Weight Loss, Undesired
While many more people suffer from excess appetite, and would rather decrease it so they can
Conventional treatment of undesired weight loss primarily involves concentrated protein-calorie supplements, often taken in liquid form. However, among people who have cancer, simply increasing nutritional intake may not help. Cancer can cause a condition called tumor-induced weight loss (TIWL), in which symptoms of starvation occur despite apparently adequate nutrition. The cause is thought to be a particular form of inflammation caused by the cancer. For this reason, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been tried for the treatment of TIWL, with some positive results.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, “good fats” that have many potential health-promoting properties. As noted above, cancer-induced weight loss involves inflammation and responds to treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs. Fish oil also has anti-inflammatory effects. According to some, though not all, studies, fish oil supplements can help people with cancer gain weight. 2-4
A typical dosage of fish oil used for cancer-induced weight loss is about 12 g daily. For more information, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Fats are a concentrated form of energy and, for that reason, people with undesired weight loss are often encouraged to increase fat intake. People with cancer have an additional reason to consume more fat: cancer interferes with the normal process of fat storage, making it less efficient. Certain special fats may be particularly helpful for correcting this “fat deficiency,” including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
However, there is no direct evidence as yet that MCTs actually help people with HIV infection gain weight. Note : In both of the studies noted here, participants consumed nothing but a special nutritional formula containing MCTs. Taking MCTs in this way requires medical supervision to determine the dose.
People with excessive weight loss due to serious illness may also need extra protein. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins, and may be easier to digest than whole proteins. Certain amino acid supplements have shown particular usefulness in treating cancer cachexia. One such is
Other treatments found useful for cancer- or HIV-induced weight loss include the antioxidants
Traditional remedies for mild, occasional loss of appetite involve the use of bitter-tasting herbs, such as gentian (sold as “bitters” in liquor stores),
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
Various herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to treat the underlying condition causing weight loss. For more information on this potential risk, see the individual drug article in the Drug Interactions
2. Bruera E, Strasser F, Palmer JL, et al. Effect of fish oil on appetite and other symptoms in patients with advanced cancer and anorexia/cachexia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Clin Oncol . 2003;21:129-134.
5. Yang M, Cook ME. Dietary conjugated linoleic acid decreased cachexia, macrophage tumor necrosis factor-alpha production, and modifies splenocyte cytokines production. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2003;228:51-58.
11. Coudray-Lucas C, Le Bever H, Cynober L, et al. Ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate improves wound healing in severe burn patients: a prospective randomized double-blind trial versus isonitrogenous controls. Crit Care Med . 2000;28:1772-1776.
18. May PE, Barber A, D'Olimpio JT, et al. Reversal of cancer-related wasting using oral supplementation with a combination of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, arginine, and glutamine. Am J Surg . 2002;183:471-479.
19. Shabert JK, Winslow C, Lacey JM, et al. Glutamine-antioxidant supplementation increases body cell mass in AIDS patients with weight loss: a randomized, double-blind controlled trial. Nutrition . 1999;15:860-864.
20. Clark RH, Feleke G, Din M, et al. Nutritional treatment for acquired immunodeficiency virus-associated wasting using beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate, glutamine, and arginine: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr . 2000;24:133-139.
21. Craig GB, Darnell BE, Weinsier RL, et al. Decreased fat and nitrogen losses in patients with AIDS receiving medium-chain-triglyceride-enriched formula vs those receiving long-chain-triglyceride-containing formula. J Am Diet Assoc . 1997;97:605-611.
22. Wanke CA, Pleskow D, Degirolami PC, et al. A medium chain triglyceride-based diet in patients with HIV and chronic diarrhea reduces diarrhea and malabsorption: a prospective, controlled trial. Nutrition . 1996;12:766-771.
23. Norman K, Stubler D, Baier P, et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on nutritional status, muscle function and quality of life in patients with colorectal cancer-A double blind randomised controlled trial. Clin Nutr . 2006 May 12 [Epub ahead of print].
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Medical Review Board
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