Weighty loss may be caused by loss of hunger, health problems, or both. It is often due to cancer, depression, or dementia. Some health issues can also make it hard for the body to absorb vitamins and minerals from food.
Treating the cause may improve weight. Food choices or supplements may help to increase weight as well. For some, medicine can increase hunger.
Natural therapies may help patients gain weight by increasing fat stores. It can also help to increase protein levels. These are usually used in combination with other treatments.
Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.
Talk to your doctor about all herbs or supplements you are taking. Some may interact with your treatment plan or health conditions.
A. Amino Acids
A1. May PE, Barber A, D'Olimpio JT, Hourihane A, Abumrad NN. Reversal of cancer-related wasting using oral supplementation with a combination of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, arginine, and glutamine. Am J Surg. 2002;183(4):471-479.
A2. Berk L, James J, Schwartz A, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of a beta-hydroxyl beta-methyl butyrate, glutamine, and arginine mixture for the treatment of cancer cachexia (RTOG 0122). Support Care Cancer. 2008;16(10):1179-1188
A3. Yuce Sari S, Yazici G, Yuce D, Karabulut E, Cengiz M, Ozyigit G. The effect of glutamine and arginine-enriched nutritional support on quality of life in head and neck cancer patients treated with IMRT. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2016;16:30-35.
B. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
B1. Bruera E, Strasser F, Palmer JL, et al. Effect of fish oil on appetite and other symptoms in patients with advanced cancer and anorexia/cachexia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Clin Oncol. 2003;21(1):129-134.
B2. Dewey A, Baughan C, Dean T, Higgins B, Johnson I. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid from fish oils) for the treatment of cancer cachexia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007;(1):CD004597.
B3. Ries A, Trottenberg P, Elsner F, Stiel S, Haugen D, Kaasa S, Radbruch L. A systematic review on the role of fish oil for the treatment of cachexia in advanced cancer: an EPCRC cachexia guidelines project. Palliat Med. 2012;26(4):294-304.
B4. Pappalardo G, Almeida A, Ravasco P. Eicosapentaenoic acid in cancer improves body composition and modulates metabolism. Nutrition. 2015;31(4):549-455.
Last reviewed March 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board
Richard Glickman-Simon, MD
Last Updated: 3/2/2019