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Is early starvation beneficial for the critically ill patient?

Marik, Paul E.

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: March 2016 - Volume 19 - Issue 2 - p 155–160
doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000256
NUTRITION AND THE INTENSIVE CARE UNIT: Edited by Peter J.M. Weijs and Stephen A. McClave

Purpose of review Anorexia is a preserved evolutionally response that may be beneficial during acute illness. Yet current clinical practice guidelines recommend early and targeted enteral nutritional support. However, the optimal timing of the initiation of enteral nutrition and the caloric and protein requirements of critically ill patients is controversial.

Recent findings Starvation promotes autophagy and this may play a key role in promoting host defenses and the immune response to intracellular pathogens. Because of the perceived benefits of early enteral nutrition and the lack of clinical equipoise, randomized controlled trials comparing short-term starvation to targeted normocaloric enteral nutrition have until recently not been performed. The results of the recently reported PYTHON trial (Pancreatitis, Very Early Compared with Selective Delayed Start of Enteral Feeding) dispel the notion that short-term starvation is harmful. Furthermore, six recent randomized controlled trials that compared trophic and permissive underfeeding to normocaloric goals, failed to demonstrate any outcome benefit from the more aggressive approach. In addition, recent evidence suggests that intermittent enteral nutation may be preferable to continuous tube feeding.

Summary Limiting nutrient intake during the first 48–72 h of acute illness may be beneficial; in those patients who are unable to resume an oral diet after this time period intermittent enteral nutrition targeting 20–25 cal/kg/day is recommended.

Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, Virginia, USA

Correspondence to Paul Marik, MD, Eastern Virginia Medical School, 825 Fairfax Avenue, Suite 410, Norfolk, VA 23507, USA. E-mail:

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