Background: Although current opinion favours the use of enteral over parenteral nutrition, the clinical benefits of early postoperative nutrition in patients undergoing elective surgery have never been clearly shown. We aimed to test the hypothesis that postoperative enteral nutrition is better (fewer postoperative complications) than parenteral nutrition containing similar energy and nitrogen amounts (112 kJ kg(-1) day(-1) and 1.4 g aminoacid kg(-1) day(-1)).
Methods: We did a randomised multicentre clinical trial in patients with gastrointestinal cancer who were malnourished and candidates for major elective surgery. 159 patients were assigned to enteral nutrition and 158 to parenteral nutrition. The primary endpoint was the occurrence of postoperative complications, and secondary endpoints were length of postoperative hospital stay, adverse effects, and treatment crossover. Analysis was by intention to treat.
Findings: Postoperative complications occurred in 54 (34%) patients fed enterally versus 78 (49%) fed parenterally (relative risk 0.69, 95% CI 0.53-0.90, p=0.005). Length of postoperative stay was 13.4 days and 15.0 days in the enteral nutrition and parenteral nutrition groups, respectively (p=0.009). Adverse effects occurred in 56 (35%) patients fed enterally versus 22 (14%) patients fed parenterally (2.50, 1.61-3.86, p<0.0001). 14 (9%) patients on enteral nutrition had to switch to parenteral nutrition, whereas none of those fed parenterally crossed over to enteral feeding.
Interpretation: We conclude that early enteral nutrition significantly reduces the complication rate and duration of postoperative stay compared with parenteral nutrition, although parenteral nutrition is better tolerated than enteral nutrition.