Protein-calorie malnutrition (PCM) occurs in 20-60% of patients with hepatic cirrhosis and is associated with the development of life-threatening complications. We evaluated the effect of a modified, casein-vegetable-based, high-protein high-calorie (HPHC) diet on the outcome of cirrhotic patients with hepatic encephalopathy (HE).
One hundred and fifty three consecutive cirrhotic patients with overt HE were included in this study. An HPHC diet based on better-tolerated vegetable and milk-derived proteins was initiated in order to ensure the adequate protein-energy requirements of 30 kcal/kg/day and 1.2g proteins/kg/day. Serial (daily) assessments were done, including mental status, asterixis, a conventional Number Connection Test (NCT), bowel movements and blood ammonia level. The assessment of the mental status was performed using the West Haven scale. Favorable evolution or response to HPHC diet was defined as an improvement in HE stage with 1 or more (Delta > or =1 stage) after 14 days of diet.
During the HPHC diet, 122 patients (79.7%) improved in terms of response definition. A significant decrease in blood ammonia level was observed after 14 days (p<0.0001) in all patients, whatever the improvement of the mental status. A significant improvement in the NCT scores was also noted (p<0.0001). More patients with advanced HE (West Haven stage 3) precipitated by various factors showed a Delta = -2 improvement of their mental status during the modified HPHC diet compared with patients in lower initial stages (50% vs 18.9%, p=0.002). More patients in Child-Pugh B class had a Delta = -2 decrease in the grade of HE compared with patients in Child-Pugh C class (61.7% vs. 14%, p=0.001).
Almost 80% of patients in our study improved their mental status during the casein-vegetable-based HPHC diet, showing that dietary protein restriction is not required for the improvement of HE. A higher rate of improvement was noted in patients with severe impairment of mental status related to precipitating factors and in patients with well preserved liver function. The daily eating pattern consisting of 4 snack-meals and a late evening meal may contribute to HE improvement by equal protein distribution during the day.