Systematic review with meta-analysis: branched-chain amino acid supplementation in liver disease

Eur J Clin Invest. 2022 Nov 17;e13909. doi: 10.1111/eci.13909. Online ahead of print.


Background: Dietary supplementation with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) is often used in cirrhotic patients to improve nutritional status. We wanted to explore evidence for BCAA supplementation in chronic liver disease.

Methods: We searched MEDLINE and EMBASE for studies with BCAA supplementation with presence of a disease-control group (placebo or no intervention) using search terms "liver cirrhosis", "hepatocellular carcinoma", "branched chain amino acids" and relevant synonyms. Risk of bias was assessed using ROBINS-I and RoB 2.0 tools. Meta-analyses were performed with random effects model. Results were reported following EQUATOR guidelines.

Results: Of 3378 studies screened by title and abstract, 54 were included (34 randomized controlled trials, 5 prospective case-control studies, 13 retrospective case-control studies: in total 2308 patients BCAA supplementation, 2876 disease-controls). Risk of bias was high/serious for almost all studies. According to meta-analyses, long-term (at least 6 months) BCAA supplementation in cirrhotic patients significantly improved event-free survival (p=0.008; RR 0.61 95% CI 0.42-0.88) and tended to improve overall survival (p=0.05; RR 0.58 95% CI 0.34-1.00). Two retrospective studies suggested beneficial effects during sorafenib for hepatocellular carcinoma. Available studies reported no beneficial effects or contradictory results of BCAA after other specific therapeutic interventions (resection or radiological interventions for hepatocellular carcinoma, liver transplantation, paracentesis or variceal ligation). No convincing beneficial effects of BCAA supplementation on liver function, nutritional status or quality of life were found. No study reported serious side effects of BCAA.

Conclusions: prophylactic BCAA supplementation appears safe and might improve survival in cirrhotic patients.

Keywords: branched-chain amino acids; cirrhosis; hepatocellular carcinoma; liver; nutrition.

Publication types

  • Review