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Anxiety and loss of appetite: What is the link?

Anxiety commonly causes a change in appetite. Some people with anxiety tend to overeat or consume a lot of unhealthful foods. Others, however, lose their desire to eat when they feel stressed and anxious.

Anxiety is a mental health condition that affects 40 million adults in the United States each year. Changes in appetite are one of many possible symptoms.

Keep reading to learn more about the link between anxiety and a loss of appetite, some potential remedies and treatments for the problem, and some other common causes of appetite loss.

When someone starts to feel stressed or anxious, their body begins to release stress hormones. These hormones activate the sympathetic nervous system and trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response.

The fight-or-flight response is an instinctive reaction that attempts to keep people safe from potential threats. It physically prepares the body to either stay and fight a threat or run away to safety.

This sudden surge of stress hormones has several physical effects. For example, research suggests that one of the hormones — corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) — affects the digestive system and may lead to the suppression of appetite.

Another hormone, cortisol, increases gastric acid secretion to speed the digestion of food so that the person can fight or flee more efficiently.

Other digestive effects of the fight-or-flight response can include:

This response can cause additional physical symptoms, such as an increase in breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. It also causes muscle tension, pale or flushed skin, and shakiness.

Some of these physical symptoms can be so uncomfortable that people have no desire to eat. Feeling constipated, for example, can make the thought of eating seem very unappetizing.

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