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Loss of appetite is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Not eating can result in dangerous weight loss. On this page are some tips that have been learned through trial-by-fire with my daughter, who is being treated for not_hungry_sketch_by_dkundzinsh-d6nukzu1Leukemia. Please know that I am not a medical doctor, nor medically trained in any way. Included are suggestions from other patients and survivors.


Here is a tip given to me by a retired [1] oncology nurse regarding appetite. “Ask her physician about giving your daughter zinc as a potential appetite stimulant. Chemotherapy tends to lower zinc levels in the body, which is what helps us to appreciate the taste of food. We had noticed that with adult patients the sense of taste had actually improved (from taking a zinc supplement) but sometimes fatigue would still lower overall interest in eating.”

Here is an excerpt about Zinc from the National Institutes of Health.

Zinc is a nutrient that people need to stay healthy. Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. The body also needs zinc to make proteins and DNA, the genetic material in all cells. During pregnancy, infancy, and childhood, the body needs zinc to grow and develop properly. Zinc also helps wounds heal and is important for proper senses of taste and smell. (Emphasis added.)

It took months before I found out about Zinc, got approval to give it to her in a low dose and the result was amazing. She was given 10 mg and kept at that dose. Since I could not find the right dose I had to buy a larger dose tablet and cut it into quarters to approximate the amount. It is very important to start with the lowest dose possible because Zinc if given too much can cause stomach upset and burning.
Within one day of Zinc supplementation Kayla started to eat again!

Protein Shakes

Something that really seemed to help was to prepare a protein shake for Kayla with Jay Robb Protein powder. Our Chinese doctor recommended egg white protein in particular, stating that it was the easiest protein for the body to absorb with the least amount of work. Jay Robb Egg White Protein Powder is delicious and only sweetened with stevia. It does not clump at all, an added bonus because textures, clumps can be a trigger for nausea.

Once I figured out what combinations of ingredients worked for her, the shake seemed to help her appetite and she started to eat again. We did very small portions that she slowly sipped.

Jay Robb protein powders are available through health food stores or their eggvan24-Bag_250web site at you can also call their number 1-877-529-7622 for customer service and they will send you samples of the protein powders to try. This way you can see what flavors you like.


Our doctor told me to incorporate spices into Kayla’s food because the chemo makes the sense of taste change drastically. She said to try garlic powder and other spices to see if that would help. It worked like a charm. For Kayla it was garlic powder along with salt and pepper. This made eggs palatable to her and was one of the few food that she would eat.

Natural Appetite Stimulants

Papaya is naturally loaded with enzymes that may help with a lack of Carica_papaya_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-029appetite.

Remember the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away? Apples are a great snack with fiber, antioxidants and many other vitamins in small amounts. If you are having trouble eating try cutting up an apple and slowly taking small bites. Experiment with different types of apples until you find one that suits you.

Barley is thought to stimulate appetite. The Original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book has recipes especially prepared for the sick. The barley recipe is one of them and the recipe is as follows:

Barley Water

3 tablespoons of pearl barley         91BquXyOnHL

4 cups of cold water

lemon juice (optional)

Xylitol instead of sugar – available through (I made the substitution of xylitol.)

Pick over barley and soak in water overnight, or for several hours. Boil gently one and one-half hours. Strain; season with salt, lemon juice, and xylitol. Re-heat and serve.

Another way to use the barley is to heat in the same fashion, strain and add it to warm almond or coconut milk with xylitol to sweeten. This is very delicious. The cooked barley can also be blended and made into a cereal. Just add an alternative milk and sweeten.


Oranges are extremely beneficial for low blood sugar, which is a by-product of not eating. Fresh squeezed orange juice or fresh oranges may help to stimulate the flow of digestive juices and thus help in improving digestion and appetite. If patient skips too many meals the blood sugar plummets and nausea sets in. Squeeze a small amount of fresh orange juice and sip a teaspoon at a time every 15 minutes. We have used this with success many times. Note, this does not work with bottled juice that has been sitting, it only works with fresh made juice because when the juice goes into the system becomes alkaline and this is why it is helpful.

Ginger: Ginger has certain elements that may help you regain your lost appetite. For the full recipe go to

At your local health food store there are ginger candy and lozenges that work great for the stomach and possibly appetite.

Small Meals

Small meals are better than large meals when there is difficulty eating. Our Traditionally trained Chinese doctor recommended vegetable and meat stews. He said they are easier to digest. Even a broth from this meal would be helpful.

I cannot tell you how many trips we made to the grocery store trying to find something that was palatable to our daughter during treatment. All I can say is that you have to keep trying and if nothing works at least do protein shakes as protein is the building block of all cells.

Things to Avoid

Try to stay away from heavy meals that are high in fat such as fried foods, fast foods and packaged foods. Usually these contain added sodium, preservatives and additives, which should not be consumed by an ill patient. Greasy and fatty meals stay in the stomach longer, are harder to digest and are considered a trigger to nausea. Try to eat fresh, simple foods.


Every time Kayla was not eating she also did not want to drink, which can become dangerous. The patient must drink! Alacer Corporation manufactures an excellent electrolyte drink called Electro-mix. It comes in a green box and contains 36 packets. One packet is placed in a 32 ounce container of water. What makes this product so good is the fact that there is no added sugar and the price is very reasonable for the amount of product you get. Each box is $11.99 and the box will make over 1000 ounces of electrolyte water.

No claims are made here regarding appetite or health. This is just a good product that we used a lot during heavy treatment. We made sure to get approval from our oncologist before using this product.

If you would like more information on this electrolyte drink to show to your doctor go to

An alternative to try would be Pedialyte, an electrolyte drink made for babies and available through a local drug store, just get the unflavored so that you are avoiding added colors and sugars.

It takes creative energy to figure out all the things that accompany cancer. But we have found, that with persistence, ingenuity, and drive, most hurdles can be overcome.



1. Illustration of no appetite courtesy of

2. Francis Farmer Cook Book from Amazon

Copyright © 2018 Deb Witter