Protein Powders

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By Annell St. Charles, PhD, R.D., L.D.N.

Protein supplements and powders have become all the rage over the last few years, particularly for people trying to build muscle.  However, most Americans already get all the protein they need from their diet, and some may even be getting too much.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the key component of muscles and play many important roles in body maintenance.  Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes (dry beans or peas such as lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans) are good sources of protein, and most Americans consume 12 to 18 percent of their calories as protein.  Dr. Van S. Hubbard, director of the NIH Division of Nutrition Research Coordination, says that most Americans do not need to worry about getting enough protein. “Unless they have some other medical problem, most people are meeting or exceeding their protein requirements,” he says. “Since protein is such a common component of most foods that you eat, if you’re eating a relatively varied diet, you’re getting enough protein.”  However, some populations, like vegetarians and older people, need to be aware of the protein in their diets.  Vegetarians can get the protein they need from rice, beans, eggs, peanut butter, dairy products, and bread.  Vegans need to be particularly careful, as they do not consume either eggs or dairy products.

A recent National Institutes of Health study of men and women age 70 years and older found that those who ate the least protein lost significantly more muscle than those who ate the most protein.  Older adults who lose muscle in their legs and hips are more likely to fall and have injuries like broken hips.  They may also have trouble doing basic things like getting up from a chair, walking upstairs, or taking a stroll due to loss of muscle strength.  For elderly people who cannot eat enough protein or who have diseases that leave them malnourished, a protein supplement can be one way to help get enough protein.

Nevertheless, the majority of Americans derive little benefit from increasing their protein intake.  Long-term studies found that high-protein diets that result in weight loss usually work as a result of the amount of calories rather than the amount of protein being consumed.

Recent weight loss, muscle fatigue, or a drop in muscle strength may be signs of protein deficiency, but these symptoms could also be due to other health conditions.

The Party’s Over

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By Dr. Laura Pawlak

Holiday food and spirits may have disappeared, but those extra calories can stubbornly remain as body fat.  With each new year, an array of diets emerges, promising to restore your former shape.

My suggestion?  This year, follow a new plan called Intermittent Fasting, which has captured the interest of both dieters and researchers.  Intermittent Fasting is a structured program without the drudgery of daily calorie deprivation.

Although traditional reduced-calorie diets are certainly science-based, intermittent fasting is a sensible alternative.  Studies suggest a modified fast is just as beneficial for weight loss as other diets.

For this program, the term “fasting” is defined as consuming a total of 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men on fasting days. If calorie counting is not convenient, you can eat about 25 percent of your normal calories on fasting days.  More importantly, you abstain from eating all calorie-containing foods and beverages for 14 hours (women) or 16 hours (men) on fasting days.

The popular 5:2 Intermittent Fasting Diet is appealing because the two fasting days each week can be chosen to fit one’s schedule best.  On the remaining five days, you eat sensibly.  If weight loss is your goal, it is important to avoid overcompensation during non-fasting days.

Alternate-day Fasting is a more aggressive approach to weight loss.  You consume only 500-600 calories every other day following the 14- to 16-hour fast. Recently, scientists compared the Alternate-day Fasting program with a standard weight-loss diet for six months followed by a maintenance diet for an additional six months.  Persons choosing the fasting program had slightly greater weight loss than individuals following the standard low-calorie diet.

To limit calories during fasting days, consider making a homemade soup, then establish portions and freeze individual servings.  A simple vegetable soup with legumes and wild rice or whole wheat quinoa is nutritious, high in fiber, and low in calories.  A variety of salad ingredients with fish or turkey and calorie-free dressing is always an excellent choice.  An egg-white omelet using fresh or leftover vegetables provides quality protein needed to protect muscle mass.

To dampen appetite during fasting days, choose vegetables high in fiber and protein-rich foods low in fat. Try adding herbs and spices to cooked vegetables.  They light up your taste buds with pleasing flavors and aromas.

Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renowned biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Vitamins & Minerals: What Does The Body Need?

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars

By Annell St. Charles, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N.

In 1912, Casimir Funk, a Polish biochemist, isolated a concentrate from rice polishings that cured polyneuritis in pigeons.  He called the substance a “vital amine” or “vitamine” because it appeared to be vital for life.  There was widespread interest in eradicating several prevalent diseases at the time, and, in an article published in 1912, Funk postulated the existence of four substances:  one that prevented beriberi (“antiberiberi”), one that prevented scurvy (“antiscorbutic”), one that prevented pellagra (“antipellagric”), and one that prevented rickets (“antirachitic”).  Funk was one of several researchers in the early 20th century investigating these and other substances and their connection to health.

Epidemiologists, physicians, physiologists, and chemists all worked on this puzzle through the mid-20th century; the work was slow and onerous and plagued by many setbacks and contradictions.  Chemists were the ones ultimately able to identify and isolate the substances we call vitamins, leading to the development of synthetic forms that are available for wide consumption.  The proposed benefits and risks of vitamins and vitamin supplementation continue to be hot topics today.

The vitamins needed by the body for growth and normal development are:

  • Vitamin A
  • B Vitamins (vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, and others)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

Vitamins are divided into two groups:

  • Water-soluble are easily absorbed by the gut and stored only minimally. These include Vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin,niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, B6, folic acid, B12, and others.
  • Fat-soluble are stored in body tissues and excess accumulation can be toxic.  Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins.

Macrominerals & Trace Elements

These essential inorganic elements are categorized by abundance:

  • Macro-minerals are present in the body over 100 mg:  calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfur.
  • Trace elements are present in microgram or low-milligram amounts:  iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, molybdenum, silicon, nickel, boron, arsenic, tin, and vanadium.

More Sugar, Please.

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By Laura Pawlak, Ph.D., R.D. (emerita)

Love sugar?  This innate desire for sweets can be traced to an ancient part of the brain — the reward circuit.  The sweet, sensory experience is recorded as a rewarding one as endorphin molecules (natural opioids) bathe the brain.  A long-lasting memory of the tasty experience is stored deep inside the brain.  There is purpose to the “feel good” experience resulting from sweetness.  You will search for, and continue to consume, the ideal fuel for your mind — the simple carbohydrates in sugar.

Nature offers fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods to satiate the need for carbohydrate — along with fiber and a wide variety of nutrients in these foods.  But nature is no competition for the added sugar in today’s super-sweet desserts, snacks, packaged foods, and beverages.  Manufacturers add some form of sugar to 74 percent of their products.

Liquid sugar, such as found in sodas, energy drinks, and sport beverages, is the leading single source of added sugar in the American diet.  The rapidly absorbed sweetened beverage is linked to sugar addiction, obesity, Type 2 diabetes (often called adult-onset diabetes), and other diseases.  Worldwide education regarding the disease risks linked to the consumption of sugary drinks has resulted in the decline of soda sales.  As summer approaches, manufacturers offer new products to quench your thirst — products called plant waters.

These beverages are made from extracts of fruits, vegetables, grains, grasses, and other plant parts, with fewer calories than sugary beverages or no calories at all.  Manufacturers of plant waters promote their products with a variety of unsubstantiated health claims.

For example:  Artichoke Water, a sugar-free, zero-calorie beverage, is claimed to be healthy because artichokes have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  Where’s the artichoke in this water?

Made with concentrated bamboo-leaf extract, Bamboo Water is stated to contain the powerful benefits of bamboo.  Is bamboo really a food source for humans?

Other beverages produced from plant sources, such as the olive, banana, cactus, barley, and maple sap are also available — all with dubious health claims and varying amounts of sugar.

Here’s a sound approach to quenching your thirst this summer.  Drink these plant waters if you like them and if you don’t mind their cost.  They lack the nutrients and fiber obtained by eating whole-plant foods, and they won’t prevent disease.  The best choice is nature’s offering:  A healthy, refreshing glass of water and some juicy, fresh fruit.  Enjoy the summer!


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease

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What weighs a mere four pounds and has a workload that demands 20 percent of all the oxygen inhaled?  Answer:  the human brain.

As technology opens the door to the unique metabolic functions of the brain, scientists are investigating the nutrients required to keep mentally sharp over the decades.

With dementia rising at an alarming rate — along with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments — let’s eat with purpose, using sound, nutrition-related science applicable to the brain and the rest of the body.

Starting with the belief that what we eat plays a significant role in determining who gets dementia, Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D. and colleagues developed the MIND Diet as an intervention against the most common cause of neurodegeneration:  Alzheimer’s disease.

The work of Morris and her colleagues is based on research completed at Rush Medical University in Chicago, Illinois.  The term “MIND” is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

The DASH diet plan is based on research sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  The plan was developed to lower blood pressure without the use of medication.

The Mediterranean and DASH diets are models of healthy eating for the body.  The Morris team chose foods that improve brain function significantly and also added to overall body wellness.

Adherence to the MIND diet may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53%, offering more protection for the brain than any other dietary regimen.

The MIND cuisine lists 10 brain-healthy food groups (green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine).  The plan limits consumption of five brain-unhealthy food groups (red meats, butter/stick margarine, cheese, pastries/sweets, and fried or fast food).

The plan suggests a minimum of three servings of whole grains, a salad, and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine.  For snacks, add a variety of nuts.  Berries are the only fruits recommended.

Specifically, blueberries are noted as the powerful protectors of the brain.  Strawberries are a second choice for good cognitive function.

Use Google and enter the term “MIND Diet” for daily guidelines and recipes of a cuisine designed to maximize brain function while providing healthy foods for the rest of the body as well.

Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.


Mood and Food

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What you eat can affect your risk of the most common mood disorder in the United States:  depression.

Mental health begins with lifestyle:  nutritious food; regular exercise; sufficient sleep; and coping skills.

The chemical components of food impact one’s state of mind throughout the day — that is, after every meal and snack.  A long period of time without nourishment (fasting) activates survival emotions throughout the brain.  Food, or the lack of it, thus alters both feelings and thoughts.

A significant part of the treatment program for patients with depression is a brain-healthy diet prescription designed by what may be termed a nutritional psychiatrist.  Clearly, changing one’s eating habits requires more time and energy than swallowing a pill.  However, research in mental health has appeared, showing the flaws of prescribing quick-fix medications — in the absence of healthy habits.

A recent study published in BioMed Central Medicine tested the effect of prescribing both a modified Mediterranean Diet and medication to treat patients with clinical depression.  Thirty-three percent of the patients given medication plus a modified Mediterranean Diet plan achieved remission in 12 weeks.  However, eight percent of the patients prescribed medication only reached remission in the same period of time. (Study by S. Reddy, January, 2017)  This mood-enhancing cuisine is highly concentrated in brain-protective foods:  fruits; vegetables; legumes; whole grains; raw, unsalted nuts; low-fat, unsweetened dairy foods; olive oil; and fish.

The positive effects of nutrition intervention reported in this study have encouraged psychiatrists to prioritize this diet prescription for all patients diagnosed with depression.  The modified Mediterranean food plan may help prevent the incidence of depression in persons at high risk, aid patients who reject medication, and may block the progression from mild depression to serious depression.

Regardless of one’s family history, the brain can slip into an imbalanced state that alters mood and mind-power. The wise statement, “You become what you eat,” applies to everyone.  The original Mediterranean cuisine has already scored high ratings against brain atrophy, pain, and all age-related diseases.  The Mind Diet, another modified format of the Mediterranean Diet, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cook, eat, and share mood-enhancing meals.  It’s a challenge that delivers great rewards for the brain — sharper thinking and happier moments.

Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Finding Felicity in Food and Work

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“Life Is Good.” These three words have blossomed into a worldwide slogan.  Why?  You feel good just reading the words.

These days life elicits more worries than “happies.” Good times are short-lived and may be prone to addiction:  compulsive shopping with credit cards; eating comfort foods loaded with calories; drinking too much alcohol; or searching for drug dealers to soothe emotional or physical pain.  Sustainable happiness begins with the simple things:  the food you eat and the work you do.

Brain imaging has identified the pathway that produces good feelings.  Named the Reward Circuit, you experience an emotional response to foods consumed and work performed. Thus, the recommendation to “eat right and move more,” can improve both happiness and health.

Is eating right a happy experience?  It’s pretty obvious that foods high in fat, sugar, and salt light up the Reward Circuit, elevating feelings of joy.  Is it possible to eat foods that are healthy for the brain and add “happy” to your mood?

Researchers at the University of Warwick in Coventry UK say “yes!”  The staff followed 12,000 adults from Australian households for six years.  Participants kept food diaries and answered survey questions about their lives as well as their mental and emotional health.  By the end of the second year, participants who changed from eating no fruits and vegetables a day to eight portions a day reported feeling happier.  Participants who did not increase their intake of fruits and vegetables over the same period experienced a drop in happiness score.  The “happy” power of fruits and vegetables was equivalent to going from unemployment to a job. (American Journal of Public Health, August, 2016)

Consuming eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day (about four cups) provides thousands of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients that improve brain function in measurable, mood-altering ways.

What about work?  Regardless of the wording (labor, exercise, work, or toil), the brain activates, controls, and evaluates movement.  Both psychologists and neuroscientists have independently addressed the theory that work ignites positive emotions.

Psychologists investigated a unique consumer issue called “The Ikea Effect,” that is, the consequences of buyers’ assembling items purchased.  The study concluded that assembling an item boosted feelings of pride, confidence, and competence even when the end product was poorly assembled.  It appeared that work, especially with the hands, activated the Reward Circuit.

Real-time imaging of the brain, conducted by Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist, confirmed the conclusions of the Ikea study.  Dr. Lambert recruited persons with untreated depression and set up work projects, such as pottery-making, wood carving, or knitting.  She demonstrated that labor with the hands and arms activated the Reward Circuit, elevating positive emotions sufficiently to eliminate the symptoms of depression in her patients.  Dr. Lambert labeled the process as “effort-driven reward.”  Yes, work can be a happy experience.  And, when the effort is purposeful and helps others, the happiness rating is even higher. (“Lifting Depression” by Kelly Lambert, 2010)

“The groundwork for all happiness is good health.” –Leigh Hunt, English poet

Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Celebrate the Brain

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fondue-709713_640Thanksgiving and the many holidays that follow are joyful times to be with family and friends.  Holiday cheer, a positive emotion, can also provide the brain with healthful hormones and neurochemicals that improve brain function.

Family traditions boost enjoyment of holiday gatherings.  In a recent series of studies in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, subjects described the customs they followed — along with those of their families — during holidays.  These activities were rated as enjoyable, personal experiences that enhanced bondings with family members.  In fact, simply recalling past traditions can put a warm glow on holiday gatherings and support creative thinking.

Memories of childhood or lost loved ones often surface at celebrations.  The bittersweet feeling of nostalgia can elevate mood and mental outlook.  A recent study published in the journal, Emotion, reported that nostalgia boosts a sense of connection to the past, creating a social web that extends across people and time.  This “self-continuity” energizes the brain.  So, pull out an old photo album and spend some time revisiting your past this season.

When listing New Year’s resolutions, resolve to keep friendships alive throughout the year.  The benefits of supportive relationships are numerous.  Research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2016), stated that individuals who have greater levels of social support enjoy better psychological health and mental functioning.  The reduction of chronic stress and the stimulation associated with meaningful social interaction are strongly linked to improved resilience and reduced risk of anxiety and depression.  There is also a lower likelihood of cognitive decline.

The highlight of any holiday is food, often deeply entwined with tradition, but possibly devoid of brain-healthy choices.  Compromises that allow both brain-healthy and traditionally-happy fare, including desserts, can solve this dilemma.  First, shift the spotlight from rich food to lighter fare by serving salad as the first course.  Go heavy on the greens, colored veggies, and crunchy bits of apples or pears.  Second, make a healthy vegetable side dish the co-star of the main course.  Third, regarding the turkey, think outside the bread box with offerings such as wild-rice stuffing, augmented with vegetables and dried cranberries.  Lastly, the first bite of dessert, thoughtfully consumed, always gets rated as the best.

Enjoy the fabulous taste of that bite!  Then, empower your mind with oxygen — by taking a mindful walk — to complete the celebration of your brain.

Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.


And The Winner Is…….The Grape!

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Nature introduced our ancestors to the first sampling of wine about 10 million years ago. As fruit ripened and fell to the earth, a natural process of decomposition occurred.

Microbes in the soil turned fruit sugar into a simpler component, ethyl alcohol.  Some curious, hungry ancestor, eating the decaying fruit, probably rejected the taste, but loved the altered state of mind.  A sophisticated version of nature’s process, called fermentation, was perfected, producing wines that delight the palate as well as the mind.

My  grandmother lived in rural Manitoba, Canada, and made her own wine from wild berries picked in late summer.  Her doctor recommended a glass of wine each night for good sleep and longevity.  In her generation, that glass was small, holding a mere four ounces.  Although today’s wine goblet may be enormous in size, the recommended intake of wine remains 4-6 ounces per day.  At high doses, the alcoholic content of wine may be both addictive and toxic to the brain.  An alternative choice is nonalcoholic wine.

Fermentation of the grape produces any array of chemical changes.  In addition to the conversion of sugar to alcohol, compounds in the grape’s skin and pulp are released, creating more than color, aroma, and a distinctive taste.  Vitamins, minerals, and an array of other nutrients are released into the liquid brew.  One of the heart-healthy plant chemicals concentrated in wine is the antioxidant resveratrol.  How does the content of resveratrol in wine compare with that in grapes or grape juice?

Resveratrol contributes color to grapes.  Red, purple, and black grapes are better sources of the chemical than white or green grapes.  Secondly, there is more resveratrol in the skin of the grape than in the pulp.  Fermentation releases the resveratrol from the grape’s skin into the liquid.  Thus, for the same weight or volume, red wine generally has more resveratrol than dark grapes or its juice.  Keep in mind that the fresh grape is an excellent choice, perhaps better than grape juice or wine.  For variety, peanuts, pistachios, cocoa, blueberries, and cranberries are good sources of resveratrol.

If you want more resveratrol in your diet, get it from food or wine, not from pills. Whole food or a glass of your favorite wine contains nutrients that work with this super antioxidant (resveratrol) for more healthful years.

Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Binge Eating Disorder

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

fat-foods-binge-eatingBy Nikita Katz, MD, PhD

Binge eating disorder is an illness that resembles bulimia nervosa.  Like bulimia, the disorder is characterized by episodes of uncontrolled eating or binging—occurring, on average, at least once a week for three months, according to DSM-5.  However, binge eating disorder differs from bulimia because its sufferers do not purge their bodies of excess food.

Individuals with binge eating disorder feel that they lose control of themselves when eating. While they commonly eat fewer meals than people without eating disorders.  When they do eat, they eat rapidly, consuming large quantities of food and do not stop until they are uncomfortably full.  When binging, they typically do so alone because they feel embarrassed by how much they are eating, and they tend to feel disgusted with themselves, depressed, or very guilty afterward.  Usually, they have more difficulty losing weight and keeping it off than do people with other serious weight problems. Most people with the disorder are obese and have a history of weight fluctuations.

Binge eating disorder is found in about two percent of the general population—more often in women than men.  Recent research shows that binge eating disorder occurs in about 30 percent of people participating in medically supervised weight-control programs.

Because people with binge eating disorder are usually overweight, they are prone to the serious medical problems associated with obesity, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Obese individuals also have a higher risk for gallbladder disease, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Research at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere has shown that individuals with binge eating disorder have high rates of co-occurring psychiatric illnesses, especially depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are the treatments found to produce the greatest degree of remission in patients with binge eating disorder.  Also, there can be improvements in specific eating-disorder psychopathology, associated psychiatric problems such as depression and psychosocial functioning.

Epidemiology of Eating Disorders

Estimates of the incidence or prevalence of eating disorders vary depending on the sampling and assessment methods.

  • Eating disorders have generally been recognized as affecting a narrow population of Caucasian adolescent or adult young women from developed Western countries.  In recent years, data are steadily accumulating to document that:
  • The prevalence of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in children and younger adolescents is unknown.
  • Approximately 0.5–1 percent of adolescents suffer from anorexia nervosa and 1–5 percent suffer from bulimia nervosa. Female college students are at highest risk of the latter.
  • An estimated 85 percent of eating disorders have their onset during adolescence.
  • Estimates of the lifetime prevalence of bulimia nervosa among women have ranged from 1.1 to 4.2 percent. Some studies suggest that the prevalence of bulimia nervosa in the United States may have decreased slightly in recent years.
  • The reported lifetime prevalence of anorexia nervosa among women has ranged from 0.5 percent for narrowly defined to 4 percent for more broadly defined anorexia nervosa.
  • Estimates of the male-female prevalence ratio range from 1:5 to 1:10 (although 19-30 percent of younger patient populations with anorexia nervosa are male).
  • An estimated five million Americans suffer from eating disorders at any given time, including approximately 5 percent of women and <1 percent of men with either anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.
    • eating disorders have become more common in pre-pubertal children and women in middle and late adulthood in such countries
    • ethnic and racial minority groups in these countries are vulnerable to eating disorders, and
    • there is nothing uniquely “Western” about eating disorders, which are a global health problem.