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General characteristics

General characteristics

Anorexia  literally means 'loss of appetite'. Appetite loss is rarely a problem when it is temporary but becomes an issue when it happens for prolonged periods. The condition anorexia nervosa refers to the extreme form where food is declined to the point of near starvation. It is a complicated picture, often involving depression and poor body image consciousness (due to societal or familial pressures for example), which then becomes exacerbated by metabolic changes and nutritional deficiencies which lessen the appetite further.
A deficiency of the mineral zinc is both a causative factor and also a side effect of anorexia. One of zincs many roles in the body is to activate a chemical within the brain that is responsible for stimulating the appetite. When zinc levels are low the desire for food tends to be much lower.
Vitamin B1 rapidly becomes depleted when nutrition is poor and symptoms of B1 deficency mirror some of those in anorexia e.g lack of appetite, sleep disturbances, low self asteem, depression, anxiety, digestive problems.
If left untreated the body suffers the effects of starvation such as weak heart and circulation, anaemia, kidney and liver damage, menstrual abnormalities and infertility, loss of muscle and bone mass, teeth decay etc.
See also weight loss.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

This is obviously a delicate matter as most anorexics will be completely obsessed with food intake. Small, regular and nutrient high meals should be taken with no snacking in between meals.

If you are taking laxatives or diuretics (so called 'water tablets') it is very important that you stop as soon as you can. Both laxatives and diuretics cause an imbalance of salts and can have long lasting deleterious effects on your body.

The body of someone suffering from anorexia will need a diet high in protein rich foods such as whole grains, meat, fish, and shellfish.

If you are a vegetarian then you need to include plenty of dairy products in the diet to provide adequate protein.

Eat foods rich in vitamin B1 (Thiamine). See 'vitamins' in the natural healing section of this site for a list.

Foods rich in zinc will help restore the appetite. Those foods containing the most zinc include pumpkin seeds (eat a couple of handfuls a day), walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, olives, squashes and pumpkins, oysters and other shellfish, artichokes, avocados, tomatoes, spinach, all legumes (peas, beans, lentils, peanuts), yoghurt and whole grains. Refined grains and flours are not so good as a zinc source.

If eating solid foods is difficult then make soups or casseroles that are packed with nutritious foods and use freshly squeezed friut or vegetable juices. carrot and apple is a very good all round health juice.

Exercise needs to be very gentle like walking, swimming or yoga. Avoid any extreme exertion like running and cycling that may exhaust precious energy reserves.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Herbs which will stimulate the appetite and encourage healthier eating patterns include burdock root, holy thistle, centaury, dandelion root, angelica root and gentian. These remedies will also positively affect the digestive process and ensure that maximum nutritional benefit is derived from the foods ingested. Herbs such as these contain bitter components which act either directly or indirectly on the part of the brain concerned with appetite.

A few drops of cascara tincture can help to stimulate the digestive processes,

Chamomile has a bitter action, so helps increase appetite yet also has a strong relaxing and calming effect on the nerves. This makes it very useful as a gentle but powerful ally in the case of many illnesses with combined symptoms of a nervous and digestive nature.
Daily nettle and alfalfa tea will provide key nutrients to the body in liquid form which is very easy on the digestive system and rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Use a handful in a pot and drink throughout the day.
Fennel seed tea is nourishing on a physical and emotional level and makes a great tea combined with equal parts of chamomile.
Fenugreek seeds can help to improve to both the appetite and encourage sometimes rapid weight gain. A teapoon of crushed seeds can be taken as a tea up to 3 times daily for this purpose.
Herbs to help with depression and anxiety can be found under the appropriate heading in the common ailments section of this site.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Regular sessions with a therapist or healer will help to address the root cause of any emotional problems which contribute to the condition.
Find a group where you can exchange stories and encouragement with other sufferers.
Brewers yeast or a good B vitamin complex supplement will feed the body and particularly the nervous system.
Certain yoga postures are good for firing up the appetite and you can also benefit from its positive influence on the mind and emotions.
Take a good quality zinc supplement and stick to the recommended dose.

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