One unanticipated impact of cancer is weight loss, which affects as many as 40 percent of cancer patients, and is not necessarily a side effect of conventional treatment protocols. While some patients may welcome shedding a few pounds as they treat their cancer, weight loss can also be a sign the body is struggling to heal. As many as 80 percent of advanced cancer patients experience weight loss in combination with wasting. This side effect, known as cachexia, may be dangerous for many patients because it combines weight loss and the loss of muscle mass—possibly anorexia and anemia as well.
Causes of Cachexia
At one time, cachexia was blamed solely on a decrease in appetite (you eat less) and an increase in your metabolism (you burn more). We now know it’s more than that. Cancer actually messes with your metabolism to a greater extent than previously thought, turning it from its anabolic state (which builds muscle) to a catabolic state (which breaks down muscle). Your resting metabolic rate goes up, and eating doesn’t fill the demand. To be more precise, your body’s immune cells – in reaction to the cancer – release cytokines and polypeptides believed to alter the metabolism and cause the wasting.
This energy deficit forces your body to turn to your muscles, internal organs and fat for nutrients. This depletion of the body – which can be made worse if the patient is also suffering from other side effects of traditional therapies – causes the body to look like it’s “wasting away.”
Risks of Cachexia
Weight loss is often a good thing for many people, but for cancer patients it can have a devastating impact. Cachexia can often cause side effects of its own, including anemia, weakness, fatigue, inflammation, emotional distress and many more.
Plus, the loss of muscle mass caused by cachexia is not limited to the skeletal muscles. A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Oncology showed the damage can also extend to the heart. Researchers studied mice and found signs of damage in the muscle tissue, including an increase in fibrous tissue and changes in the cells’ mitochondria. Martha Belury, lead author and professor, explains:
“The mitochondria looked pretty bad, almost as if they were breaking apart. And we also saw evidence of the precursors of scarring, or collagen formation, which you don’t want to see in any type of muscle and especially not in the heart muscle.”
Treatment of Cachexia
Cachexia is a huge challenge for any form of medicine, but adding more toxic agents into the body can only make matters worse. Instead, here at Hope4Cancer we focus first and foremost on stopping the progress of the cancer, rebuilding the immune system and detoxifying the body. By targeting our efforts on the root cause of the side effect, we can work on healing the body overall.
Of course, correct nutrition is a fundamental first step to restoring the body. Our Full Spectrum Nutrition program includes a dietary intake of foods that contain a balance of compounds present in fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, fish and plenty of alkaline water. A number of studies have also shown that omega-3 fatty acids may have a positive effect on a body suffering from cachexia, and medical marijuana has also shown promise. Finally, exercise is so important for the cancer patient in every stage of treatment, and research has shown physical activity also has a healing effect on muscle wasting.
As with many aspects of health, prevention is the key. Cancer patients should be monitored their muscle mass early in their healing process so the proper steps can be taken to prevent any damage to the body from cachexia. Hope4Cancer stands ready to help you or your loved one heal from cancer and return to a state of health!