Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Research Article

Gut hormones and the treatment of disease cachexia

Nutrition Society and BAPEN Medical Symposium on ‘Nutrition support in cancer therapy’

on 27–28 November 2007, The Annual Meeting of the Nutrition Society and the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, was held at Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate.

Damien Ashbya1 c1, Peter Choia2 and Stephen Blooma1

a1 Metabolic Medicine, Imperial College, Hammersmith Hospital Campus, Du Cane Road, London W12 0NN, UK

a2 Kidney and Transplant Institute, Imperial College, London, UK


Advances in the understanding of appetite are leading to a refined concept of disease cachexia and point to novel therapeutic strategies based on the manipulation of appetite. The complex social and psychological short-term influences on appetite obscure the fact that over the longer term appetite is tightly regulated by physiological considerations; the homeostatic control of energy balance. Like obesity, which is now viewed as a disorder of homeostasis, cachexia can be seen as an adaptive response to the disease state that becomes harmful when prolonged. Several lines of evidence implicate a disorder of appetite regulation in the pathogenesis of cachexia. As the only known circulating mediator of increased appetite the peptide hormone ghrelin has attracted attention as a potential therapy. Trials in patients with various chronic illnesses, including cancer and kidney failure, have demonstrated short-term increases in energy intake. Trials in patients with emphysema and heart failure have also shown benefits in clinical outcomes such as lean body mass and exercise capacity, and longer-term trials using oral analogues are being undertaken. As well as improving nutrition, ghrelin has a number of other actions that may be useful, including an anti-inflammatory effect; of interest since many cachexias are associated with inappropriate immune activation. The manipulation of appetite, in particular by ghrelin agonism, is emerging as an exciting potential therapy for disease cachexia. Future research should focus on the ascertainment of clinically-relevant outcomes, and further characterisation of the non-nutritional effects of this pathway.

(Online publication May 01 2008)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr Damien Ashby, fax +44 20 8383 3242, email