What can be done to improve someone’s appetite?

Lack of appetite and the resulting weight loss can have many different causes. They can include illness, medications, treatments, pain, constipation or bowel obstruction, sores in the mouth, and anxiety or depression. It’s important to try to find the cause before trying a treatment.

Poor appetite may be caused directly by a problem in the digestive system, or indirectly by a symptom of the underlying disease. For example, pain, nausea and shortness of breath are common symptoms that can reduce a person's ability to eat or interest in eating.

Health care providers assess a patient’s overall condition to try to determine why someone isn’t eating. They may select one medication or a combination of medications to try to address this. Some medications can stimulate appetite; others can help control symptoms that may be reducing appetite.

Homeopathic remedies may stimulate appetite. Some such remedies, especially herbal supplements, interact with medications and can cause health problems. It’s important to consult the patient’s health care team before using any homeopathic supplement or treatment, especially when the patient is taking prescription or over the counter medications.

Some people continue to eat and still lose weight. When someone is very ill, the body’s processes turn to fighting the illness and not to regular functions such as maintaining weight and strength. So the nutrients in food don’t lead to improved strength or survival time. In the final stages of a terminal illness people lose their appetite and their sense of hunger. Often there’s nausea and physical discomfort from even small amounts of food. At this stage there’s more value in easing the patient’s discomfort than in trying to overcome a loss of appetite.