Have you lost weight since the cancer prognosis and think that this is not bad or maybe even beneficial because you have long wanted to lose a few pounds anyway? Please believe us; counteracting unwanted weight loss has the highest priority! It would help if you had every kilo to fight the disease. Do not accept weight loss as usual or harmless.
You may have lost weight before the diagnosis, and the illness and treatment-related symptoms make it difficult for you to eat and digest your food. What you may not realize, however, is that with this weight loss, your immune system is weakened at the same time, making you more susceptible to viruses and infections. Also, your body starts to lose muscles, and you get weaker. You may need to stop therapy or not be able to have surgery. Wound healing deteriorates, and hospital stays become longer. Sooner or later, this will worsen your prognosis.
What Is Malnutrition In Cancer?
Malnutrition is one of the most underrated dangers of cancer.
The Most Important Facts At A Glance:
- When the body does not get enough energy, protein, and nutrients, it loses weight, and muscle mass is broken down.
- Even a 5% reduction in body weight within three months carries the risk of malnutrition. For a person weighing 70 kg, that’s just 3.5 kg.
- According to the Center for Cancer Registry Data at the Robert Koch Institute, around 220,000 people die of cancer each year in Germany. Experts and scientists estimate that one in four of them died due to malnutrition and not from the tumor itself.
Malnutrition describes a deficit of energy, protein, and other nutrients. If the energy and protein requirements are not adequately met, this manifests itself in weight loss. Unintentional weight loss is accompanied by reduced muscle mass and must always be taken seriously – regardless of the initial weight. Even a 5% reduction in body weight within three months carries the risk of malnutrition, and you lose valuable strength in the fight against cancer. For a 70 kg person, 5% of the body weight is just 3.5 kg.
The fact is that cancer patients are often malnourished at the time of diagnosis. The frequency depends on the stage, type, and location of the tumor and can be as much as 30% to 80% for certain types of cancer. In particular, patients with tumors in the digestive organs or the lungs often lose weight within a short period.
Malnutrition occurs when the body does not receive enough energy, protein, and nutrients.
Food intake can be reduced by:
- Problems in the mouth and throat
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea / vomiting
- chronic pain
- long breaks due to medical examinations/operations
- psychological problems
- other side effects of therapy
- unnecessary food restrictions
Poor nutritional status leads to an increase in complaints and complications, which creates a vicious cycle. There are also changes in the metabolism of patients with cancer. If less food is consumed, the body runs on the “back burner” in a healthy person. This means that the body uses energy more efficiently when less energy is available.
However, this change does not occur in oncological patients. Cancer is a consuming disease and is usually associated with disease-related inflammation and an increased energy requirement. These metabolic changes lead to an accelerated breakdown of muscle and fat mass and a more difficult force build-up.
The consequences of malnutrition are manifold and can significantly influence the course of the disease and the quality of life. Common consequences are:
- A worse effect of therapy
- More side effects
- Weakened immune system
- More infections
- Poorer wound healing
- Longer and more frequent hospital stays
- Muscle loss, reduced performance, lack of strength, and restricted mobility
- Increased discontinuation or interruption of therapy
- Decreased quality of life
- Worse prognosis
How Do You Recognize Malnutrition?
Malnutrition can be recognized by weight loss and muscle breakdown. However, many patients do not notice the weight loss of 5% or more within three months or even look forward to shedding excess pounds.
5% Body Weight Is Not Much:
- with an initial weight of 60 kg, that’s 3 kg
- at 80 kg, it is 4 kg
- at 100 kilograms, it is 5 kg
Those Who Are Malnourished Often Don’t Look Like That At All!
Another problem is that many people do not weigh themselves regularly and therefore do not have their weight history in mind. Then these questions will help:
- Are belts or pants looser than they used to be?
- Do I eat less than usual?
- Do I have diarrhea or vomiting?
- Have I developed an aversion to certain foods?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you may also be at increased risk of malnutrition.
What Can I Do About Weight Loss And Malnutrition?
- Keep the weight as stable as possible
- Consume as much energy and nutrients as possible, even if that means eating “unhealthy” – every bite counts!
When And How Often Should I Eat?
You can learn a lot about WHEN and HOW OFTEN you eat. Basic principle: always eat when you can.
- Eat small, high-energy meals several times a day (every 2-3 hours).
- Imagine an alarm clock that reminds you to have a bite to eat several times a day.
- Eat late, too, before bed. How to reduce the fasting phases.
- Eat the most at the time of day that you feel best. Here you can incorporate your favorite dishes. Disregard conventions: If you fancy spaghetti in the morning or muesli in the evening, that’s fine!
Which Foods Help Me To Keep My Weight As Stable As Possible?
When it comes to food selection, the more calories in one bite, the better. Therefore, many of the tips are precisely the opposite of what is generally recommended as a healthy diet. Don’t let that unsettle you. Your body needs the energy right now!
- Choose high-calorie foods
- full-fat dairy products (e.g., cream yogurt, quark 40% fat in dry matter, butter)
- high-fat sausages and cheeses (e.g., Lyoner, salami, Camembert 60% fat in dry matter, double cream cheese)
- Nuts, snacks, biscuits, confectionery, energy balls, smoothies, dried fruits, avocado, etc., are good in-between and snacks on the go.
- Drink high-calorie beverages such as fruit juices, lemonades, milkshakes, cocoa, etc. Drink only a little during meals, as more significant amounts of liquid increase the feeling of satiety.
- Reduce the consumption of foods that are very high in fiber, as these are very filling. For example, instead of whole-grain bread, it is better to choose white bread, baguette, toast, bread roll, etc. You can probably eat a slice more of these bread/pastries and thus absorb even more calories through the topping.
- Compare food packs in the supermarket and always prefer the higher-calorie variant. The differences between comparable products are sometimes astonishing.
- Avoid light or reduced-fat products and choose high-calorie alternatives instead.
- Eat what you can tolerate and what you feel like eating, even if this does not correspond to a “healthy” diet. Weight stabilization and mental wellbeing are currently in the foreground.
- Reduce previous dietary restrictions (as far as medically possible, in consultation with your doctor). Remember that food cannot cure or promote cancer.
- Eat cooked foods rather than raw vegetables. The body can then absorb the nutrients better.
Also Read: 10 Rules For Healthy & Balanced Diet
How Can I Enrich My Food?
Fortifying means adding extra calories and protein to your food.
- Suitable for enriching soup, sauce, and porridge: butter, cream, mascarpone, sour cream, creme fraiche, vegetable oils, peanut butter, almond butter – everything with a lot of fat and many calories.
- Addition of high-calorie components: e.g., a combination of vegetables with hearty sauces, gratinating dishes with cheese, bread dumplings with bacon, yogurt with nuts, and raisins.
- Addition of protein-rich components: eggs, dairy products (preferably full-fat, e.g., cream yogurt or Greek yogurt), diced bacon, salmon, herring, meat.
- Sometimes this enrichment is not enough. If you have already lost 5% or more of your body weight or can only eat a little, sip food and energy powder from the pharmacy are very helpful. You can even get a prescription from your doctor!
If you’ve lost a lot of weight or don’t want to stop losing weight, sip feed is your secret weapon.
Drinking food (“astronaut food”) is available with very high energy and nutrient density and can thus facilitate the absorption of sufficient calories. You can find detailed information about sip food in the chapter sip food. Here, you will also find practical tips on using sip feed and integrating it into your diet.
- You can add neutral-tasting sippy food anywhere like cream – even in hearty dishes and sauces.
- You can enrich, for example, milkshakes or smoothies with fruity varieties.
- Hardy varieties can, for example, form the basis for soups.
- Energy and protein powder can also be used for enrichment. These can be stirred into liquid and pulpy foods (e.g., yogurts, milkshakes, soups, cream dishes, semolina porridge, etc.).
What Can I Do To Maintain A Stable Weight In My Everyday Life?
Your surroundings can also be designed in such a way that you eat more and more frequently.
- The eye eats with you: A nicely set table and lovingly arranged dishes can improve food intake (e.g., a candle and nice plates and napkins). Garnish the food with fresh herbs (parsley, chives, etc.), for example.
- Eat with your family or friends. Studies have shown that we eat more in the company.
- Watching an excellent movie, listening to music, or reading something at the same time may help you to eat more.
- Distribute high-calorie snacks around the apartment so that something is always within reach.
Also Read: The 19 Foods Richest In Vitamin E