Role of meal carbohydrate content for the imbalance of plasma amino acids in patients with liver cirrhosis

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2007 Aug;22(8):1241-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1746.2006.04620.x.


Background and aim: Imbalance of circulating branched chain amino acids (BCAA) versus aromatic amino acids (AAA) and hyperinsulinemia are common metabolic alterations in patients with liver cirrhosis. The aim of this study was to characterize the effect of the carbohydrate component of a protein-rich mixed meal on postprandial plasma concentrations of 21 amino acids, insulin and C-peptide in patients with compensated liver cirrhosis. Furthermore, the effect of a dietary intervention on the metabolic alterations in cirrhotic patients was examined.

Methods: Eighteen patients with cirrhosis and 12 healthy volunteers received a protein-rich meal (pork filet 200 g) with or without carbohydrates (bread 50 g, glucose 20 g). A subgroup of four cirrhotic patients received an isoenergetic (117 kJ/kg bw) carbohydrate-enriched (60%) and -restricted (20%) diet for 7 days each.

Results: In the cirrhotic patients, basal plasma insulin and C-peptide concentrations were significantly elevated. The ingestion of a protein-rich meal without additional carbohydrates led to a significantly greater increase of insulin and C-peptide in the cirrhotic patients compared to controls. Postprandial increases of leucine and isoleucine were reduced, whereas those of phenylalanine were higher in cirrhotic patients. The addition of carbohydrates led to higher insulin and C-peptide plasma concentrations in cirrhotic patients. Postprandial BCAA increases were more impaired in the cirrhotic group after additional carbohydrate ingestion (46%vs 82%). After the carbohydrate-restricted diet for 7 days BCAA plasma levels increased but the BCAA/AAA ratio remained unaltered.

Conclusions: The carbohydrate content of a meal enhances reduction of BCAA plasma concentrations in clinically stable cirrhotic patients. An imbalanced BCAA/AAA ratio cannot be avoided by a carbohydrate-reduced diet alone, supporting mandatory BCAA supplementation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids / blood*
  • Amino Acids, Aromatic / blood
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / blood
  • C-Peptide / blood
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin / analogs & derivatives
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin, Long-Acting
  • Liver Cirrhosis / blood
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diet therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Amino Acids
  • Amino Acids, Aromatic
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain
  • C-Peptide
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Insulin
  • Insulin, Long-Acting