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While excess body fat is often blamed for up to 20 per cent of all deaths from cancer1, the fact remains that many people living with cancer and undergoing conventional cancer treatments sometimes find themselves facing the opposite problem-how to gain weight or at least prevent further weight loss.

Cancer can often cause a drastic change in one's metabolism, making a healthy body weight very difficult to maintain. This loss of weight referred to as cachexia or wasting syndrome, affects both body fat and lean muscle mass. It is believed to be caused by increased inflammatory messengers as well as tumour-derived factors that cause appetite suppression, and an overall hyper-catabolic (wasting) state.

The fact is, weight loss-especially from muscle-shortens the survival time of cancer patients. The key is to find effective natural ways to help the patient gain body weight, extend patient survival and improve quality of life.2,3

Here are some research-proven methods to help maintain and regain healthy weight:

  • Ensure an adequate diet by consuming between five and eight mini-meals each day.
  • Use high quality cold-processed whey isolates to maintain adequate protein intake, as the essential amino acids will help maintain protein stores and counteract muscle wasting.4
  • Pick foods that contain the most calories but are still nutritious, such as organic seeds and nuts. Instead of filling up on low-calorie dense foods-like soup and salad-consume the most calorie-dense portion of your meals first.
  • Avoid highly refined "white" foods, excess sugars and hydrogenated trans fats. In 1995, the Nobel laureate Otto Warburg, Ph.D., discovered that cancer cells thrive in a high sugar environment and actually use the extra glucose as a primary fuel source.5 Many of the most medically endorsed weight gain liquid formulas are loaded with sugars such as pure sucrose, corn maltodextrin and corn syrup.
  • According to research presented in the International Journal of Gastrointestinal Cancer in 2003, high grade fish oils may reverse some aspects of cachexia.6 Other research from the Pharmaceutical Sciences Research Institute in Birmingham, UK, indicates that the fatty acid EPA is the only natural agent that can interfere with the action of a tumour factor called PIF, believed to be a major cause of muscle wasting.7 Studies published in Nutrition and Cancer in 2000 suggest that two grams of EPA may be needed daily to help counteract weight loss.8
  • Consume plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables. These foods exert their protective actions upon cells through their unique antioxidant activity, which has been shown through myriad research to be much more effective than individual antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.9

Since cachexia is associated with almost 50 percent of cancers, it is important to know your options when dealing with this complication. It is comforting to know that there are many natural ways to help maintain a healthy body weight in the face of disease.

  1. Calle EE, Rodriguez C, Walker-Thurmond K, Thun MJ.; Overweight, obesity, and mortality from cancer in a prospectively studied cohort of U.S. adults. N Engl J Med. 2003 Apr 24;348(17):1625-38.
  2. Inui A. Pathogenesis and treatment of cancer anorexia-cachexia, with special emphasis on aged patients. Nippon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi. 2004 Sep;41(5):460-7.
  3. Kwak KS, et al. Regulation of protein catabolism by muscle-specific and cytokine-inducible ubiquitin ligase E3alpha-II during cancer cachexia. Cancer Res. 2004 Nov 15;64(22):8193-8.
  4. Pasini E, Aquilani R, Dioguardi FS. Amino acids: chemistry and metabolism in normal and hypercatabolic states. Am J Cardiol. 2004 Apr 22;93(8A):3A-5A.
  5. Warburg O. On the origin of cancer cells. Science 1956 Feb;123:309-14.
  6. Brown TT, Zelnik DL, Dobs AS. Fish oil supplementation in the treatment of cachexia in pancreatic cancer patients. Int J Gastrointest Cancer. 2003;34(2-3):143-50.
  7. Tisdale MJ. Cancer cachexia. Langenbecks Arch Surg. 2004 Aug;389(4):299-305. Epub 2004 May 28.
  8. Wigmore SJ, Barber MD, Ross JA, et al: Effect of oral eicosapentaenoic acid on weight loss in patients with pancreatic cancer. Nutr Cancer 2000;36:177-184
  9. International Symposium "Biology and Pathology of Free Radicals: Plant and Wine Polyphenol Antioxidants." Catholic University, Santiago, Chile. July 29-30, 1999.

Brad King, MS, MFS

Brad King is a highly sought after authority on nutrition, obesity, longevity and one’s health and he has been touted as one of the most influential health mentors of our time.

He is an award winning nutritional formulator and was honored with the Best in Canada Award for Health Motivator/Educator and Public Speaker in 2010, was inducted into the Canadian Sports Nutrition Hall of Fame in 2003 and sits on the board of Directors for CHI the premiere sports nutrition education center.

Brad is the author of 10 books including the international best seller, Fat Wars 45 Days to Transform Your Body, the award winning Beer Belly Blues: What Every Aging Man and the Women in His Life Need to Know and his newly released The Ultimate Male Solution.

Brad is a leading health expert having appeared on NBC, ABC and CBS, some of these interviews include: The Today Show, Canada AM, Balance TV, Macleans, Oxygen, The National Post, Chatelaine and Live with Marcus and Lisa.