Appetite is a curious phenomenon, working on various levels. On the one hand, there is the physical sensation when the stomach has well digested the last meal, and is ready for another - though this should more properly be called hunger. Appetite is a function of the mind, and is affected by many factors other than the fullness or emptiness of the stomach. For example, the sight or smell of food can stimulate appetite even when we are not hungry (just try walking past a baker's in the early morning!) Even reading about food can do the same. At a deeper level, appetite can be affected by mental/emotional factors such as stress, anxiety, depression and shock. This is not surprising when we take into account that appetite is regulated by the hypothalamus, at the base of the brain, which is closely linked with those areas of the brain associated with the emotions, and in many respects acts as a link between the mind and body.
What is harder to understand is why such diverse mental states can have the same effect on the appetite, or why similar emotional/mental states can have directly opposite effects on different individuals. A young girl may 'go off her food' because she is deliriously in love, or because her boyfriend has jilted her. Her father may be pushing his plate away untouched because he is desperately worried about the threat of redundancy, while his wife is secretly stuffing cream buns and chocolate to allay her anxiety about the same threat. To say nothing of the effects of Anorexia.
The aromatherapist's response to an individual with a disturbed eating pattern must be holistic. It is important to look at the whole person and his/her deeper needs, and to try to help him/her to work through the feelings of insecurity, depression, anxiety or whatever seems to be causing the abnormal shift in appetite. Any of the anti-depressant oils may be appropriate, depending on the individual's personality and needs, and sensitive use of massage can help to restore the individual to a comfortable relationship with his or her body, if a disturbed self-image is at the root of the trouble.
If the appetite is temporarily decreased, such as in convalescence, it is a relatively simple matter to stimulate it by using essential oils. Camomile, Cardamon, Hyssop and Bergamot are all known to help with loss of appetite. Fennel is given by some authorities as a stimulator of appetite, while others state the opposite. Roman soldiers used to chew Fennel seeds to stave off hunger pangs on long marches, when they had no time to stop and eat, and I have done the same when dieting. The answer to this apparent contradiction, is that Fennel, like many essential oils, has a balancing and normalising effect, rather than specifically decreasing or increasing appetite.
A similar situation is seen with Bergamot. as already mentioned it is used to stimulate appetite, but it is also used to help compulsive eaters. Bergamot is one of our most powerful allies in helping people with depression and anxiety. As well as being antidepressant, it is described, very accurately, as being 'uplifting'. So, if we use Bergamot as a massage oil, personal perfume or bath oil we can gently work on the underlying causes of the disturbed eating pattern.
Just occasionally, loss of appetite may be linked to previous bad eating habits, and a fast to rid the body of toxins might be a good start to the treatment, followed by dietary advice and appetite-stimulating essential oils for a very short period.
Herbal remedies to stimulate lack of appetite
Stimulate appetite with green foods, particularly alfalfa, which is a nutritious herbal appetite stimulant. Used as an ingredient in many herbal remedies, alfalfa will help restore lost vitamins and minerals while helping you to regain the desire to eat. Take alfalfa capsules daily, add alfalfa power to juice and soup and add alfalfa sprouts to salads.
Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as you can to increase your intake of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamins E. Often poor digestion and lack of appetite is caused by a deficiency in these vitamins, so adding juice, fruits and vegetables to your diet can naturally restore your appetite.
Take supplements of zinc and folic acid, minerals needed to stimulate taste and smell. Often lack of these important minerals in your regular diet can directly affect your appetite. Consult your doctor if you have been taking contraceptive pills for a long period of time, and ask about a new medication, as birth control pills often cause deficiencies of zinc and folic acid in women.
Drink green tea at least 1/2 hour before meals to help stimulate appetite and restore vitamins and minerals your body needs. Green tea is recommended for many herbal remedies and has a number of natural curative elements. Bitter teas are proven to help increase appetite, while green tea is gentle on the stomach, rich in antioxidants and has a number of beneficial side effects.
Make chamomile tea daily if your lack of appetite is brought on by stress or anxiety. Camomile tea is readily available in tea bags, or you can make fresh herbal tea by boiling one cup of water and removing from heat. Add one teaspoon of fresh chamomile and allow to steep for five minutes before straining and drinking.
To suppress the Apetite
One of the biggest challenges when trying to lose weight is finding ways to suppress your appetite. There are several over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help you reach your target weight. These include noradrenergics, such as lonamin and Adipex-P, and antidepressants, such as sertraline. Unfortunately, these drugs have many side effects, including nervousness, insomnia and nausea. If you want to suppress your appetite a more natural way, try one of these herbal remedies.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a natural appetite suppressant. You can buy fennel seeds at many health food stores. It's also available as a supplement and in tea form. In addition to reducing hunger, fennel is used to treat colic, irritable bowel syndrome, amenorrhoea, arthritis, angina and heartburn. It's sometimes prescribed to cancer patients after radiation and chemotherapy to strengthen their digestive system. This should not be confused with Fennel Essential Oil featured on this website.
Malabar tamarind (Gareinia cantbogia) is a fruit commonly found throughout southern India. It's used extensively in Indian cuisine. The dry form of the fruit is an appetite suppressant, as well as an effective lipogenic inhibitor. It helps prevent the production of fat. The key ingredient is hydroxycitric acid, which has been shown to inhibit the production of fat in animals. The recommended daily dosage is 500 mg, taken three times a day.
Guarana (Paullinia cupana) comes from Brazil. The seeds have been used to treat everything from diarrhea to arthritis and hangovers. It's also an effective appetite suppressant. Guarana seeds contain twice as much caffeine as coffee beans. Many people use concentrated guarana supplements to reduce fatigue in the same way others would drink a cup of coffee. Appetite suppression and increasing metabolic rate are two side effects.
Like guarana seeds, the kola nut contains a high concentration of caffeine. Found in parts of North Africa, it was once used to flavor cola drinks. It's now used to aid digestion, increase energy and reduce fatigue. It's a natural appetite suppressant. However, it can also be addictive and should only be taken in moderation. It should not be used by women who are pregnant.
A Word of Advice
As with all herbal remedies, you should discuss them with your doctor. Just because something is natural, doesn't necessarily mean that it's safe. For example, the Food and Drug Administration recently banned ephedra, a popular appetite suppressant, because of a high risk of poisoning. Certain herbs may interact negatively with each other and with other medication. Do your research and talk to a professional before you take anything.
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