When And Why Does Cancer Cause Appetite Loss
There are lots of reasons why people with cancer lose their appetite. Before cancer has been diagnosed, unexplained loss of appetite can be an early sign that something is wrong7. This is because the tumor itself can cause the body to produce chemicals that suppress appetite7,8. After diagnosis, the side effects of treatment such as taste changes, mouth ulcers, nausea and vomiting can reduce appetite3. A cancer diagnosis may also be accompanied by pain, fatigue, anxiety, and depression, all of which can reduce your motivation and desire to eat3.
When To Be Concerned
Loss of appetite may sound like a minor inconvenience, but it has serious implications. Malnutrition due to appetite loss causes 20 percent of cancer deaths, according to an article in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle.
Significant weight loss from an extreme breakdown of lean muscle mass is called cachexia, and its the result of a marked decrease in appetite and insufficient intake of nutrients. When this happens, protein, vitamin and mineral levels plummet, and the body weakens. The condition may quickly become life-threatening. Complications of cachexia include a decreased quality of life, reduction in immunity, increase in symptoms from the underlying cancer, and reduced life expectancy.
Reach out to your care team immediately if loss of appetite continues for more than a few days or if you experience any of the following:
- Involuntary weight loss
- A feeling of being extremely drained or chronically fatigued, or of general malaise
- Fluid retention thats causing swelling, most often in the legs
Exercise And Work Habits
Your hunger could also just be a matter of how lifes priorities affect energy needs. Think about your eating pattern: When do you get hungry? After vigorous exercise? At night? People can feel less hungry immediately after exercise but much hungrier hours or even days later.
You might be limiting food intake during the day because of a busy schedule or efforts to manage your weight, but then experience cravings or a lack of fullness in the evenings.
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A Number Of Factors Can Influence How Often You Feel Hungry Including The Quality Of The Food Youre Eating
Q: I feel like Im always hungry. Why is this happening? What can I do to feel more satisfied?
A: There are a number of reasons people feel hungry. It may be that you arent eating enough to meet your bodys energy needs. But its also important to think about food choices and lifestyle factors.
The type of foods you eat, whether youve recently lost weight, how much you exercise and whether you go long stretches without eating can all influence how often you feel hungry.
Here are some reasons people feel hungry, even after eating a meal.
Is Loss Of Appetite Normal In Cancer
Appetite loss is very common in people with cancer. Depending on the type of cancer, between 40% and 80% of patients say they are eating and drinking less than before their diagnosis1-6. Patients may find that their favorite foods no longer appeal, or that appetite is reduced or almost nonexistent. These changes can be distressing for patients, as well as for family and friends.
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Youre Not Drinking Enough Water
Proper hydration is incredibly important for your overall health.
Drinking enough water has several health benefits, including promoting brain and heart health and optimizing exercise performance. Additionally, water keeps your skin and digestive system healthy (
In one study, 14 people who drank 2 cups of water before a meal ate almost 600 fewer calories than those who didnt drink any water .
Due to waters role in keeping you full, you may find that you feel hungry frequently if youre not drinking enough of it.
Feelings of thirst can be mistaken for feelings of hunger. If youre always hungry, it may help to drink a glass or two of water to find out if youre just thirsty .
To ensure youre properly hydrated, simply drink water when you feel thirsty. Eating lots of water-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, will also contribute to your hydration needs .
You may always be hungry if youre not drinking enough water. Thats because it has appetite-reducing properties. Additionally, you may be mistaking feelings of thirst for feelings of hunger.
Tips For Maintaining Your Weight
- Eat when you feel hungry if you are typically most hungry in the mornings or afternoons, plan to eat your biggest meal then
- Eating several small meals or snacks throughout the day may be easier to manage
- Limit drinks before and during meals as they can fill you up
- If you cant face a meal, consider having a nutrient-dense drink instead
- Weigh yourself regularly and if you notice you are losing weight, talk to your doctor without delay
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Causes Of Appetite Loss
Many different things can cause appetite loss in a person with cancer:
Changes in metabolism, which is the bodys process of breaking down food and turning it into energy. Such changes can happen with advanced cancer.
Cancer inside the abdomen, which may cause irritation or swelling.
An enlarged spleen or liver, which pushes on the stomach and creates a feeling of fullness.
Ascites, which is a buildup of protein-filled fluid in the abdomen that may create a feeling of fullness.
Medications, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other drugs.
Radiation therapy or surgery to any part of the gastrointestinal organs, such as the stomach or intestines.
Other side effects of cancer treatment can also cause appetite loss:
Nausea and vomiting
Stress or anxiety
Why Do I Keep Eating Even Though Im Not Hungry
Some people suffer from the gastrointestinal obsession, or as its more commonly known, hyperphagia. What does that mean? It means that people often feel an intense hunger for food even when theyre not hungry, or theyre eating too much. In other cases, people feel a strong urge to eat and have trouble resisting the urge. It can be exhausting and upsetting. People who suffer from hyperphagia often experience a range of emotional and psychological problems. This may include depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and low mood. They may also have trouble concentrating, finding focus, and enjoying activities they used to enjoy. Eating is also part of a normal persons life. But when it comes to hyperphagia, eating is an obsession.
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Healthy Ways To Increase Calories And Protein
Here are some tips for boosting your calorie and protein intake. You can incorporate these into your diet before starting treatment or during the first few weeks. Some of these may not be appropriate for a soft or liquid diet or a sore mouth and throat. Soft and liquid diet suggestions are starred .
Add extra oil to your food:
- Toss pasta with oil before adding sauce.*
- Drizzle oil into soup.*
- Add extra oil when cooking lean meats or vegetables .
- Dip bread in olive oil.
- Drizzle olive oil onto freshly popped popcorn.
- Use oil-based dressings on salads, vegetables, pasta or other grains.
Boost calorie intake with nuts and seeds:
- Have a quarter to half a cup of nuts or trail mix as a snack.
- Carry nuts with you at all times keep some at your desk or beside the couch.
- Sprinkle nuts and seeds into yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, salads, soups or stir-fries.
- Use nuts in muffin and bread recipes.
Add creamy nut butters such as natural peanut, almond or cashew butter to dishes:
- Dissolve nut butters in soups, hot cereals and smoothies.*
- Spread nut butters on sandwiches, fruit or crackers.
- Carry single-serving nut butter packets with you to snack on anytime.*
Increase calories with avocados:
- Add avocado chunks to soups.
- Blend avocado into smoothies.*
- Add avocado slices to a sandwich or salad.
- Add guacamole to Mexican food.
- Snack on half an avocado right out of the shell.*
The Types Of Food You Eat
Research has shown that hunger isnt the same for all foods. If youre hungry, you probably crave foods high in sugar, carbohydrates or fats. That might be why people rarely say theyre craving an apple. Instead, we tend to want tortilla chips, cookies or pizza.
It sounds counterintuitive, but eating certain foods might be making you feel hungrier. Carbohydrates dont suppress hunger hormones for as long as fat or protein. Ultra-processed foods appear to promote appetite, though scientists are still unclear as to why. And liquid sources of calories such as smoothies are less filling than solids.
High-calorie foods, at least in rodents, cause inflammation in body-weight regulating areas of the brain that increases consumption of these foods. Eating as much as they can while food is plenty makes sense for bears about to hibernate, for example. But if the same inflammation occurs in the brain in humans, it could create a cycle of feeling hungry and opting for tasty, high-calorie foods over and over.
Try to avoid ultra-processed foods and, when possible, include a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in your diet. Aim to incorporate proteins and fats in your meals, rather than solely carbohydrates.
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Difference Between Hunger And Appetite
Hunger is a natural reaction to changes in your bodys biological processes. It signals that you need eat, so the hunger hormones can do their job and keep energy levels high! Appetite comes from within its just our desire for food which has been culturally conditioned into us through years of dieting practices by parents or other adults who guide young minds on what they think are good principles regarding eating right.
Increased Appetite In Dogs Faqs
Do dogs eat more as they get older?
Yes. Sometimes this is due to underlying health conditions, such as diabetes mellitus or Cushings disease, or a medication theyre taking, like prednisone.
Why does my dog eat like hes starving?
Many conditions can trigger increased appetite in dogs. A dog may have learned the behavior because they were not properly fed or became anxious about food. Or, they may have developed a metabolic condition or infection or have parasites. Your vet will need to do an exam, ask questions, and do some tests to rule out certain causes.
When is overeating a concern for dogs?
You should call your vet if you notice a sudden and dramatic change in your dogs dietary habits.
Avoid Overeating When You Are Pregnant
Most women develop a ravenous appetite during the second trimester of pregnancy , as the baby develops and demands more nourishment.
But keep in mind portion sizes. Although technically you are eating for two, your baby is a lot smaller than you are and too much weight gain during pregnancy can be detrimental.
The U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends a weight gain of no more than one pound per week during the second and third trimester of pregnancy or just half a pound if you are overweight or obese before pregnancy. Join the Drugs.com Pregnancy Support Group to chat with other women if you find your appetite is out of control.
Certain Cancers Can Cause Significant Unexplained Weight Loss
Nearly everyone loses or gains weight at some point in their lifetime. Diet, exercise, pregnancy, hormonal changes and aging all can affect weight, and fluctuations are generally normal.
Unexplained weight loss, however, is not considered normal and may be a sign of a serious illness, such as cancer. In fact, weight loss can be both a symptom of cancer and a side effect of treatment or the illness itself.
Losing weight for no apparent reason does not mean you have cancer. The amount of weight lost matters. Losing a few pounds is not usually a concern, but a loss of 10 pounds or more without knowing why, may be a red flag. According to the American Cancer Society, significant weight loss happens most often with cancers that affect the stomach, pancreas, esophagus and lung.
âFor many people with cancer, this unexplained weight loss is one of the first indications of the disease,â says Munveer Bhangoo, MD, a hematologist and oncologist at Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center. âSomeone who loses this amount of weight without a clear reason should see their physician to determine what is causing it.â
Why does cancer cause weight loss?
Several factors can contribute to cancer-related weight loss. Cancer cells demand more energy than healthy cells, so your body may burn more calories at rest than it normally would. The cells also release substances that affect how your body uses calories from food, which also can contribute to weight loss.
Tips to help control weight loss
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Treatment Of Increased Appetite In Dogs
Dont delay in getting your dog examined by a veterinarian if they appear to be suffering from constant hunger. Treatment will include giving your dog supportive care for the symptom of polyphagia as well as dealing with any underlying conditions:
Behavioral-related causes may be addressed by feeding smaller portions more frequently and carefully supervising your dogs food consumption.
A metabolic issue, such as diabetes mellitus, may be treated with daily insulin injections and dietary changes.
If Cushings disease is diagnosed, medication may be prescribed.
Infection or parasites will be treated with medication and/or deworming.
For exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, your vet will recommend dietary changes and medications.
Treatment for cancer can include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation treatments.
Is It Ok To Always Be Hungry
Your body relies on food for energy, so its normal to feel hungry if you dont eat for a few hours.
But if hunger is something you deal with on a regular basis, some people might benefit from eating every two to three hours and then having a small snack and by snack, Zumpano means foods like a boiled egg with a cheese stick, whole-grain, low-salt crackers with cheese or an apple with peanut butter.
Look for whole food options that have complete carbs, fiber and protein, she says.
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Stress Emotions And Sleep
Stress levels, boredom, food cues, emotions and poor sleep can trigger your urge to eat. In those cases, mindful or intuitive eating might be a good strategy to investigate, as can addressing the underlying cause, such as ensuring you get good, quality sleep.
It might take time to sort out these issues, so be kind to yourself. Feelings around food, weight and body image can be intense. Many people have experienced bias or discrimination because of weight stigma, including from health professionals. So if youre being blamed or shamed, look for medical help elsewhere. Everyone deserves to feel safe and supported when discussing issues of weight and appetite.
Remember that theres a reason urges to eat are so powerful. Though our food system and diets have changed in modern times, our brains are still wired for survival. Even when we arent aware of it, this biological drive shapes our behavior.
Meet the doctor: Ellen A. Schur is professor of medicine at the University of Washington and director of the University of Washington Nutrition and Obesity Research Center.
Youre Eating Too Many Refined Carbs
Refined carbs have been highly processed and stripped of their fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
One of the most popular sources of refined carbs is white flour, which is found in many grain-based foods like bread and pasta. Foods like soda, candy, and baked goods, which are made with processed sugars, are also considered to be refined carbs.
Since refined carbs lack filling fiber, your body digests them very quickly. This is a major reason why you may be hungry frequently if you eat a lot of refined carbs, as they do not promote significant feelings of fullness .
Furthermore, eating refined carbs may lead to rapid spikes in your blood sugar. This leads to increased levels of insulin, a hormone responsible for transporting sugar into your cells (
Low blood sugar levels signal your body that it needs more food, which is another reason why you may feel hungry often if refined carbs are a regular part of your diet .
To reduce your refined carb intake, simply replace them with nutrient-rich, whole foods like vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains. These foods are still high in carbs, but they are rich in fiber, which helps keep hunger well managed .
Refined carbs lack fiber and cause blood sugar fluctuations, which are the primary reasons why eating too many of them may leave you feeling hungry.
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Treating The Cause Of Your Increased Appetite
Dont attempt to treat changes in your appetite using over-the-counter appetite suppressants without talking to your doctor first.
Their recommended treatment plan will depend on the cause of your increased appetite. If they diagnose you with an underlying medical condition, they can help you learn how to treat and manage it.
If youre diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor or dietitian can help you learn how to manage your blood sugar levels. They can also instruct you how to recognize the early warning signs of low blood sugar, and how to take steps to correct the problem quickly.
Low blood sugar is also known as hypoglycemia and can be considered a medical emergency. If not properly treated, it can lead to loss of consciousness or even death.
If your appetite problems are caused by medications, your doctor may recommend alternative drugs or adjust your dosage. Never stop taking prescription medication or change your dosage without talking to your doctor first.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend psychological counseling. For example, an eating disorder, depression, or other mental health condition usually includes psychological counseling as part of the treatment.
Last medically reviewed on July 12, 2019