It's not unusual to experience fluctuations in appetite. But if you have very little desire to eat and it's affecting your weight and health, then you may be searching for an appetite stimulant. If you're a health-minded individual, you may be looking for supplements to increase appetite.
Unfortunately, there's little evidence to indicate that any supplement can improve your desire to eat. However, fixing a nutrient deficiency may work. Consult with your doctor to discuss your appetite changes. It's possible that there may be an underlying health issue behind your loss of appetite that needs to be addressed.
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Many Causes of Appetite Loss
According to MedlinePlus, appetite loss is medically referred to as anorexia and indicates lack of hunger or desire to eat. Many people confuse anorexia with anorexia nervosa, but they're not the same thing.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which food, or lack thereof, is used as a tool to cope with emotions. People with anorexia nervosa fear gaining weight and have distorted body image.
Your lack of hunger, or anorexia, is a symptom that develops from an underlying medical issue, such as:
- Chronic health condition (liver or kidney disease)
- Thyroid hormone imbalance
Certain medications can also have an impact on your appetite, including antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs.
Due to the connection between appetite and health, you should always consult with your doctor when experiencing a loss of appetite before seeking supplements to increase appetite. Identifying and treating the underlying cause may be all that's necessary to make food desirable again. Your doctor can also talk to you about medications to increase appetite.
Read more: The 10 Best Supplements
Nutrient Deficiencies and Appetite Loss
While there's not much evidence to support the use of supplements to increase appetite, it's possible that your lack of hunger may be due to a nutrient deficiency. Again, this is something that you should discuss with your doctor before adding vitamins and minerals to your daily repertoire. But if you have concerns about the adequacy of your nutrient intake and suspect a nutrient deficiency, your doctor can run tests to assess your vitamin and mineral levels.
Not getting enough zinc in your diet can affect your appetite. While most people in the United States are able to meet their daily zinc needs, older adults are at risk of being deficient, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Zinc is an essential mineral that's needed for protein synthesis, wound healing and various enzyme reactions. Adults need 8 to 12 milligrams of zinc a day depending on gender and life stage (lactating women need the most). Oysters, crab, pumpkin seeds and baked beans are all good sources of this essential mineral, notes ODS.
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet and your desire to eat seems nonexistent, then it may be that you're not getting enough vitamin B12. This water-soluble vitamin is only found in animal foods, such as meat, poultry, fish and dairy.
Due to digestive changes, older people are also at risk of being deficient in vitamin B-12. Adults need 2.4 to 2.8 micrograms a day. Your doctor can run a blood test to assess for a deficiency and offer supplementation options to restore your levels if you're deficient.
Because magnesium is found in almonds, beans, nuts, bread and milk, you may be surprised that Americans are still not meeting their daily needs for the mineral, according to ODS. Poor intake can also lead to loss of appetite, as well as fatigue and nausea. Daily magnesium needs range from 310 to 420 milligrams per day for adult men and women.
Thiamin is a B vitamin found in a variety of different foods, from fortified breakfast cereals to rice to bread to milk. Deficiencies of this essential nutrient are rare in the United States, but not getting enough can lead to anorexia, as well as confusion, weakness and short-term memory loss.
Fish Oil: An Appetite Stimulant?
It seems as though fish oil supplements are a cure-all, recommended to improve heart health, prolong your life and boost mental capacity. These supplements are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats your body needs for growth and development, brain health and the fight against inflammation, according to Harvard Health.
While the evidence has been mixed, fish oil may be a supplement that stimulates your appetite. A July 2013 randomized-control trial published in Appetite found that supplementation with fish oil improved appetite and intake better than the control in a group of normal weight, healthy participants. Note, this study only included 20 people and more research is needed before claims can be made.
An earlier study published in 2012 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found similar results, but the participants included children with leukemia. Again, this was a small study with only 51 participants.
A June 2017 randomized controlled double-blind study published in Lipids in Health and Disease found that supplementation with fish oil did not have a positive impact on appetite in a group of 60 pancreatic patients. The authors of the study noted that the supplement helped stabilize weight, not because of an increase in food intake but due to the effects the supplement had on inflammation.
Meal Time Strategies
Instead of looking for supplements to increase appetite, you may be able to improve your diet and intake by making a few changes to how you eat. When you don't have an appetite, a large meal can feel unappealing. Consider eating smaller meals more often to prevent these overwhelmed feelings.
Drinking too close to meal time may also affect your appetite. The Mayo Clinic suggests you avoid drinking before you eat and wait at least 30 minutes after your meal to drink your beverage. If you feel the need to drink while you eat, make sure it's a drink with calories and protein, such as milk, a fruit smoothie or protein shake, and take small sips.
It may sound counterproductive, especially if you're struggling to keep on the pounds, but exercise may be the natural appetite booster you've been looking for. You don't need to take an hour-long spin class, but a 10- to 20-minute walk before your meal may be just enough to help you feel a little more hungry. Talk to your doctor to discuss your exercise options.
- MedlinePlus: "Appetite — Decreased"
- Mayo Clinic: "Anorexia Nervosa"
- Office of Dietary Supplements: "Zinc"
- Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin B12"
- Office of Dietary Supplements: "Magnesium"
- Office of Dietary Supplements: "Thiamin"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Fish Oil: Friend or Foe?"
- Appetite: "Fish Oil-Supplementation Increases Appetite in Healthy Adults. A Randomized Controlled Cross-Over Trial"
- Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Fish Oil Supplementation Is Beneficial on Caloric Intake, Appetite and Mid Upper Arm Muscle Circumference in Children With Leukaemia"
- Lipids in Health and Disease: "Dietary Supplementation With N-3-Fatty Acids in Patients With Pancreatic Cancer and Cachexia: Marine Phospholipids Versus Fish Oil – A Randomized Controlled Double-Blind Trial"
- Mayo Clinic: "What's a Good Way to Gain Weight if You're Underweight?"