Background & aims: The role of oral supplementation with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) in advanced cirrhosis is far from settled. A nutritional approach might prevent progressive liver failure and improve nutritional parameters and quality of life.
Methods: A multicenter, randomized study comparing 1-year nutritional supplementation with BCAA against lactoalbumin or maltodextrins was performed in 174 patients with advanced cirrhosis. Primary outcomes were the prevention of a combined end point (death and deterioration to exclusion criteria), the need for hospital admission, and the duration of hospital stay. Secondary outcomes were nutritional parameters, laboratory data and Child-Pugh score, anorexia, health-related quality of life, and need for therapy.
Results: Treatment with BCAA significantly reduced the combined event rates compared with lactoalbumin (odds ratio, 0.43; 95% confidence interval, 0.19-0.96; P = 0.039) and nonsignificantly compared with maltodextrins (odds ratio, 0.51; 95% confidence interval, 0.23-1.17; P = 0.108). The average hospital admission rate was lower in the BCAA arm compared with control treatments (P = 0.006 and P = 0.003, respectively). In patients who remained in the study, nutritional parameters and liver function tests were, on average, stable or improved during treatment with BCAA and the Child-Pugh score decreased (P = 0.013). Also, anorexia and health-related quality of life (SF-36 questionnaire) improved. Long-term compliance with BCAA was poor.
Conclusions: In advanced cirrhosis, long-term nutritional supplementation with oral BCAA is useful to prevent progressive hepatic failure and to improve surrogate markers and perceived health status. New formulas are needed to increase compliance.