Nutritional therapy in alcoholic liver disease


Dr H. K. Seitz, Salem Medical Center, Zeppelinstrasse 11–33, D-69121 Heidelberg, Germany.


Chronic alcohol consumption may lead to primary and secondary malnutrition. In particular, protein energy malnutrition not only aggravates alcoholic liver disease but also correlates with impaired liver function and increased mortality. Therefore, in these patients, adequate nutritional support should be implemented in order to improve their prognosis. Clinical trials addressing this issue have shown that nutritional therapy either enterally or parenterally improves various aspects of malnutrition, and there is increasing evidence that it may also improve survival. Therefore, malnourished alcoholics should be administered a diet rich in carbohydrate- and protein-derived calories preferentially via the oral or enteral route. Micronutrient deficiencies typically encountered in alcoholics, such as for thiamine and folate, require specific supplementation. Patients with hepatic encephalopathy may be treated with branched-chain amino acids in order to achieve a positive nitrogen balance. Fatty liver represents the early stage of alcoholic liver disease, which is usually reversible with abstinence. Metadoxine appears to improve fatty liver but confirmatory studies are necessary. S-adenosyl-l-methionine may be helpful for patients with severe alcoholic liver damage, since various mechanisms of alcohol-related hepatotoxicity are counteracted with this essential methyl group donor, while a recent large trial showed that the use of polyenylphosphatidylcholine is of limited efficacy.