Using Proper Nutrition to Avoid Anorexia and Cachexia During Cancer Treatments

The mechanisms that suppress appetite in people experiencing cancer are complex and may severely impact their quality of life. Medications, anxiety, and the nature of how cancer affects the body in itself can all sway the desire and ability to eat. Any phase of a cancer patient’s journey should include good nutrition and awareness of the negative consequences of a body deprived of nutrients. Providing the body with adequate nutrition during times of anorexia, loss of appetite, and prevention of cachexia, the permanent loss of body mass, is an important strategy to maintain health during treatment and recovery from cancer. If the body isn’t strong enough, or weight loss is too great, cancer treatment may not be effective or the treatment may have to be stopped.

Prepare a Strong Body for Treatment

The apprehension of a cancer diagnosis alone may decrease or completely remove the desire to eat. Although this is a normal reaction to the threat of illness, the best strategy is to eat a healthy diet and prepare the body for the stress of treatment. Include fish in a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits. Providing the body tissues and muscle with essential proteins will increase the ability to tolerate medications, medical interventions and periods of anorexia. A healthy body can tolerate the stress of treatment better and progress to recovery.

Anorexia and Cancer Treatment

During treatment, the body may react to medical interventions with periods of anorexia. Chemotherapy affects the digestive system and may cause an upset stomach. Radiation, as experienced in patients with mesothelioma cancer, can turn off the appetite completely. Feeding the body while undergoing treatment may be very different than when not in treatment.

Alternatives: Protein Supplements

Unwanted weight loss is a serious threat to the cancer patient in treatment. Although natural food sources are best for nutrition, people may not tolerate whole foods during the treatment phase. Most nutritionists recommend protein powders and prepared supplements, including whey or soy protein. Depending on the therapy, patients may have difficulty chewing and swallowing food. Soft foods, such as, mashed potatoes, fruit-filled milkshakes, and yogurts can increase the protein stores and prevent the permanent loss of body mass, known as cachexia. The body has to be well nourished to withstand the impact of cancer therapies and medical interventions.

Alterations in Taste and Nausea

Patients have reported that chemotherapy and radiation treatments have made food tasteless or have induced nausea when they are presented with food. Adding spices and sweeteners may improve the taste in some individuals. Often, nausea is experienced from chemotherapies and toxic medications. People may tolerate dry toast, pretzels, crackers and sips of warm cola products at the bedside. Adding starchy foods sometimes helps to alleviate nausea, like potatoes, rice, and dry cereals.

Dangers of Dehydration

Cancer patients often lose their “thirst” mechanism. Drinking enough fluid is an integral part of nutrition during treatment. The blood vessels must be hydrated enough to dilute toxic infusions and circulate the medications throughout the body. Harmful toxins have to be flushed out of the system without harm to the organs. Some medications are toxic to the kidneys and liver. People in chemotherapy must be vigilant about hydrating the body and drinking enough fluids.

Nutrition in Recovery

Cancer patients that keep the body well nourished and hydrated, increase their completion of treatment and enter recovery. Avoiding cachexia, the permanent loss of body weight and muscle, is achieved by vigilance and nutrition persistence. Continue to provide the body with protein and use strategies that worked during treatment. Focus on healthy nutrition as the tolerance for high-quality foods and appetite return. Avoid commercially processed and fast foods that spike blood sugar and interfere with natural hunger cues. Maintain hydration as the body restores health during the recovery process.