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Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2006 Sep;9(5):596-602.

The effects of undernutrition and refeeding on metabolism and digestive function.

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Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40536-0298, USA.



An intimate interrelationship exists between nutritional status and gut function. This review focuses on the consequences of a poor nutritional state on metabolism and digestive function, and evaluates the effects of refeeding.


Severe undernutrition has been associated with increased fat and protein catabolism, reflected by a decreased respiratory quotient. Resting energy expenditure assessed in relationship to body weight was increased, probably as a consequence of changes in body composition. Protein synthesis, expressed per kg body weight, was decreased in undernourished patients with coexistent disease, but not in anorexia nervosa patients, indicating the detrimental effects of disease states. Severe undernutrition is associated with malabsorption, which improves following refeeding. Despite a high prevalence of villous atrophy in the duodenal mucosa in undernourished patients, mucosal protein fractional synthesis rates appeared normal. Refeeding resulted in a potent trophic response, and normalization of the mucosal morphology. Gastric and pancreatic secretion was significantly impaired by the undernourished state, with significant improvement following refeeding.


Undernutrition is associated with impairment of digestive function, which is likely to further aggravate the nutritional state. Refeeding corrects this dysfunction, and results in disruption of this vicious circle.

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