The condition, orthorexia nervosa, affects equal numbers of men and women, but sufferers tend to be aged over 30, middle-class and well-educated.
The condition was named by a Californian doctor, Steven Bratman, in 1997, and is described as a "fixation on righteous eating". Until a few years ago, there were so few sufferers that doctors usually included them under the catch-all label of "Ednos" - eating disorders not otherwise recognized. Now, experts say, orthorexics take up such a significant proportion of the Ednos group that they should be treated separately.
"I am definitely seeing significantly more orthorexics than just a few years ago," said Ursula Philpot, chair of the British Dietetic Association's mental health group. "Other eating disorders focus on quantity of food but orthorexics can be overweight or look normal. They are solely concerned with the quality of the food they put in their bodies, refining and restricting their diets according to their personal understanding of which foods are truly 'pure'."
Orthorexics commonly have rigid rules around eating. Refusing to touch sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soya, corn and dairy foods is just the start of their diet restrictions. Any foods that have come into contact with pesticides, herbicides or contain artificial additives are also out.
The importance of 'Refusing to touch Sugar'
Our bodies are simply not made to process the high quantities of the types of sugar that we consume nowadays.
Sugar is in no way nutritional and it actually depletes the body of its vitamin and mineral resources. High sugar consumption is tied to mental disorders, lower IQ, anxiety, aggressive behavior, hyperactivity, depression, eating disorders, fatigue, learning difficulties, and premenstrual syndrome among others.
One of the most important factors in brain aging and inflammation is sugar. Insulin triggered by sugar triggers oxidative stress which leads to mitochondrial damage, which in turn contributes to insulin resistance. Insulin also triggers the inflammatory cascade, including cytokines like TNF alfa and interleukins which spreads the damage into the brain and body in general.
Sugar produces high levels of insulin which is the main cause of our chronic disease epidemic and an important factor in mood disorders, depression and dementia. Our insulin response is designed to handle vastly lower levels of sugar than what we consume today. For example, the body can process fruit sugar, but not high fructose corn syrup, which is a potent form of sugar that is sweeter than regular sugar, increases appetite, promotes obesity more than regular sugar, is more addictive than cocaine, and leads to diabetes and an inflammation of the brain.
The sugar and processed food you eat triggers stress hormones - cortisol and adrenaline - which creates an imbalance in your brain.
Sugar reacts with proteins in our bodies and brains forming AGEs (advanced glycation end products) which not only damage most cells and tissues in our bodies, but also lead to dementia.
Sugar and processed foods also feed the candida in the gut, making you a sugar addict and perpetuating the inflammatory state of our bodies, and thus leading to all kinds of health problems.
Another reason why people get addicted to refined carbohydrates or sugars is to boost serotonin levels - a calming brain chemical - which then rises temporarily, only to crash after a short while, causing you to crave more starchy or sugary foods. Sugar creates an imbalance, depleting your serotonin levels after a short spike, leading to mood swings and depression.
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The negative health effects of Wheat and Gluten
The wheat protein, called gluten, can irritate, inflame, and rupture the lining of the digestive tract, to the point that nutrients from food don't get absorbed properly, if at all. So malnutrition sets in and in addition to digestive distress, colon cancer, bowel problems, thyroid problems, arthritic problems and headaches, gluten has been associated with no less than 55 diseases according to The New England Journal of Medicine. Many of the diseases are neurological and psychiatric. Among them are depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, migraines, neuropathy, anxiety, dementia, and autism. The paper explains how thirty percent of people of European descent carry the gene for celiacs disease, which increases their likelihood of having health problems from eating gluten. As this article explains:
"Gluten can inflame the brain by causing an autoimmune response. Autoimmunity is an abnormal response to the body's own tissues. In other words, something comes into the body and the body goes on alert but somehow mistakes its own tissues as a foreign invader and declares war mistakenly upon itself. Allergies are a prime example. In this case, antibodies meant to fight gluten also attack your body.New England Journal of Medicine: Gluten Can Cause 55 Diseases
Secondly, during the digestion process, gluten can be broken down into into strange proteins that are a lot like psychedelic drugs. These are opium-like proteins called gluteomorophins. As you can probably imagine, these can drastically change brain function and behavior.
The third way gluten can affect the brain is due to its high content of glutamate (think MSG), a molecule that accelerates, activates, irritates and damages brain cells through a special "docking station" called the NMDA receptor. Excessive activity in this receptor due to glutamate has been linked to many psychiatric disorders. Glutamate is an excitotoxin (a substance that agitates and kills or damages brain cells)."
Why is Wheat Gluten Disorder on the Rise?
Just because someone doesn't have celiac disease, doesn't mean they don't have a problem with gluten
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Dairy is among the most frequent source of chronic food allergies among the population. Anger and violent behavior are particularly associated with allergic reactions to milk products. Other allergic reactions include chronic asthma, sore throats, diarrhea, etc. The milk protein, casein, can be as addictive as gluten. In addition, dairy products can give us lots of problems in other ways: through the antibiotics or the feed given to the animals, or the processing of dairy products to extend their shelf-life.
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Low-fat dairy food may hurt fertility
Vegan diet may ease arthritis, study finds
Soy can adversely affect mood-regulating sex and thyroid hormones, but also adversely affects the brain and digestion.
Among babies fed soy milk, diabetes rates are twice as high as among those who are breast-fed, and soy milk inhibits thyroid function in infants as well. The ratio of available tryptophan, a source of serotonin, in soy milk is lower than in breast milk, setting infants up for the misery of mood problems and sleepless nights.
Soy is hard to digest and can damage your digestive tract, and it can also impair further protein absorption. Soy also contains mineral blocking phytates which interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormones as well as the minerals iodine, iron, and zinc which are crucial for the brain and our thyroids. As little as 3 to 4 tablespoons of soy per day can suppress your thyroid function and lower your metabolic rate.
Soy is not only a common allergen, it also increases estrogen, which further feeds the estrogen dominance epidemic. For example, 80% of U.S. breast cancers are associated with estrogen supplementation and soy is associated with increasing risks for breast cancer. Menstrual problems is also thought to be related to soy. Men who eat soy lose testosterone, and have abnormal estrogen levels. Soy has also correlated with premature brain aging and shrinking, i.e. Alzheimer's disease.
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Soy is very dangerous!
Alcohol comes from sugar and its transformation requires the assistance of the fungi yeast. Consider this from the book "Buzz": The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine:
The process starts with glucose, which is the sugar both humans and yeast use to power their bodies. Like humans, yeast cells prefer to burn their glucose with oxygen to produce energy. But yeast cells sometimes find themselves in situations where oxygen is scarce - for instance, when they are trapped in the bottom of huge vats of grape juice. [...]You can bet that the by-products are also a poisonous waste to our bodies, which eventually throws in the towel with several diseases including liver and pancreatic problems, malnutrition, infectious diseases, cancer, neurological disorders, etc. Not to mention that if fuels the candida infection epidemic.
The details of that process are interesting in their own right, but all we're really concerned with here are those two shards remaining after the glucose is finally split. Those shards are molecules of ethanol.
The birth of alcohol via this inefficient splitting of glucose has one very salient consequence for humans: most of the chemical energy of the original glucose molecule remains bound up in the ethanol fragments. That energy equals calorics: about seven per gram - which works out to about a hundred calories in a standard drink from the alcohol alone. Alcohol, in other words, is no diet drink.
Alcohol's origins also explain some facts about the alcohol content of some common drinks. Yeast cells struggling to survive under suffocating conditions quickly excrete the ethanol fragments because they are basically poisonous. Ethanol interferes with many of the reactions vital to the life of a cell. As a result, yeasts excrete ethanol, which slowly builds up in the surrounding liquid - exactly where the brewer or vintner wants it. Given an adequate amount of glucose, the ethanol content of a fermenting liquid rises until it reaches about 12 percent. At this point, it starts to back up inside the yeast cells because it can no longer diffuse across the cell wall. Unable to dispose of the poisonous waste, the yeasts shut down and become dormant. All activity stops, including the production of new ethanol. This is the reason that most table wines have roughly a 12 percent alcohol content: that's as high as it can go before the yeasts throw in the towel. Some wines can achieve slightly higher values if they are unusually rich in glucose, but the only way to get significantly higher ethanol levels is by distillation.
And about the benefits that had been associated with moderate alcohol drinking, this will also help to put things into perspective:
With all this evidence suggesting that moderate consumption of wine - and probably other forms of alcohol as well - confers protection against heart disease, why isn't everyone reaching for their favorite bottle of cabernet? There are several reasons.Alcohol increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer - but smoking has no impact
The French, while enjoying their much reduced rates of heart disease, develop liver disease at a rate that is roughly twice that of Americans (Dolnick 1990). In addition to taxing the liver, moderate drinking has been associated with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer and cancer of the bowel. And, of course, even a single shot of liquor consumed quickly can produce transient blood alcohol levels high enough to reduce reaction times and impair coordination, thus increasing the risk of accidents. Second, advising abstainers to begin drinking could lead to increased alcoholism because it is not yet possible to predict who will succumb to alcohol's addictive potential. Other methods, such as losing weight and exercising, offer even greater benefits and have fewer associated risks. ["Buzz": The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine]
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Candida and other yeasts may increase during times of stress, or if a person eats a diet rich in sugar and processed foods, after antibiotic therapy, etc. Candida then causes problems when it attaches to the epithelial lining of our digestive tract and inserts a hook-like tentacle, creating increased gut permeability. This allows toxins and foreign invaders (including foods) to leak across the intestinal tract membrane and into the bloodstream or other tissues, triggering complex allergic reactions.
Gut Fermentation Syndrome
Candida- The Silent Epidemic
High Carbohydrate Diets Named as a Cause for Candida
Studies show that individuals who drink the most coffee often suffer from depression as well. Caffeine inhibits our brain's levels of serotonin and melatonin - our sleep-inducing chemical. Caffeine also wastes vital nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, calcium and zinc. It also overstimulates and weakens the kidneys, pancreas, liver, stomach, intestines, heart, nervous system, and adrenal glands and caffeine also overacidifies our bodies.
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Pesticides work because they are neurotoxic to pests - they attack their nervous system, but they also attacks our nervous system as well and promote cancer:
Pesticides and Parkinson's
Study: Many pesticides in EU may damage human brain
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Corn is among the foods that trigger chronic allergic reactions which involve mood problems:
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Food Additives- Aspartame & Monosodium Glutamate
Aspartame, like real sugar, raises insulin levels and has been linked to diabetes as well. People often complain about negative physical symptoms associated to aspartame, such as headache and bloating, depression, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, phobia, etc. Aspartame not only lowers serotonin - our calming brain chemical - but is also highly addictive.
Aspartame and MSG are excitotoxins, chemical transmitters which excite your brain cells to death. Some side effects and disorders related to excitotoxins include seizures, brain cell death, allergies, headaches, strokes, obesity, etc.
Aspartame consumption strongly associated with migraines and seizures
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The obsession about which foods are "good" and which are "bad" means orthorexics can end up malnourished. Their dietary restrictions commonly cause sufferers to feel proud of their "virtuous" behavior even if it means that eating becomes so stressful their personal relationships can come under pressure and they become socially isolated.
"The issues underlying orthorexia are often the same as anorexia and the two conditions can overlap but orthorexia is very definitely a distinct disorder," said Philpot. "Those most susceptible are middle-class, well-educated people who read about food scares in the papers, research them on the internet, and have the time and money to source what they believe to be purer alternatives."
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Deanne Jade, founder of the National Center for Eating Disorders, said: "There is a fine line between people who think they are taking care of themselves by manipulating their diet and those who have orthorexia. I see people around me who have no idea they have this disorder. I see it in my practice and I see it among my friends and colleagues."
Jade believes the condition is on the increase because "modern society has lost its way with food".
She said: "It's everywhere, from the people who think it's normal if their friends stop eating entire food groups, to the trainers in the gym who [promote] certain foods to enhance performance, to the proliferation of nutritionists, dieticians and naturopaths [who believe in curing problems through entirely natural methods such as sunlight and massage].
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Food and Your Moods
"And just look in the bookshops - all the diets that advise eating according to your blood type or metabolic rate. This is all grist for the mill to those looking for proof to confirm or encourage their anxieties around food."
Watch Dr. Mark Hyman describe how diet can reduce Inflammation, 'How to cool the fire inside you':
For more information you are also invited to visit our forum discussion on this article.