Crohn’s Disease the Natural Way. The book is written by Virginia Harper, a woman who healed her Crohns disease through a macrobiotic-based diet and lifestyle. I read the book, cover to cover, in 2 days. This makes sense, I thought. I have nothing left to loose, so I might as well give it a try. I never imagined my body being off balance. Can sea vegetables and brown rice really make a difference to my body? I found Virginias Web site and contacted her for a consultation as soon as possible. Macrobiotics provided a new hope for me, and a new life.


Hope is great, but I needed more hands-on guidance.


Although Virginia Harper became my “guru” of digestive diseases, she was located geographically too far for me to travel at that time. I decided to go to the source of macrobiotics, the Kushi Institute in Becket, MA. You’re talking to a girl who didn’t even know how to boil rice, let along know what the word “blanching” meant. I needed some drastic help on my understanding of cooking and philosophy. I signed up for the Way To Health Program in February 2006. There’s no understatement here, this program completely changed my life. After 10 days of living in the Berkshires, I returned to NYC a different person, AND my symptoms were going away! I learned about a plant-based diet, yin and yang theory, how to cut vegetables, and most important, WHY any of this information is important to our health and well-being. With the information I was given from Kushi Institute’s program, I had the motivation to set myself on a strict “healing program” for myself. It’s more than just dietary changes that need to take place. I needed to learn that if I was patient with myself, every day, in every way, I will get better and better.

Nobody says change is easy.


Being from a first-generation Italian family, food is a huge part of our culture. We love it and cant get enough of it. Pasta, cheese, and tomato sauce were my main food groups. If you didn’t lick your plate clean, Nonna (or grandmother, in Italian) would chase you around the kitchen with that last bite on her spoon. I never thought about how food affected my body because I was always very thin and fit. When I told my family I was changing my diet drastically, they had no idea how big of change I intended.


With family and friends, I suddenly became the weird girl who didn’t eat meat or dairy. Ill never forget the time I went to the beach and a friend jokingly asked if I was going to eat the seaweed for lunch? For someone who didn’t want to change her diet in the first place, it was very difficult to find motivation to keep on this path. Not only were the comments, and sometimes jokes, hurtful; I didn’t know how to cook! The first time I had to make brown rice I asked my mom, How does it cook? I couldn’t pronounce any of the foreign foods, or find them at my local supermarket. An ume-what plum? But the biggest boost of confidence and motivation was that IT WORKED!


Within the first month of committing to whole grain, beans and vegetables, my symptoms were gone and I was jumping out of bed in the morning. After a few more months on a macrobiotic approach, I saw a huge difference in myself; more energy, calmer moods, better sleep and I was happy! I was able to return to dance and enjoy it more than ever.


My story doesn’t end there.


Making the change to a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle was, and still is, one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Even after seven years there are continuous ups and downs. Thankfully, however, it gets easier. The great new is, I have the rest of my life ahead of me to live fully. There was a time of my life where I thought life wasn’t worth living if you couldn’t enjoy some macaroni and cheese; I was wrong. Honestly, today, I can say I don’t miss it.

The rewards of eating good food push me through the hardest of times. Don’t forget your support group. People come into (and leave) your life for a reason. I have learned to take every experience for what it is, and then let go. Stay close to those that are truly supportive. Family is forever, but its okay to disagree when it comes to what’s best for you.


Its during the most challenging parts of life that a person needs to be the strongest and make the wisest, and often most difficult, of choices. I chose to be thankful for my disease. I wanted to heal myself: mind, body and soul. I made the decision to do whatever it took to find a way to heal myself because I was NOT going to spend any more of my life being ill. I was, and still am, a young adult with lots of ambition and dreams. My body was weak; my will power was not.


I’ve witness many people, faced with a serious health issue, turn away from hope. This isn’t an option for me or It’s too hard. We all have a choice in our life to create our own destiny and its up to us to decide what we want that to be.

I’ve made the choice to heal and hope to inspire others to do the same. I’ve chosen food and life over doctors, drugs and surgeries. I’ve learned at a young age that if you don’t have your health, you really don’t have anything at all.

To those who are lucky enough to come across my story, please know for life and health, you always have a choice.


About Marisa

Marisa now counsel, coaches, teaches cooking, and inspires others as they transition their lives and regain their health. She is currently the head of Marketing, Promotions, and Summer Conference living in the Berkshires. Shes a Kushi Institute Level’s graduated, and a junior counselor. In 2008 she spent three months interning with Virginia Harper in Franklin, TN. In 2010 she completely Christina Pirellos 6-month whole foods cooking program. Currently she is enrolled in David Briscoes Macrobiotic Counselor Course with Macrobiotics America. In Fall 2015 she has plans to enter a graduate program for her Masters in Nutrition. It’s only the beginning for her as she continues her path to becoming a macrobiotic counselor and an alternative health nutritionist. Marisa’s personal website:


Ulcerative Colitis

By Sara


After yet another long ordeal in the emergency room, my physician gave me his expert opinion. More prednisone, he said. This was my second course in recent months and I felt awful, trapped, and desperate.


However, my luck was not all bad. Less than three years before this recent bout of suffering, my husband and I bought our home in Becket, Massachusetts, not quite two miles down the road from the Kushi Institute. We knew nothing about Macrobiotics, so we attended an open house at Kushi Institute in order to explore non-medical options. I met some wonderful people that day and I decided to have a consultation with one of Kushi Institutes macrobiotic counselors. My counselor told me that my physician was misinformed when he told me that colitis is not diet related, and assured me that I would not necessarily have to be on medication for the rest of my life. I felt so relieved that I started the counselor’s dietary recommendations right away.


Now I would love to tell you that the story ends here and I lived happily ever after. However, life never seems to go that smoothly. The healing diet phase was a hard pill for me to swallow because it can be very restrictive at first. I had the feeling that it could work, and it made perfect sense to me, but add that to the incredibly demanding job I had at that time, and a husband who was not entirely on-board, needless to say I fell off the wagon pretty quickly. Because I was not following my counselors recommendations strictly, my condition continued to worsen during the next year. I was bleeding almost constantly for over eight months. An increased dosage of Mesalamine and steroids did not do much other than effect me emotionally. It got to the point where my physician decided that I was no longer responsive to my current medications and we would have to explore other options such as biologics and other immunosuppressant medications, which he likened to chemo-therapy. As soon as I heard the term chemotherapy I knew I only had one last opportunity at freedom from illness and steadied myself for another serious attempt at a macrobiotic healing diet.


Since day six I have been symptom free, and as I write this it has been almost one year!


There have been a few hiccups along the way which have helped teach me which foods I am not yet ready to re-introduce. I am beginning to realize that macrobiotics is not a diet to be followed, but a journey to be lived.


Thanks to macrobiotics and the support and guidance I have gotten from the Kushi Institute, my thirteen years of suffering are at an end. I have a new lease on life. If you want to be healthy, you have to eat healthy because we truly are what we eat!

bottom of page