Loss of appetite: why does it happen?

Loss of appetite for a day or two may mean nothing. But if you've already had several weeks or months without appetite, you need to see a doctor to rule out any physical or mental problems. Not eating properly can lead to weight loss, frailty, mobility difficulties, and even, in severe cases, death from malnutrition (1,2).

Here we tell you about its possible causes and how it relates to menopause. You will also find some recommendations to improve your appetite. 

Possible causes of loss of appetite

Lack of appetite may be due to physical conditions or even mental problems. The main causes are (1,2):

  • Advanced age, because of slower bowel movements.
  • Inherited conditions affecting the lungs and pancreas.
  • Use of some medications that suppress appetite.
  • Drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs.
  • Getting infections such as a cold, flu, or stomach virus.
  • Illnesses that make breathing difficult, such as asthma.
  • Stomach problems such as acid reflux, stomach pain, constipation, or indigestion.
  • Loss of smell, which can make food less appealing.
  • Problems with the mouth or teeth that make it difficult to swallow or chew food.
  • Having undergone surgery or being hospitalised.
  • Diseases of the digestive system such as colitis, gallstones, and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Hormonal problems such as diabetes or hypothyroidism.
  • Some cancers or their treatments.

In addition, feeling stressed, anxious, or sad can also lead to loss of appetite. In this sense, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can have an impact on food intake (2).

Relationship to menopause

To understand the relationship between loss of appetite and menopause it is important to look at this period of life from all angles (3).

In principle, the fall in oestrogen levels does not produce a lack of appetite. On the contrary, there may be an increase in food intake and a tendency to become overweight. However, menopausal women may experience mood changes that lead to poor appetite. They may also have age-related slower digestion and may be taking certain appetite altering medications (2,3).

loss of apetite 2

Warning signs

Not eating for a long time can be bad for your health. If you suddenly don't want to eat and you don't know why, it is important to talk to your doctor. Some warning signs are (4):

  • You have a loss of appetite for more than a week.
  • You lose a lot of weight all at once.
  • You feel tired, weak, nauseous, have a racing heart or are irritable.

Recommendations for coping with loss of appetite

Here are some tips to help you stimulate your appetite and eat well during menopause (5,6):

  • Don't skip meals, set a fixed eating schedule and stick to it.
  • Choose more nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables with different vitamins and minerals.
  • Eat more food on days when you feel like eating more.
  • Eat in a pleasant environment or with a loved one to help you feel more motivated.
  • A pleasant environment can make eating more appealing.
  • Try smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Eat what you like most of the time.
  • Drink enough water every day.
  • Be physically active to stimulate your appetite.
  • Talk to your loved ones when you feel sad, scared, or stressed.

Loss of appetite can occur at any stage of life and due to multiple causes. It is important to consult your doctor to find out what is causing it. And, of course, make an effort to eat even when you don't feel like it, so that you can avoid future complications. Try these simple tips to stimulate your appetite.

Bibliographical references

  1. Nagaraj S. Loss of Appetite in Adult Patients: Effectiveness and Safety of an Appetite Stimulating Medication in an Open-Label, Investigator-Initiated Study in India. J Nutr Metab. 2022 2022:2661912. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8759923/

  1. de Souto Barreto P, Cesari M, Morley JE, Roberts S, Landi F, Cederholm T, Rolland Y, Vellas B, Fielding R. Appetite Loss and Anorexia of Aging in Clinical Care: An ICFSR Task Force Report. J Frailty Aging. 2022 11(2):129-134. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8898654/

  1. Vigil P, Meléndez J, Petkovic G, Del Río JP. The importance of estradiol for body weight regulation in women. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2022 13:951186. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9677105/

  1. Cleveland Clinic. Loss of appetite. . 2022 Available from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/24228-loss-of-appetite

  1. NHS. Do you have a small appetite? . 2022 Available from https://www.nbt.nhs.uk/our-services/a-z-services/nutrition-dietetics/nutrition-dietetics-patient-information/do-you-have-a-small-appetite

  1. NHS. Poor Appetite. . 2022 Available from https://www.bfwh.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/PL801.pdf