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Nutritional Management of Hepatic Encephalopathy. Presented by Chris Theberge & Sara Murkowski. Presentation At A Glance. Background on Liver Dysfunction Review of liver physiology Diseases of the liver Development of Hepatic Encephalopathy Pathogenesis Theories

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nutritional management of hepatic encephalopathy

Nutritional Management of Hepatic Encephalopathy

Presented by

Chris Theberge & Sara Murkowski

presentation at a glance
Presentation At A Glance
  • Background on Liver Dysfunction
    • Review of liver physiology
    • Diseases of the liver
  • Development of Hepatic Encephalopathy
    • Pathogenesis Theories
    • Incidence, Prognosis, Diagnostic Criteria
    • Clinical manifestations, Nutritional manifestations
    • Treatment: Medical Management
  • Case Study
  • Nutritional Management
    • Historical Treatment Theories/Practice
      • Protein Restriction & BCAA Supplementation
    • Goals of MNT
let s take it from the top
Let’s Take It From The Top
  • A Physiology Review
functions of the liver a brief overview
Functions of the Liver:A Brief Overview
  • Largest organ in body, integral to most metabolic functions of body, performing over 500 tasks
  • Only 10-20% of functioning liver is required to sustain life
  • Removal of liver will result in death within 24 hours
functions of the liver
Functions of the Liver
  • Main functions include:
    • Metabolism of CHO, protein, fat
    • Storage/activation vitamins and minerals
    • Formation/excretion of bile
    • Steroid metabolism, detoxifier of drugs/alcohol
    • Action as (bacteria) filter and fluid chamber
    • Conversion of ammonia to urea
      • Gastrointestinal tract significant source of ammonia
      • Generated from ingested protein substances that are deaminated by colonic bacteria
      • Ammonia enters circulation via portal vein
      • Converted to urea by liver for excretion

Aspartate Transaminase(AST)

The Urea Cycle

Alanine Transaminase (ALT)

liver diseases
Liver Diseases


  • Viral hepatitis A, B, C, D, E (and G)
  • Fulminant hepatitis
  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Non-alcoholic liver disease
  • Cholestatic liver disease
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Inherited disorders
  • Duration
    • Acute vs Chronic
  • Pathophysiology
    • Hepatocellular vs Cholestasic
  • Etiology
    • Viral
    • Alcohol
    • Toxin
    • Autoimmune
  • Stage/Severity
    • ESLD
    • Cirrhosis
liver diseases8
Liver Diseases
  • Fulminant Hepatic Failure (“Shocked Liver”)
    • Rapid, severe acute liver injury with impaired function and encephalopathy in someone with a previously normal liver or with well-compensated liver disease
      • Encephalopathy within 8 weeks of symptom onset or within 2 wks of developing jaundice
      • Multiple causes (ie, drug toxicity, hepatitis)
      • Malnutrition often not major issue
  • Chronic Hepatic Failure (“Subfulminant" Hepatic Failure)
    • At least 6-month course of hepatitis or biochemical and clinical evidence of liver disease with confirmatory biopsy findings of unresolving hepatic inflammation
    • Multiple causes: autoimmune, viral, metabolic, toxic
liver diseases9
Liver Diseases

Cholestatic Liver Diseases

  • Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC)
    • Immune-mediated chronic cirrhosis of the liver due to obstruction or infection of the small and intermediate-sized intrahepatic bile ducts
    • 90% of patients are women
    • Nutritional complications
      • Osteopenia, hypercholesterolemia, fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies
  • Sclerosing cholangitis
    • Fibrosing inflammation of segments of extrahepatic bile ducts, with or without involvement of intrahepatic ducts
    • Nutritional complications
      • Inflammatory bowel disease, fat soluble vitamin deficiencies, hepatic osteodystrophy (steatorrhea)

InheritedLiver Disorders

  • Hemochromatosis
    • Inherited disease of iron overload
  • Wilson’s disease
    • Autosomal recessive disorder associated with impaired biliary copper excretion
  • α1-antitrypsin deficiency
    • Causes cholestasis or cirrhosis and can cause liver and lung cancer
liver diseases11
Liver Diseases
  • Alcoholic Liver Disease, Alcoholic hepatitis, and Cirrhosis
    • Diseases resulting from excessive alcohol ingestion characterized by fatty liver (hepatic steatosis), hepatitis, or cirrhosis (fibrous tissue)
    • Prognosis depends on degree of abstinence and degree of complications
    • Malnutrition often an issue in these patients
    • Most common liver disease in US
prognosis of cirrhosis
Prognosis of Cirrhosis

Child-Pugh and MELD Score

Both used to determine prognosis of

Cirrhosis (mortality and survival)

Determine Need For Transplantation

Used in studies to determine effect of treatment on liver function

malnutrition in liver disease
Malnutrition In Liver Disease
  • Malnutrition is an early and typical aspect of hepatic cirrhosis
    • Contributes to poor prognosis and complications
  • Degree of malnutrition related to severity of liver dysfunction and disease etiology (higher in alcoholics)
    • Mortality doubled in cirrhotic patients with malnutrition (35% vs 16%)
    • Complications more frequent than in well-nourished (44% vs 24%)
    • Usually more of a clinical problem than hepatic encephalopathy itself

Cirrhosis is common end result of many chronic liver disorders

  • Severe damage to structure & function of normal cells
  • Inhibits normal blood flow
  • Decrease in # functional hepatocytes
  • Results in portal hypertension & ascites
  • Portal systemic shunting
    • Blood bypasses the liver via shunt, thus bypassing detoxification
    • Toxins remain in circulating blood
    • Neurtoxic substances can precipitate hepatic encephalopathy
what is hepatic encephalopathy
What is Hepatic Encephalopathy?
  • Broadly defined
    • All neurological and psychological symptoms in patients with liver disease that cannot be explained by presence of other pathologies
  • Brain and nervous system damage secondary to severe liver dysfunction (most often chronic disease) resulting from failure of liver to remove toxins
  • Multifactorial pathogenesis with exact cause unknown
  • Symptoms vary from nearly undetectable, to coma with decerebration
    • Characterized by various neurologic symptoms
      • Cognitive impairment
      • Neuromuscular disturbance
      • Altered consciousness
  • Reversible syndrome
incidence prognosis
Incidence & Prognosis
  • Incidence
    • 10-50% of cirrhotic pts and portal-systemic shunts (TIPS) experience episode of overt hepatic encephalopathy
    • True incidence/prevalence of HE unknown
      • Lack of definitive diagnosis
      • Wide spectrum of disease severity
  • Prognosis
    • 40% survival rate 1 year following first episode
    • 15% survival rate 3 years following first episode
clinical manifestations of he
Clinical Manifestations of HE
  • Cerebral edema
  • Brain herniation
  • Progressive, irreversible coma
  • Permanent neurologic losses (movement, sensation, or mental state)
  • Increased risk of:
    • Sepsis
    • Respiratory failure
    • Cardiovascular collapse
    • Kidney Failure
variants of hepatic encephalopathy
Variants of Hepatic Encephalopathy
  • Acute HE
    • Associated with marked cerebral edema seen in patients with the acute onset of hepatic failure (FHF)
      • Hormonal disarray, hypokalemia, vasodilation (ie, vasopressin release)
    • Quick progression: coma, seizures, and decerebrate rigidity
    • Altered mental function attributed to increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier and impaired brain osmoregulation
      • Results in brain cell swelling and brain edema
    • Can occur in cirrhosis, but usually triggered by precipitating factor
    • Precipitating factors usually determine outcome
precipitants of hepatic encephalopathy
Precipitants of Hepatic Encephalopathy
  • Portosystemic Shunting
  • Radiographic or surgically placed shunts
  • Spontaneous shunts
  • Vascular Occlusion
  • Portal or Hepatic Vein Thrombosis
  • Drugs
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Narcotics
  • Alcohol
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hemorrhage
  • Diuretics
  • Large volume paracentesis
  • Increased Ammonia Production,
  • Absorption or Entry Into the Brain
  • Excess Dietary Intake of Protein
  • GI Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Electrolyte Disturbances (ie., hypokalemia)
  • Constipation
  • Metabolic alkalosis

Primary Hepatocellular Carcinoma

variants of hepatic encephalopathy25
Variants of Hepatic Encephalopathy
  • Chronic HE
    • Occurs in subjects with chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis and portosystemic shunting of blood (Portal Systemic Encepalopathy [PSA])
    • Characterized by persistence of neuropsychiatric symptoms despite adequate medical therapy.
    • Brain edema is rarely reported
  • Refractory HE
    • Recurrent episodes of an altered mental state in absence of precipitating factors
  • Persistent HE
    • Progressive, irreversible neurologic findings: dementia, extrapyramidal manifestations, cerebellar degeneration, transverse cordal myelopathy, and peripheral neuropathy
  • Subclinical or “Minimal HE”
    • Most frequent neurological disturbance
    • Not associated with overt neuropsychiatric symptoms
    • Subtle changes detected by special psychomotor tests
pathogenesis theories
Pathogenesis Theories
  • Endogenous Neurotoxins
    • Ammonia
    • Mercaptans
    • Phenols
    • Short-medium fatty acids
  • Increased Permeability of Blood-Brain Barrier
  • Change in Neurotransmitters and Receptors
    • GABA
    • Altered BCAA/AAA ratio
  • Other
    • Zinc defficiency
    • Manganese deposits
neurotoxic action of ammonia
Neurotoxic Action of Ammonia
  • Readily crosses blood-brain barrier
  • Increased NH3 = increased glutamate
    • α-ketoglutarate+NH3+NADH→glutamate+NAD
    • glutamate+NH3+ATP→glutamine+ADP+Pi
  • As a-ketoglutarate is depleted TCA cycle activity halted
  • Increased glutamine formation depletes glutamate stores which are needed by neural tissue
    • Irrepairable cell damage and neural cell death ensue.
    • In liver disease, conversion of ammonia to urea and glutamine can be reduced up to 80%
pathogenesis theories false neurotransmitter hypothesis
Pathogenesis Theories: False Neurotransmitter Hypothesis
  • Liver cirrhosis characterized by altered amino acid metabolism
      • Increased Aromatic Amino Acids in plasma and influx in brain
      • Decrease in plasma Branched Chain Amino Acids
      • Share a common carrier at blood-brain barrier
      • BCAAs in blood may result in AAA transport to brain
abnormal plasma amino acids chronic liver disease
Abnormal plasma amino acids:chronic liver disease










% of Normal





















Cerra, et al; JPEN, 1985

J. Y. Pang

pathogenesis theories false neurotransmitter hypothesis31
Pathogenesis Theories: False Neurotransmitter Hypothesis
  • AAA are precursors to neurotransmitters and elevated levels result in shunting to secondary pathways
increase permeability of blood brain barrier
Increase Permeability of Blood-Brain Barrier
  • Astrocyte (glial cell) volume is controlled by intracellular organic osmolyte
  • Organic osmolyte is glutamine.
  • glutamine levels in the brain result in volume of fluid within astrocytes resulting in cerebral edema (enlarged glial cells)
  • Neurological impairment
    • N=Normal Astrocytes
    • A=Alzheimer type II astrocytes
    • Pale, enlarged nuclei
    • characterisic of HE
symptoms of he
Changes in mental state, consciousness

Confusion, disorientation


Dementia (loss of memory, intellect)

Mood swings

Decreased altertness, responsiveness


Course muscle tremors

Muscle stiffness or rigidity

Loss of small hand movements (handwriting)

Seizures (rare)

Decreased self-care ability

Speech impairment

Symptoms of HE
diagnosing he
Diagnosing HE
  • No single laboratory test is sufficient to establish the diagnosis
    • No Gold Standard
  • Pt brains cannot be studied with neurochemical/neurophysiologic methods
    • Data on cerebral function in HE usually derived from animal studies
  • Underlying cause of liver disease itself may be associated with neurologic manifestations
    • Alcoholic liver disease (Wernicke’s)
diagnostic criteria
Asterixis (“flapping tremor”)

Hx liver disease

Impaired performance on neuropsychological tests

Visual, sensory, brainstem auditory evoked potentials

Sleep disturbances

Fetor Hepaticus

Slowing of brain waves on EEG

PET scan

Changes of neurotransmission, astrocyte function

Elevated serum NH3

Stored blood contains ~30ug/L ammonia

Elevated levels seen in 90% pts with HE

Not needed for diagnosis

Diagnostic Criteria
differential diagnosis

Table 3. Differential diagnostic considerations in hepatic encephalopathy

Metabolic encephalopathiesDiabetes (hypoglycemia, ketoacidosis)HypoxiaCarbon dioxide narcosis

Toxic encephalopathiesAlcohol (acute alcohol intoxication, delirium tremens, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome)Drugs

Intracranial eventsIntracerebral bleeding or infarctionTumorInfections (abscess, meningitis)Encephalitis

Differential Diagnosis
treatment of hepatic encephalopathy
Treatment of Hepatic Encephalopathy
  • Various measures in current treatment of HE
    • Strategies to lower ammonia production/absorption
      • Nutritional management
        • Protein restriction
        • BCAA supplementation
      • Medical management
    • Medications to counteract ammonia’s effect on brain cell function
      • Lactulose
      • Antibiotics
    • Devices to compensate for liver dysfunction
    • Liver transplantation




In Treatment


nutritional management of he
Nutritional Management of HE
  • Historical treatment theories
    • Protein Restriction
    • BCAA supplementation
  • Goals of MNT
    • Treatment of PCM associated with ESLD
historical treatment theories protein restriction
Historical Treatment Theories:Protein Restriction
  • Studies in early 1950’s showed cirrhotic pts given “nitrogenous substances” developed hepatic “precoma”
  • Led to introduction of protein restriction
    • Began with 20-40g protein/day
    • Increased by 10g increments q3-5 days as tolerated with clinical recovery
    • Upper limit of 0.8-1.0 g/kg
    • Was thought sufficient to achieve positive nitrogen balance
  • Lack of Valid Evidence
    • Efficacy of restriction never proven within controlled trial
dispelling the myth
Dispelling the Myth

Normal Protein Diet for Episodic Hepatic Encephalopathy

Cordoba et al. J Hepatol 2004; 41: 38-43

  • Objective: To test safety of normal-protein diets
  • Randomized, controlled trial in 20 cirrhotic patients with HE
    • 10 patients subjected to protein restriction, followed by progressive increments
      • No protein first 3 days, increasing q3days until 1.2g/kg daily for last 2 days
    • 10 patients followed normal protein diet (1.2g/kg)
    • Both groups received equal calories
dispelling the myth43
Dispelling the Myth
  • Results
    • On days 2 and 14:
      • Similar protein synthesis among both groups
      • Protein breakdown higher in low-protein group
  • Conclusion
    • No significant differences in course of hepatic encephalopathy
    • Greater protein breakdown in protein-restricted subjects
protein and he considerations
Protein and HE Considerations
  • Presence of malnutrition in pts with cirrhosis and ESLD clearly established
  • No valid clinical evidence supporting protein restriction in pts with acute HE
  • Higher protein intake required in CHE to maintain positive nitrogen balance
  • Protein intake < 40g/day contributes to malnutrition and worsening HE
    • Increased endogenous protein breakdown NH3
  • Susceptibiliy to infection increases under such catabolic conditions
other considerations
Other Considerations
  • Vegetable Protein
    • Beneficial in patients with protein intolerance <1g/kg
      • Considered to improve nitrogen balance without worsening HE
    • Beneficial effect d/t high fiber content
      • Also elevated calorie-to-nitrogen ratio
  • BCAA Supplementation
    • Effective or Not?

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)




  • Important fuel sources for skeletal muscle during periods of metabolic stress
  • Metabolized in muscle & brain, not
  • liver
  • -promote protein synthesis
  • -suppress protein catabolism
  • -substrates for gluconeogenesis
  • Catabolized to L-alanine and L-glutamine in skeletal muscle
Nutritional Supplementation with Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Advanced Cirrhosis: A Double-Blind, Randomized Trial

Marchesini et al.,(2004). Gastroenterology, 124, 1792-1801

Nutritional Supplementation with Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Advanced Cirrhosis: A Double-Blind, Randomized Trial
  • Multi-Center, randomized, controlled study involving 15 centers with interest in patients with liver disease
  • Inclusion Criteria
    • A diagnosis of liver cirrhosis documented by histology and confirmed lab data
    • Child-Pugh score ≥ 7 (Class B or C)
    • Sonographic and endoscopic evidence of portal hypertension
  • Exclusion Criteria
    • Active alcohol consumption, overt HE, refractory ascites, reduced renal function (Cre ≥ 1.5 mg/dL), Child-Pugh score ≥ 12, suspected hepatocellular carcinoma, previous poor compliance to pharmacological treatment of nutrition counseling
Nutritional Supplementation with Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Advanced Cirrhosis: A Double-Blind, Randomized Trial
  • Primary Outcomes
    • Combined survival and maintenance of liver function, as assessed by death (any reason), deterioration to exclusion criteria, or transplant
    • Number of hospital admissions
    • Duration of hospital stay
  • Secondary Outcomes
    • Nutritional parameters and liver function tests (Child-Pugh scores)
    • Anorexia and health-related quality of life
    • Therapy needs

* Significantly different from both lactoalbumin and maltodextrin.

1 Some individuals were removed based on more than 1 criterion.

2 Cases with HCC were censored at the time of HCC diagnosis.

3 The number of withdrawn patients who died or progressed to exclusion criteria within 12 mo from entry into the study is reported in parentheses.

4 Including the patient lost to follow-up.

primary outcome results
Primary Outcome Results
  • Based on ITT, time course of events was not different between groups (p=0.101)
    • A benefit of BCAA only found when non-liver disease-related events excluded from analyses compared to L-ALB
  • BCAA significantly reduced the combined event rates compared with L-ALB, but not with M-DXT
    • L-ALB-OR, 0.43; 95% CI (0.19-0.96); p=0.039
    • M-DXT-OR, 0.51; 95% CI (0.23-1.17); p=0.108
  • Less frequent hospital admissions with BCAA vs two control arms (p = 0.021)

Secondary Outcomes

  • Nutritional Parameters
  • No change in serum albumin among groups
  • Significant interaction between BCAA and M-DXT
  • Significant reduction in prevalence and severity of ascites in BCAA vs controls
  • No significant improvement in HE based on Reitan Test)
  • Trend for superiority of BCAA over M-DXT (p=0.108)
anorexia and health related quality of life
Anorexia and Health-Related Quality of Life
  • Increased hunger/satiety in BCAA (p=0.019), while no change in L-ALB and M-DXT (p=0.026)
  • Prevalence of anorexia significantly (p=0.0014) decreased in BCAA, while unchanged in controls
  • Significant improvement in physical functioning in BCAA, while no change in controls
  • Trend (p=0.069) towards better scoring of health in subjects with BCAA only
  • After 1 year, the percentage of subjects who felt their health improved increased (29% to 52%) and who felt it had worsened decreased (43% to 18%) (p=0.001)
  • Long-term BCAA supplementation showed an advantage compared to equicaloric, equinitrogenous supplemenation
    • Prevention of combined death
    • Progressive liver failure
    • Hospital rates
    • Secondary Outcomes
the mother of all bcaa trials randomized study limitations
The Mother of All BCAA Trials?Randomized Study Limitations
  • Poor subject compliance and adverse reactions 3 times more common in BCAA (15%) arm compared to controls (5% combined) resulting in greater withdrawal
    • Ascertainment bias for event rates
  • Only 115 of 174 subjects had regular f/u at end of study, reducing power
    • May explain lack no difference in time course of events
  • A benefit of BCAA supplementation only found when non-liver-related deaths were excluded from analysis
    • Mortality was lower, but BCAA group had similar number of deaths compared to the other groups
  • Mean admission rate lower in BCAA compared to controls
    • No cost-effectiveness analysis done
    • Reasons for hospital admission?
the mother of all bcaa trials further study limitations
The Mother of All BCAA Trials?Further Study Limitations
  • No differences in encephalopathy test scores, including Reitan testing seen among treatment groups, but significant improvement in nutritional status in BCAA compared to others
    • Most likely this attributed to reduced admission rates
Branched-Chain Amino Acids For Hepatic Encephalopathy

Als-Nielsen B, Koretz RI, Kjaergard LL, Gluud C. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2003, 1-55

branched chain amino acids for hepatic encephalopathy
Branched-Chain Amino Acids For Hepatic Encephalopathy
  • Meta-Analysis of randomized-controlled trials on the treatment of HE with IV or oral BCAA
  • Objective
    • To evaluate the beneficial and harmful effects of BCAA or BCAA-enriched interventions for patients with hepatic encepalopathy
  • Review Criteria
    • All randomized trials included, irrespective of blinding, publication status, or language
    • Data from first period of crossover trials and unpublished trials included if methodology and data accessible
    • Excluded trials in which patients allocated by quasi-random method
  • Participants
    • Patients with HE in connection with acute or chronic liver disease or FHF
    • Patients of either gender, any age and ethnicity included irrespective of etiology of liver disease or precipitating factors of HE
branched chain amino acids for hepatic encephalopathy59
Branched-Chain Amino Acids For Hepatic Encephalopathy
  • Types of Interventions
    • Experimental Group
      • BCAA or BCAA-enriched solutions given in any mode, dose, or duration with or without other nutritive sources
    • Control Group
      • No nutritional support, placebo support, isocaloric support, isonitrogenous support, or other interventions with a potential effect on HE (ie., lactulose)
  • Outcome Measures
    • Primary
      • Improvement of HE (number of patients improving from HE using definitions of individual trials)
    • Secondary
      • Time to improvement of HE (number of hours/days with HE from the time of randomization to improvement)
      • Survival (number of patients surviving at end of treatment and at max f/up according to trial)
      • Adverse events (number and types of events defined as any untoward medical occurrence in a patient, not necessarily causal with treatment)
branched chain amino acids for hepatic encephalopathy60
Branched-Chain Amino Acids For Hepatic Encephalopathy
  • Data Collection and Analysis
    • Trial inclusion and data extraction made independently by two reviewers
    • Statistical heterogeneity tested using random effects and fixed effect models
    • Binary outcomes reported as risk ratios (RR) based on random effects model
branched chain amino acids for hepatic encephalopathy results
Branched-Chain Amino Acids For Hepatic Encephalopathy: Results
  • Eleven randomized trials (556 patients)
    • Trial types: BCAA versus carbohydrates, neomycin/lactulose, or isonitrogenous controls
    • Median number of patients in each trial: 55 (range 22 to 75)
    • Follow-up after treatment reported in 4 trials
      • Median 17 days (range 6 to 30 days)
    • Compared to control regimens, BCAA significantly increased the number of patients improving from HE at end of treatment
      • RR 1.31, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.66, 9 trials
    • No evidence of an effect of BCAA on survival
      • RR 1.06, 95% CI 0.98 to 1.14, 8 trials
      • No adverse events (RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.41 to 2.31, 3 trials)

Not significant

Combining survival data regardless of window of f/u showed no significant

Difference in survival between BCAA and controls

branched chain amino acids for hepatic encephalopathy results64
Branched-Chain Amino Acids For Hepatic Encephalopathy: Results
  • Sensitivity Analyses
    • Methodological quality had a significant impact on results
      • Higher quality vs lower quality
    • In trials with adequate generation of allocation sequence, allocation concealment, and adequate double-blinding, BCAA had no significant effect on improvement or survival
    • In trials with unclear generation of allocation sequence, allocation concealment, and inadequate double-blinding a significant effect of BCAA on HE was found
    • BCAA had no significant effect on survival when given parenterally to acute HE or enterally to chronic HE
      • Discrepancy between each applied model (fixed vs random)
    • Trend towards beneficial effect of BCAA using best-case analysis with fixed model only [p=0.03 vs p=0.13 with random]
      • No significant effect of BCAA with worst-case analysis
  • No convincing evidence that BCAA had a significant beneficial effect on improvement of HE or survival in patients with HE
    • Small trials with short f/u and most of poor quality
  • Primary analysis showed a significant benefit of BCAA on HE, but significant statistical heterogeneity was present and result not robust to sensitivity analysis
    • Low methodological quality source of heterogeneity (=bias)
  • Benefits of BCAA on HE only observed when lower quality studies included
    • Effect size and “small study bias”
  • No significant association between dose or duration and the effect of BCAA
  • In general, BCAAs were more effective when given enterally to subjects with chronic encephalopathy, then when given IV to patients with acute encephalopathy
    • Most likely through improved nutrition

TABLE 1Randomized controlled trials of BCAA treatment in cirrhosis1

1 bw, body weight; co, crossover study; pg, parallel group design.

2 Dietary BCAA not included. Data are in g/d except as noted.

3 Positive, BCAA significantly different; negative, BCAA not significantly different.

  • Significant heterogeneity among studies (ie., patient populations, settings, routine care) making a meta-analysis decipherable
  • Division of HE into categories is arbitrary and precipitating factors not always identified
  • The definition of “improvement” different among studies
  • Scales and items used for defining and assessing HE are arbitrary and not tested for reliability or validity
implications for future research
Implications For Future Research
  • The absence of evidence for an effect of BCAA does not mean there is evidence of lack of effect
  • Future randomized trials warranted
  • Trials could randomize according various types of HE to BCAA versus placebo
  • All trials should use parallel group design
    • Spontaneously fluctuating nature of HE
    • Need for assessing outcomes (improvement, recovery, mortality, and adverse events) after end of treatment
  • There is substantial need for clear diagnostic criteria of HE, as well as reassessment and validation of scales and items used for measuring its course
implications for future research70
Implications For Future Research
  • New studies are awaited to identify patients at higher risk where BCAA is probably the only way to prevent catabolic losses and improve prognosis
  • Dose-finding studies are needed to detect optimum dosage, safe limits of administration, and whether higher doses will show more benefit
  • Studies needed to define whether all 3 BCAA’s need to be supplied
    • Effects of leucine on protein turnover and HGF secretion
    • Leucine alone might achieve similar beneficial results at lower total doses
bcaa enteral formulations
BCAA Enteral Formulations
  • Hepatic-Aid II (Hormel Health Labs)
    • 1.2 kcal/mL
    • Fat (28%) No MCT
    • Protein: 46% BCAA, low AAA
    • CHO: 58%
    • Vitamin and Electrolyte-free
  • NutriHep Enteral Nutrition (Nestle)
    • 1.5 kcal/mL
    • Fat (12%) MCT (66%)
    • Protein: 50% BCAA, low MET
    • CHO: 77%
    • RDI: 100%
    • Gluten-free, lactose-free
goals of mnt for he
Goals of MNT for HE
  • Treatment of PCM associated with Underlying Liver Disease
    • Suppression of endogenous protein breakdown to reduce stress placed on de-compensated liver
    • Achieve positive nitrogen balance without exacerbating neurological symptoms
      • PCM associated with morbidity and mortality in cirrhosis (65-90% with PCM)
      • Severity of pcm positively correlated with mortality
nutritional implications pcm associated liver dz
Malnutrition reported in 65%-90% cirrhotic pts

Poor Dietary Intake


Dietary Restrictions



Zinc Deficiency

Increased proinflammatory cytokines

Nutrient malabsorption/ maldigestion

Cholestatic & non-cholestatic liver disease

Excessive protein losses

Pancreatic insufficiency

Abnormal Metabolism



Increased protein metabolism

Increased lipid oxidation


Nutritional Implications:PCM associated Liver Dz
mnt in advanced liver disease
MNT in Advanced Liver Disease
  • Poor Dietary Intake
    • Due to poor appetite, early satiety with ascites
      • Small frequent meals
      • Aggressive oral supplementation
      • Zinc supplementation
  • Nutrient Malabsorption
    • Due to bile, failure to convert to active forms
      • ADEK supplementation
      • Calcium + D supplementation
      • Folic Acid Supplementation
mnt in advanced liver disease76
MNT in Advanced Liver Disease
  • Abnormal Fuel Metabolism
    • Increased perioxidation, gluconeogenesis
      • Bedtime meal to decrease
  • Protein Deficiency
    • protein catabolism, repeat paracentesis
      • High protein snacks/supplements
      • 1.2-1.5 gms/day
mnt in advanced liver disease77
MNT in Advanced Liver Disease
  • Standard Guidelines
    • MVI with minerals
    • 2gm Na restriction in presence of ascites
    • Do not restrict fluid unless serum Na <120mmol
    • Low threshold for NGT in pts awaiting transplant
    • TPN should be considered only if contraindication for enteral feeding
how much protein that is the question
How Much Protein: That is the Question
  • Grade III to IV hepatic encephalopathy
    • Usually no oral nutrition
    • Upon improvement, individual protein tolerance can be titrated by gradually increasing oral protein intake every three to five days from a baseline of 40 g/day
    • Oral protein not to exceed 70 g/day if pt has hx if hepatic encephalopathy
    • Below 70 g/day rarely necessary, minimum intake should not be lower than 40 g/day to avoid negative nitrogen balance
mnt specifically in he
MNT Specifically in HE
  • Non-protein energy: 35-45 kcal/kg/day
  • Up to 1.6g/kg/day protein as tolerated
    • Low-grade HE (minimal, I, II) should not be contraindication to adequate protein supply
  • 40g temporary restriction if considered protein intolerant, but gradual increase q3-5 days
    • 30-40g Vegetable protein/day for these pts
  • In patients intolerant of a daily intake of 1 g protein/kg, oral BCAA up to 0.25 g/kg may be beneficial to create best possible nitrogen balance
    • BCAA’s do not exacerbate encephalopathy
mnt specifically in he80
MNT Specifically in HE
  • HE coma (grade III-IV)
    • Usually no oral nutrition
    • Upon improvement, individual protein tolerance can be titrated by gradually increasing oral protein intake every three to five days from a baseline of 40 g/day
    • Enteral and parenteral regimens providing 25-30 kcal/kg/day non-protein energy
    • 1.0g/kg/day protein, depending on degree of muscle wasting
    • BCAA-enriched solutions may benefit protein intolerant (<1g/kg)
conclusions in he management
Conclusions in HE Management
  • Intervention directed against the precipitating cause(s) will lead to improvement or disappearance of acute hepatic encephalopathy
  • Our understanding of pathogenesis is improving, but much work remains
  • Link between liver and brain still only partially understood
  • No evidence supporting standard use of BCAA formulations, but may benefit small subgroup
    • Cost analysis not conducted in trials
      • Cost outweigh benefits for standard protocol
thank you
Thank You!
  • Special Thanks to Nicole Varady
  • Comments?
  • Questions?

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