Eli5: how does cancer cachexia relate to diet?

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Eli5: how does cancer cachexia relate to diet?

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Cachexia is the loss of normal body tissues, such as muscle and fat, resulting from an uncontrolled medical condition. Cancer, especially when advanced, is one of the conditions that can result in cachexia.

Although different conditions can lead to cachexia, the underlying problem is the same in each case: the body (including the cancer cells, for example) is using more nutrients than are being taken in through the person’s diet. These nutrients are responsible for maintaining the health and size of muscle and fat stores, and for the normal function of the body’s organs.

When the nutrients are in short supply for an extended period of time, important parts of the body cannot function properly (for example, muscles necessary for coughing) or cannot be repaired when they break down (for example, the skin).

Clinicians (doctors, nurses, dieticians, etc.) place a high emphasis on diet for people with cachexia in order to try to improve this balance between the body’s nutrient needs and nutrient intake. If the person with the medical condition can increase the amounts of fat, protein, and vitamins through their diet, they can slow or even reverse the loss of body tissues.

It can be difficult to take in enough nutrients through “regular” food and drink, especially if a person is dealing with the effects of disease or treatment. This is why nutritional supplements like protein shakes (which often contain lots of fat and vitamins) are often recommended.

In summary, diet is not the cause of cachexia. However, a healthy diet, often including the use of dietary supplements, is an important part of treating cachexia. Treating the underlying medical condition is the other part. I hope this is helpful.