February 23, 2009
Stimulating The Appetite
Minna Yoon, ND, LAc
People suffering from cancer often also face a frustrating side effect: loss of appetite. The appetite can be diminished by the cancer, cancer treatment, or other adjunctive medical conditions such as depression. Loss of appetite is problematic for cancer patients as food and nutrition play a major role in biological functions of the body. In addition, food plays an important role in a social and cultural context, and oftentimes people with cancer miss out on social gatherings and family functions due to their lack of appetite, nausea, and low energy. This can lead to further isolation, depression, and frustration for people with cancer. Stimulating the appetite for healthy eating gives them the nutrition their bodies needs, as well as a sense of normalcy and connection to their loved ones. People with little appetite know that they must eat, but smells and textures of certain foods can create a sensation of nausea, overpowering their desire to eat. Changes in taste can also prohibit people with cancer from enjoying their meals, and foods they once craved are now unappetizing to them.
The better the nutritional status, the better the overall success rates of cancer treatments. Proper nutrition is essential for the cells of the body, from replication to cell death, to carry out their necessary functions including energy production. Lack of good nutrition, or malnutrition, can cause low energy and muscle wasting, and can have serious consequences for people with cancer. Cancers and cancer treatments can also cause a decrease of white and/or red blood cells so nutrition becomes even more essential to replenish and protect the body's defenses.
The question then becomes how can you use food as medicine for people with cancer when they can hardly take the medicine down? A spoonful of sugar is not the answer.
Enhancing The Meal
Follow your senses. Eating is an activity that incorporates all the five senses. Use the senses by choosing foods that look appetizing in taste, texture, sight, smell, sound, as well as temperature. If something sweet and soft looks unappetizing, then try something salty and crunchy. If you suffer from the chills, try eating foods that are warm. Smell a lemon to get your digestive juices flowing, and if the smell of fish creates an unsettling sensation in your stomach, bypass it. Make your meals appealing to the eye with many colors.
Create a routine. Eat frequently, but in small amounts, at the same time each day. This allows you to make sure you are remembering to eat. Every 2-3 hours, try to have something that sounds appealing. Carry snacks with you to make sure that you have something if you are out or at a doctor's appointment.
Keep it simple. Stress and depressed moods can cause one to be overwhelmed by the tasks of shopping, cooking, eating, and cleaning so that the goal of eating well falls by the wayside. Don't complicate matters. Buy pre-cut vegetables, pre-made soups, frozen berries, and even frozen dinners for times of low energy and motivation.
Make it dense. Eat foods that are nutritionally dense. This does not mean foods high in sugar to create a high-caloric diet, but foods which are packed with nutrients. Eat stews with a lot of vegetables and protein, smoothies with fresh or frozen berries, whole grains like oats or rice, and dark green vegetables with olive oil. Avoid processed foods like cookies and muffins which are high in calories but low in nutrients.Comfort foods. The diagnosis of cancer can lead some people to try new preventative cancer diets that can restrict food options and intake. Eat what you are comfortable with eating. Raw foods, macrobiotic diet, or vegan diets are limited in calories and difficult for the novice. Start with what you are familiar.
Spice it up. Adding spices to your meal can help increase the appetite. A few of the spices are garlic, ginger, cloves, fennel, cardamom, ginseng, cayenne pepper.
Supplementing The Body
If lack of an appetite is a chronic concern, more measures need to be taken. High-calorie nutrition shakes are available in stores, although not all are recommended due to the sugar content and artificial coloring. Read the labels. Nutritional supplements can help replace some of the nutrients missed from the lack of food, and some can also be used to help stimulate the appetite. Discuss them with a health care practitioner to know which ones are right for you in order to prevent drug-nutrient interactions. Prescriptive medications are also available to help promote the appetite as well.
Food is a need, but can also be pleasurable and therapeutic. Eating well can give you the energy you need to fight cancer as well as help stimulate an appetite for your other passions in life.
Minna Yoon, ND, LAc
Providing Naturopathic and Traditional Chinese Medical Services