Hyperphagia may not mean anything to you, but to our family, it is the force that controls how we live. In my son’s genetic syndrome, Prader-Willi, the damage to chromosome 15 creates a malfunctioning hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the control center of your brain for most of your body’s functions. When it comes to appetite, a damaged hypothalamus can create an overdrive to eat more food than the body can handle.
Hyperphagia is an abnormally increased appetite for food, frequently associated with injury to the hypothalamus.
There are several other genetic syndromes known to cause this condition. Please list your child’s syndrome or condition below with a link to their genetic information website!
There is no cure for hyperphagia
At least at this point. There are a few studies being carried out that are bringing some positive results and one drug is being tested to medically control the hyperphagia. However, until that happens and everyone has access to the drug, we must find other ways to help control this mechanism in our children.
Hyperphagia brings behavioral and emotional problems that are frequently controlled with medications. Yet, there are some everyday techniques I use to help my son control his overdrive for food.
Schedule meals and snacks
This has been over the years, the best solution for Prader-Willi people. They usually are either autistic or display autistic characteristics. I schedule 3 main meals and 2 small snacks for a specific time. My son is only allowed to eat at those times.
Remove excess sugar and carbohydrates
Even in the general population, excessive sugar and carbohydrates stimulate a drive for people to consume more calories. If a person has the condition of hyperphagia, then sugar and carbohydrates my cause it to go out of control. Hyperphagia is difficult enough to control without all of the sugar and carbs, so skip the sugar and reduce the carbs!
Add more high protein foods
When dropping carbohydrates, you want to add more high protein foods and good quality fats. By that I mean, add fresh meats and fats such as organic or grass-fed butter, coconut oil, or olive oil. Even a spoonful or two of natural almond or peanut butters make a good snack and satisfy their hunger. Skip the fake oils, fats and meat that contain trans-fat, which causes high cholesterol.
Stop counting calories
I know one of the most dangerous techniques we as parents have been taught by the medical community is to count calories to control excessive weight gains. Substituting sugar-free drinks and foods for real food is unhealthy and can make your child sick. Pickles are not a substitution for a snack. If you feel you must lower your child’s food intake, adding high quality foods in smaller portions is a better choice. Things like nut butters, eggs, whole grain bread, nuts, dried fruit, fresh salads and vegetables, and fresh meats fill your child without all of the excessive junk food. Skip treats that are premade and make snacks that are Paleo or grain-free. In other words, prioritize health and wellness over calorie counting.
Make sure that your child has plenty of activities to do. Be a sneaky mom and strategically place activities and games that entice your child. If they like movies or video games, encourage the movies and games that fit your family’s values. If they like crafts or letter-writing, make the materials easily available (Can you say, Dollar Tree?!). Add sensory items that also help them in self-care, such as exercise balls, rockers or swings.
Look for other medical problems
This may seem obvious, but if your child has the condition of hyperphagia, you may not think to look for another medical problem. Does your child have a stomach bug? Are they taking a probiotic, or do you give them digestive enzymes? Sometimes even mood issues can push a child to seek food with vengeance. Look for triggers that may be exacerbating hyperphagia.
Lock up all access to food
This is probably the most profound change in our lives when we, as parents, must confront hyperphagia. If our children had the physical control to gauge how much they eat and when, they would. You can keep most kids out of the pantry or the refrigerator with rules. However, with children and adults who have hyperphagia, then you must resort to locking up food. Some are so food driven that they could find a stash of food and literally eat themselves to death. In our home, safety is always a priority, and all food remains locked up.
Are there essential oils that help control hyperphagia?
There are a few actually. If you are good at adding oils to sensory pillows, diffusers or even your child’s feet, then you may be able to get away with this. If you purchase high quality food-grade oils, you may even be able to add them to a daily shake. It took my son a long time to accept oils and their smell, but over time, he has conceded and even likes some of them.
While it may seem obvious to look for appetite suppressors, and you can, such essential oils may not really help your child if they have hyperphagia. Why? Because, at least in Prader-Willi Syndrome, hyperphagia is caused by a lack of the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is what tells your body that it has had enough to eat. In PWS people it sends them into a food-seeking mission or overdrive. The problem begins with the misregulation of the hypothalamus. So, if you want to help your child this way, your best bet is to try the following oils which are known to assist the hypothalamus.
Frankincense was a tree resin brought to Baby Jesus as a gift. Essential oil made from this resin, contains cell-changing power in a bottle. This has been quite documented, and one of its gifts is that it helps the hypothalamus.
This tree resin is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and also for its ability to help regulate the hypothalamus. When we regulate the hypothalamus, we ensure the best support for hormone regulation of the gut.
Geranium sports a well-known reputation for balancing hormones. When a malfunction in the hypothalamus creates hormonal shifts, geranium may be able to bring balance back to ones body.
My son grew accustomed to my sneaking sprinkles of ginger into his morning shakes, so this has become a favorite. Ginger is well-known for soothing nausea and gastric upset. An upset stomach can create a heightened sense of hyperphagia, so ginger helps with this.
Like I said, essential oils that are known to control appetite help with the digestion, but not necessarily with the hormones. If the hypothalamus misfires the wrong hormone balance, then no amount of appetite control will stop hyperphagia. But, I add it here to provide the information.