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Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1997 Jun;11(3):453-71.

Clinical economics review: nutritional support.

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CURE VA/UCLA Gastroenterologic Biology Centre, USA.


Nutritional support currently accounts for about 1% of the total health care costs in the USA. Interestingly, most of the prospective randomized controlled trials to date have not been able to demonstrate that this therapeutic intervention alters morbidity or mortality. In fact, parenteral nutritional support may predispose the recipients to developing systemic infections. There have been a few areas in which nutritional support may be of benefit. Enteral supplements given to underweight women who suffer hip fractures reduce the hospital stay and, presumably, overall cost. Preoperative parenteral nutritional support may produce a small absolute reduction in post-operative morbidity, but its cost becomes prohibitive. Preoperative enteral nutritional support, especially if carried out in the home, may be of benefit (using the most optimistic interpretation of a small number of trials); if so, it is an economically defensible intervention. Particular nutrients or diets may have specific effects on certain disease processes. Indirect comparisons have suggested that elemental diets can be used to treat flares of Crohn's disease (perhaps because putative food antigens are removed). However, corticosteroid therapy is more efficacious. Furthermore, it is less expensive to employ 6-mercaptopurine as the next modality in steroid failures. Branched-chain amino acid infusions may have some effect on hepatic encephalopathy, but again, lactulose is less expensive. Nutritional support is one area of medicine in which there has been far more enthusiasm than the data justify. Disease-associated malnutrition probably is a secondary phenomenon, not an important cause of morbidity. The widespread use of this modality cannot be justified in a cost-constrained health care system.

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