In a prospective study, 12 intensive care patients, after abdominal surgery, received three alternate six-day courses of two enteral diets with identical nitrogen (0.3 g N/kg per day) and energy (60 kcal/kg per day) supply. The protein hydrolysate (PH) diet contained enzyme-hydrolysed casein and lactoserum (60% small peptides), while the non-degraded protein (NDP) diet contained a nitrogen source of similar amino acid composition, but in the form of non-degraded proteins. The patients were randomised to receive either PH-NDP-PH or NDP-PH-NDP. Parameters reflecting protein metabolism were assessed in the plasma, urine, and stomal effluent on days 1, 6, 12, and 18, three hours after stopping the nutrition (t0), and one hour after restarting it (t1). Comparisons of t1 and t0 values showed that 13 amino acids (including the eight essential amino acids) increased significantly with the protein hydrolysate diet, but only two increased with the non-degraded protein diet. Similarly, with protein hydrolysate, insulin-aemia at t1 was significantly higher than at t0 and correlated with plasma leucine, phenylalanine, alanine, and lysine concentrations. In addition, significant improvements in plasma albumin, transferrin, and retinol binding protein concentrations were seen with protein hydrolysate, together with a significant decrease in the plasma phenylalanine/tyrosine ratio and urinary 3-methylhistidine excretion. We conclude that in patients in intensive care after abdominal surgery enteral support containing small peptides is more effective than an equivalent diet containing whole proteins in restoring plasma amino acid and protein levels.
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