BACKGROUND: Studies in animal models of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) suggest that supplementation of total parenteral nutrition with glutamine (gln), a conditionally essential amino acid in catabolic conditions, increases gln plasma concentrations, reduces intestinal damage, improves nitrogen balance and may improve the course of the disease. However, human data supporting this assumption are missing. METHODS: A total of 24 consecutive patients with an acute exacerbation of IBD (19 Crohn's disease; five ulcerative colitis) and scheduled for total parenteral nutrition (TPN) (>7 days) were randomised. Parallel to a standardised anti-inflammatory therapy, the patients received either a TPN with 1.5 g/kg body weight of a standard amino acid or an isonitrogenic, isocaloric TPN with 1.2 g/kg body weight of a standard amino acid and 0.3 g/kg L-alanine-L-glutamine. Primary end points were gln plasma concentrations and intestinal permeability assessed by urinary lactulose and D-xylose ratio. RESULTS: Gln plasma levels did not differ significantly in either group throughout the study. Intestinal permeability did not change within 7 days either with or without gln supplementation (Delta-lactulose/xylose ratio: 0.01+/-0.05 (gln+) vs 0.02+/-0.1 (gln-)). The observed changes in inflammatory and nutritional parameters, and also disease activity, length of TPN and hospital stay, were independent of glutamine substitution. Five (41%) patients in the gln+ group and three (25%) patients in the gln- group needed surgical intervention. CONCLUSION: Although limited by the sample size, these results do not support the hypothesis that glutamine substitution has an obvious biochemical or clinical benefit in patients with active IBD scheduled for total parenteral nutrition.
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