A decreased appetite can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, and they can include both mental and physical illnesses.
Your body relies on nutrients from food to function, and without food, processes within your body are disrupted, and your risk for illness increases. A loss of appetite or decreased hunger can become a serious health problem if left untreated.
There are a number of conditions that can cause decreased appetite. The causes can be both physical and psychological. The cause can also be temporary, such as a stomach infection. Appetite will return once the individual has recovered.
Common causes of appetite loss include:
♦ Colds and flu
♦ Upset stomach
♦ Food intolerance
♦ Hormone imbalance
♦ Medication side effects
♦ Drug or alcohol use
There are also medical conditions that cause loss of appetite for an extended period of time, which is known as anorexia. The conditions below are all associated with reduced appetite.
♦ Chronic liver disease: Nausea is one of the first symptoms of liver disease, and over time, this interferes with your appetite and desire to eat.
♦ Kidney failure: As kidney failure progresses, patients report loss of appetite. Patients that are on dialysis experience chronic appetite loss and anorexia.
♦ Cancer: Cancer, and its treatment protocol, can both impact your appetite. The loss of appetite can be caused by a physical problem such as nausea, changes in tastes, or pain. It can also be caused by mental factors such as depressed mood. A common side effect of cancer medications and therapy is also loss of appetite.
♦ Hepatitis: Flu-like symptoms can appear with hepatitis C, and this causes nausea, and loss of appetite can get worse if your condition progresses to liver disease or failure.
♦ HIV: Medications used to treat HIV suppress your appetite and can give food an awkward taste. They can also interfere with nutrient absorption. Physical symptoms from HIV also include mouth sores, which make eating difficult.
♦ Dementia: As dementia progresses, individuals lose their appetite as a result of no longer being able to taste foods they once enjoyed. Mood changes also cause depression, which can weaken the desire to eat.
♦ Hypothyroidism: Your thyroid is responsible for regulating hormones, and when this gland is underactive, the metabolic processes in your body also slow. As a result, hormones that control appetite are altered, and you can experience loss of appetite completely.
♦ Psychological disorders: Depression causes you to lose interest in activities and can impact eating too. Different from anorexia, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes individuals to become obsessed with losing weight to the point of avoiding eating.
♦ Stress: The stress response prepares your body for fight or flight, so you are primed for action, which means not eating. Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol cause suppression of appetite.
Individuals with serious medical conditions can develop a loss of appetite as a result of their condition. They can also have a reduced appetite as a side effect of their medications, as is common with cancer treatments.
In the later stages of serious conditions, you can develop cachexia, which is the term for weight loss, muscle wasting, and ill-health caused by loss of appetite from chronic illnesses. These individuals need a nutritional program to follow to ensure they get the nutrients and calories they need to stay healthy.
The treatment for reduced appetite will depend on the cause. Bacterial infections will be treated with antibiotics, and other conditions can be treated with medication once a diagnosis is made.
It is important for your doctor to know when the symptom started, if you have lost weight, and if there were any triggering events. Scans, blood tests, blood count, and imaging will also be done to identify the cause.
Any underlying condition will be treated, and your appetite will return. If you have become malnourished as a result, you can take supplements to help boost your nutrient levels.
If you have a condition that causes a loss of appetite, there are things you can try to boost your appetite. Nutrition is essential for your health, so increasing your appetite is important.
♦ Eat smaller meals more frequently.
♦ Eat nutrient-rich foods.
♦ Add more calories to your meals.
♦ Make mealtime enjoyable or a social occasion.
♦ Trick your brain by using different plate sizes, so it thinks you are eating less.
♦ Don’t skip breakfast.
♦ Eat less fiber.
♦ Try supplements such as zinc, thiamine, fish oil, and echinacea, which are proven to stimulate the appetite.
♦ Do not drink beverages with your meals.
♦ Get more exercise.
♦ Drink calories instead of eating them by making smoothies.
♦ Add healthy snacks to your daily routine.
♦ Don’t avoid your favorite foods.
♦ Add spices and herbs to your meals, such as fennel, peppermint, black pepper, mint, and ginger, as they are known to improve appetite.
The food you eat is essential to your health. Your body requires nutrients from food, so not eating damages your health. When loss of appetite is not treated, long-term complications can arise such as extreme fatigue, excessive weight loss, a rapid heart rate, and increased risk for infection and disease.
You need to treat loss of appetite before malnutrition develops, so reach out to your doctor if you notice a reduced appetite for an extended period of time. Once the cause is treated, your appetite can return to normal.