If you have a difficult time keeping a typical bodyweight, you might want to consider an appetite stimulant. Options include natural substances like fish oil and synthetic medications like megestrol. Learning more about these choices will help you improve your health.
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Read more: The 12 Worst Foods for Appetite Control
Need for an Appetite Stimulant
Given the obesity epidemic, an appetite enhancer might seem like a strange concept. Yet many people cannot gain the weight they want or need to fully function. Postmenopausal women, for example, often experience age-related muscle wasting.
This loss places them at risk for falls, according to a January 2014 report in Osteoporosis International. Cancer patients also have a difficult time keeping their weight up. That's because both cancer and chemotherapy often take away patients' appetite.
People diagnosed with anorexia nervosa might also benefit from having an enhanced appetite. In these cases, treating the symptoms of the underlying condition might help.
The authors of a May 2016 paper in CNS Drugs reviewed a study which tested 16 premenopausal women and showed that the anti-depressant clomipramine increased their appetite and hunger. Yet the writers of a July 2014 article in Cochrane Review questioned the effectiveness of treating anorexia in patients with cystic fibrosis. They argued that an appetite enhancer rarely produces positive results and often causes side effects.
Use Natural Substances
Ancient healers used natural substances and foods that increase appetite for millennia. The authors of a June 2014 article in the journal Nutrition demonstrated the use of traditional herbs as an appetite stimulant by testing 32 healthy adults in four groups.
Three of these groups received juice from the Coleus aromaticus plant. The fourth group got a placebo. Most participants given the juice showed a decrease in the hormone leptin. The plant-based product also increased their appetite.
Similar effects exist using other natural products like omega-3 fatty acids or omega-3s. The writers of a July 2013 report in Appetite evaluated the possible appetite-enhancing effect of this supplement in 20 healthy adults. The subjects received daily doses of 0.5 milliliters for three weeks. Compared to soybean oil, this treatment caused a 20 percent decrease in feelings of fullness. That change led to an increased wish to eat more but only in women.
Omega-3s also seem helpful for cancer patients struggling to keep their weight. The authors of a June 2017 paper in Lipids in Health and Disease tested 60 subjects and found that fish oil reliably increased their appetite. These researchers also found that using a specific type of omega-3s — marine phospholipids — led to better tolerance and fewer side effects.
Read more: How to Raise Leptin Levels
Try Synthetic Medications
Children with cancer often experience weight loss and malnutrition. These changes cause other problems like decreasing their treatment tolerance, delaying their treatment and increasing their infection rate. Ultimately, this constellation decreases life quality and survival rate.
The authors of an April 2014 report in Pediatric Blood and Cancer tried to address these issues in 26 kids with cancer. Half of these children received megestrol, the other half received a placebo. The kids in the placebo group lost 1.2 percent of their body weight during the 90-day study. Amazingly, the children in the drug group had a 19.7 percent gain in body weight.
Unfortunately, the kids tested in the Pediatric Blood and Cancer study gained disproportionate body fat. This gain likely results from the experimenters not controlling subjects' diet. Nonetheless, such a large gain in body fat puts the children at risk for symptoms of diabetes.
Adrenal suppression presents another problem with megestrol use. You can overcome this challenge with frequent cortisol monitoring and taking hydrocortisone when necessary. Paradoxically, your body doesn't absorb megestrol very well without abundant food intake.
Yet the writers of a June 2014 paper in Drug Design, Development and Therapy tested 93 healthy adults and showed that taking megestrol in a nanocrystal form improves absorption. These researchers suggested taking 625 milligrams/5 milliliters doses of megestrol two to three times a day to gain body weight and avoid side effects.
- Osteoporosis International: "Operational Definitions of Sarcopenia and Their Associations With 5-Year Changes in Falls Risk in Community-Dwelling Middle-Aged and Older Adults"
- CNS Drugs: "Role of Psychotropic Medications in the Management of Anorexia Nervosa"
- Cochrane Review: "Appetite Stimulants for People With Cystic Fibrosis"
- Nutrition: "Beverage From Coleus aromaticus Reduces Leptin Levels and Improves Appetite Rating in Human Volunteers"
- Appetite: "Fish Oil-Supplementation Increases Appetite in Healthy Adults"
- Lipids in Health and Disease: "Dietary Supplementation With N-3-Fatty Acids in Patients With Pancreatic Cancer and Cachexia"
- Pediatric Blood and Cancer: "Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial of Megestrol Acetate as an Appetite Stimulant in Children With Weight Loss Due to Cancer and/or Cancer Therapy"
- Drug Design, Development and Therapy: "Novel Nanocrystal Formulation of Megestrol Acetate Has Improved Bioavailability Compared With the Conventional Micronized Formulation in the Fasting State"