Loss of appetite - causes and symptoms

Loss of appetite - causes and symptoms

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The symptom loss of appetite accompanies many diseases, especially in the gastrointestinal area, often occurs at the beginning of an illness and can also be found in connection with psychological problems. Together with an illness, anorexia (loss of appetite) is only present for a limited time, the appetite usually returns on its own as soon as the patient is healthy. Almost every disease in the human body can lead to a lack of appetite.

Since regular cravings for food are a sign of health, loss of appetite that occurs over a longer period of time and without a recognizable cause should be clarified by a doctor. This requires a thorough medical history, a physical examination, a blood count check and possibly other diagnostic procedures.

Appetite controlled by many mechanisms

Numerous mechanisms in the body regulate appetite and satiety so that the organism is always supplied with enough food. The center for hunger and satiety is in the midbrain. Incoming signals are collected, checked and then processed. Usually a healthy person eats exactly the amount that he needs without having to pay attention to calorie tables and weight.

The food gets into the digestive tract. Sensors located there report the satiety stimulus to the brain. Various hormones are also released, which are transported in the blood and tell the midbrain a state of satiety.

The food is broken down in the digestive tract and the concentration of the individual components in the blood is measured. Here a certain quantity in turn creates a degree of saturation. Blood sugar is an extremely important indicator. It stimulates the pancreas to release insulin, which causes satiety. The insulin in turn stimulates the hunger center to reduce the release of hunger substances.

Biorhythm - effects on appetite

Our biorhythm has a significant impact on our appetite. Eating lunch every day at the same time will immediately make your stomach growl and hunger if you don't eat. The body needs its time to adapt to other eating rhythms.

Social environment influences appetite

Who likes to eat without other people? Most people taste much better when socializing with family or friends. This is particularly noticeable in the elderly who are suddenly alone or have to leave their familiar surroundings by moving to a retirement home. With age, the appetite drops for physiological reasons and if there is a change in lifestyle, this often leads to a pronounced loss of appetite.

Loss of appetite in children

Usually, children's appetite depends on their energy needs. This changes again and again, so the desire for food is not always the same. In order to determine exactly whether a child is really not hungry, or whether too much sweets were being eaten or too much juice or milk was being consumed between the main meals, so that the appetite at the table leaves much to be desired, the overall situation of food intake must be carefully analyzed . Sudden lack of appetite with or without accompanying symptoms should definitely be observed. If you lose weight if you lose your appetite for a long time, you need to have a doctor.

In the life of children, children constantly change their eating habits. Phases with a lot or little appetite alternate. After long periods with low appetite, times often occur when a child would like to eat all day long.

If the loss of appetite sets in very suddenly, this can indicate an incipient illness. In the context of a childhood illness, a cold or a flu-like infection, children often suffer from a lack of appetite before other symptoms appear. Sufficient fluid intake is in the foreground here. Usually the appetite comes back on its own. Prolonged illnesses or diseases that are not properly cured can also lead to persistent loss of appetite, usually in connection with weight loss. It is essential to consult a doctor here. Gastrointestinal disorders, such as diarrhea or constipation, are almost always associated with loss of appetite. Likewise, the desire to eat suffers from anemia (anemia).

Stressful events can also cause children to lose their appetite for food. Quarrels in the family, with friends, problems at school or any fear can lead to sudden loss of appetite.

If the lack of appetite results in a proper refusal to eat, this is a serious problem. The children usually lose weight very quickly, with physical performance being maintained for a long time despite the lack of food. A suspicion of anorexia nervosa (anorexia nervosa) definitely belongs in the hands of a doctor or an experienced therapist.

Problems with the thyroid gland can also be the cause of anorexia, although children are already increasingly suffering from such problems today. The lack of appetite in thyroid disease is often accompanied by general fatigue and listlessness. A blood test provides clarity here.

In general, children with anorexia should check their eating behavior. What do the snacks look like, does the child eat too much candy, does he drink too much juice or lemonade instead of water? Because high-calorie snacks, milk and sweet juices also reduce the appetite for the main meals.

Common causes of loss of appetite

Anorexia is most common with gastrointestinal disorders. These include acute infections, such as gastroenteritis (inflammation in the stomach and intestines) triggered by viruses or bacteria, which can be associated with loss of appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Some of these diseases are accompanied by fever and body aches.

Food poisoning, for example from Salmonella, has symptoms similar to those of gastrointestinal disorders. Gastritis (inflammation of the gastric mucosa) usually takes away the desire to eat because of the pain and the nausea. As a rule, only certain foods are tolerated here that are easier to digest and put little strain on the digestive system. In appendicitis (appendicitis) the symptoms are often not clear, but the loss of appetite is almost always noticeable.

With gastric or duodenal ulcers, irritable stomach, irritable bowel, food intolerance, such as lactose intolerance (lactose intolerance) or celiac disease (gluten intolerance), together with other symptoms, the lack of appetite is often noticeable. Likewise, a missing or decreased appetite can result from cancerous events (cancer) in the stomach and / or intestine.

Patients with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease may experience anorexia from time to time. In Crohn's disease, the focus is on watery, sometimes slimy diarrhea and abdominal pain. Ulcerative colitis mainly occurs in batches. This causes abdominal cramps, sometimes bloody diarrhea with a frequency of up to forty times a day.

In the case of hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), the so-called main symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea and general malaise, as in the case of "normal" flu. Patients with gallbladder or pancreas diseases also suffer from a lack of hunger.

Other diseases

With acute infections, most patients suffer from a lack of appetite. However, this is completely normal. The feeling of hunger usually returns on its own. In this case, it is more important to drink enough liquid. Even with childhood illnesses, such as chickenpox, mumps or measles, the child usually does not feel like eating, at least at the beginning of the illness. Furthermore, diabetes can also be the reason for loss of appetite, such as diseases of the heart, thyroid, kidney and parathyroid gland. People who have to take a digitalis supplement due to heart failure (heart failure) may also experience side effects such as loss of appetite.

Cancer usually results in anorexia and weight loss at an advanced stage. Most patients suffer from anorexia during treatment with chemotherapy and / or radiation therapy, especially through the use of cytostatics and the associated nausea.

Loss of appetite in old age

The feeling of hunger often decreases with advanced age. Generally, a change in appetite behavior is normal in old age. However, a differentiation must be made here. If the desire for food decreases more and more and those affected also lose body weight, the matter has to be investigated.

Loss of appetite is the main cause of malnutrition in old age. The feeling of hunger in old age subsides, the food is no longer enjoyable, and the sense of smell also changes. In addition, the gastric passage time is extended, so that the seniors are full more quickly and do not feel hungry again so quickly. Older people often drink too little, which can lead to constipation. These are another reason for loss of appetite.

In addition to the physiological processes in old age, there may also be loneliness, sadness and lack of exercise in the fresh air. Diseases and certain medications also affect appetite. A healthy, balanced diet is important to be able to master life in old age with strength. Flavoring and appetizing agents can help seniors to get more excited about eating. In many cases, the elderly need to use high-calorie drinking food so that there is no malnutrition.

Psychological causes of loss of appetite

Psychological problems can lead to increased but also reduced appetite and even loss of appetite. The causes are many. The loss of a partner or family member, separation from the partner, lovesickness, school problems, stress or even depression - all of these can lead to anorexia. The degree of expression is very different here. This ranges from a slight lack of appetite to absolute refusal to eat, as is known from anorexia (anorexia nervosa). This can result in acute underweight.

Stages of life - loss of appetite

Puberty, an alternating pool of feelings between "heaven highly exulting" and "saddened to death", can sometimes significantly influence eating behavior. The feeling of being neither an adult nor a child is often accompanied by a temporary loss of appetite. Added to this are the hormonal fluctuations to which the adolescents are exposed less and then more. The skin is blooming, those affected only want to cry and withdraw. This can lead to excessive feeling of hunger but also loss of appetite. If the anorexia persists over a longer period of time and there is also weight loss, a visit to the doctor is necessary. Especially during puberty, young people need a balanced and healthy diet. The growth takes its toll and the strain in today's world should not be underestimated.

Another stage of life that may be associated with loss of appetite is pregnancy. Two extremes can also take place here. So-called binge eating or poor appetite, mostly due to nausea and / or vomiting. The loss of appetite and the associated lack of nutrition must be observed. In the worst case, if the woman loses too much weight, an artificial diet is necessary.

Shift work and jet lag influence the physical rhythms. The human biorhythm gets out of sync. This leads to headaches, sleep disorders, and difficulty concentrating. The often occurring nausea is usually coupled with loss of appetite.

Alcohol and drugs

People who use drugs often suffer from nausea, associated with loss of appetite, are constantly tired, have trouble sleeping, have a higher potential for aggression, are easily excitable and / or indifferent. Excessive alcohol consumption is often accompanied by a feeling of fullness in the upper abdomen, loss of performance and pronounced anorexia.

Diagnosis of loss of appetite

In order to arrive at a correct diagnosis, a detailed medical history is carried out first. The question asked is how long there has been anorexia, whether there is a trigger for the lack of appetite, how much weight the patient has already lost, what previous illnesses exist, whether there are other symptoms besides the anorexia and which medications the patient is currently taking . This is followed by a physical examination, depending on the suspicion of an EKG, sonography (ultrasound examination) as well as stool, urine and blood tests.

Treatment options of naturopathy

With every treatment the cause is in the foreground. In the case of psychological problems, the help of a psychotherapist should be sought.

If there is massive anorexia, as is often the case with cancer, for example, cyproheptadine (serotonin and histamine receptor antagonist) may be used. Otherwise, various medicinal plants are usually used after the cause treatment. The bitter substances it contains, which make the gastric juices “flow” and thus stimulate digestion, are administered in the form of mother tinctures, tinctures or tea mixtures.

Ginger water drunk before meals strengthens the appetite. Ginger warms the stomach and, according to Indian teaching, stimulates the digestive fire. At this point, Hildegard von Bingen recommends chewing galangal moldings, which, like the ginger, provide a warm stomach feeling and are therefore stimulating.

Dandelions, centaury and wormwood are used for digestive problems and thus also help to whet the appetite. Everything that is bitter has a positive effect on the digestive juices. Eating bitter salads as a starter is a good start for a delicious meal.

There are good mixed tinctures in naturopathy that are used to increase appetite. Powdered bitter herbs, slowly soaked in the mouth before eating, gently stimulate the appetite, especially because the bitter substances are absorbed directly by the oral mucosa.

In the Schüssler Salze therapy, the salts No. 8 sodium chloratum, No. 3 Ferrum phosphoricum, No. 11 Silicea, No. 22 Calcium carbonicum, and No. 5 potassium phosphoricum are often prescribed.

Homeopathy also has various helpers at hand. Sodium muriaticum, China, Chamomilla, Acidum phosphoricum, Ignatia and Natrum muriaticum are some of the many remedies that can be taken if you lose your appetite. China, for example, is often given when a patient doesn't want to eat after a long illness. Chamomilla is often given for loss of appetite in connection with inner restlessness or nervousness. If grief and worry are in the foreground, Ignatia is the method of choice.

Essential oils can have a very positive effect on the hunger center through their action through the sense of smell. A few drops of anise, bergamot, ginger, coriander, caraway, origanum, sage or lemon in the fragrance lamp enrich the air with an appetizing fragrance.

General tips

If you suffer from anorexia, you should always eat when you feel like it, and above all what you like. Of course, this is not a permanent solution, especially if it only consumes unhealthy food.

Ginger water can be drunk all day long to stimulate appetite. Even a glass of grapefruit juice has a stimulating effect on the taste buds due to its bitter substances.

An appealing, calm environment and a lovingly prepared meal and enough time are the prerequisites for a healthy appetite. People who are alone and therefore have no desire to eat can team up with friends or acquaintances and prepare something delicious together and then enjoy it in a nice, happy atmosphere. Exercise in the fresh air contributes to an increased appetite. Sweet drinks should be avoided, and instead, enough non-carbonated water should be drunk.

Loss of appetite is a serious symptom. Especially if this lasts for a long time and is also accompanied by weight loss. Feeling hungry and the desire to eat are important and life-sustaining. A good meal that tastes really good is a piece of quality of life. (sw)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Susanne Waschke, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Lieselotte Hartmann: Expertise for stomach and intestines in the pharmacy, Springer, 2012
  • Jürgen Stein; Till Wehrmann: Functional diagnostics in gastroenterology: medical standards, Springer, 2006
  • Professional Association of Pediatricians e. V .: (access: 07/27/2019), loss of appetite
  • Regine Brand: Anorexia: causes, backgrounds and therapeutic approaches for anorexia nervosa using case studies, Diplomica Verlag, 2010
  • Kirsten Khaschei: Stomach and intestine: healing, alleviating, avoiding complaints, Stiftung Warentest, 2013
  • Jutta Hübner: Diagnosis of cancer ... which helps me now: Use complementary therapies sensibly, Schattauer, 2011
  • Francesco Landi; Anna Picca; Riccardo Calvani; Emanuele Marzetti: "Anorexia of Aging: Assessment and Management", in: Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, Volume 33 Issure 3, 2017, NCBI

Video: Anxiety and Loss of Appetite (September 2022).


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