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Strategies for Healthy Weight Gain
By Jennifer Morganti, ND, Director of Education for NEEDS

According to government statistics, almost two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, lending to the enormous popularity of the discussion of weight loss on TV and in magazines. But in stark contrast, there is a subpopulation that struggles with maintaining adequate weight, known as cachexia or wasting syndrome, due to various chronic health conditions including HIV, cancer, infectious disease, and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). With obesity being an epidemic problem, some may assume that being underweight is not a serious problem, but in fact, the inability to maintain a healthy weight is a significant risk factor for mortality.

When treating cachexia, the first goal is to address the underlying cause, and then find acceptable means to enhance weight gain. Oftentimes, we hear standard medical doctors recommend to the underweight patient to just go eat whatever he/she likes— ice cream, fast food, and other high calorie foods. But from a naturopathic perspective, you can't just throw the principles of nutrition out the window! So how does one go about gaining weight in a healthy way, when a healthy diet dominated by fruits and vegetables may not provide adequate calories?

Calorie-rich plant fats are a good addition to the diet. Nuts, seeds, healthy oils, avocados, and hummus are packed with healthy fats and nutrient-dense calories. Tierra Farms offers organic nuts and seeds, with some delicious and flavorful variations of cashews, almonds, and walnuts.

High-calorie, nutrient dense protein drinks are also an effective way to boost daily caloric intake, but many of the familiar nutrition shakes contain less than ideal ingredients.

Orgain Nutritional Shakes offers a healthy organic alternative which is high in protein and calories. Orgain offers the equivalent of 10 servings of fruits and vegetables, 16 grams of protein, yet only 13 grams of sugar. Orgain was formulated by a physician who is also a cancer survivor and has experienced the related nutritional challenges firsthand.

Fish oil and Peak Immune 4, by Daiwa, are two supplements that have been shown to help diminish cachexia. Several studies have shown that fish oil helps suppress the inflammatory chemical messengers that induce the breakdown of muscle and fat, thus slowing the loss of weight. Peak Immune 4 is a clinically proven immunomodulator derived from rice bran arabinoxylan. It has been shown in clinical trials to significantly enhance natural killer cell activity, an important component of the immune system. It also has been shown to significantly minimize the amount of weight lost in chronically ill patients as well as reduce the side effects associated with drug treatments as compared to the control group.

For more healthy ideas on how to promote weight gain through food and supplementation, be sure to consult with one of the NEEDS Wellness Educators.

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