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Hartl, Wolfgang H. ORCID: 0000-0002-4099-0366; Kopper, Philipp; Bender, Andreas; Scheipl, Fabian; Day, Andrew G.; Elke, Gunnar ORCID: 0000-0002-4948-1605; Küchenhoff, Helmut (2022): Protein intake and outcome of critically ill patients: analysis of a large international database using piece-wise exponential additive mixed models. Critical Care, 26: 7. ISSN 1364-8535

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Proteins are an essential part of medical nutrition therapy in critically ill patients. Guidelines almost universally recommend a high protein intake without robust evidence supporting its use.

Using a large international database, we modelled associations between the hazard rate of in-hospital death and live hospital discharge (competing risks) and three categories of protein intake (low: < 0.8 g/kg per day, standard: 0.8–1.2 g/kg per day, high: > 1.2 g/kg per day) during the first 11 days after ICU admission (acute phase). Time-varying cause-specific hazard ratios (HR) were calculated from piece-wise exponential additive mixed models. We used the estimated model to compare five different hypothetical protein diets (an exclusively low protein diet, a standard protein diet administered early (day 1 to 4) or late (day 5 to 11) after ICU admission, and an early or late high protein diet).

Of 21,100 critically ill patients in the database, 16,489 fulfilled inclusion criteria for the analysis. By day 60, 11,360 (68.9%) patients had been discharged from hospital, 4,192 patients (25.4%) had died in hospital, and 937 patients (5.7%) were still hospitalized. Median daily low protein intake was 0.49 g/kg [IQR 0.27–0.66], standard intake 0.99 g/kg [IQR 0.89– 1.09], and high intake 1.41 g/kg [IQR 1.29–1.60]. In comparison with an exclusively low protein diet, a late standard protein diet was associated with a lower hazard of in-hospital death: minimum 0.75 (95% CI 0.64, 0.87), and a higher hazard of live hospital discharge: maximum HR 1.98 (95% CI 1.72, 2.28). Results on hospital discharge, however, were qualitatively changed by a sensitivity analysis. There was no evidence that an early standard or a high protein intake during the acute phase was associated with a further improvement of outcome.

Provision of a standard protein intake during the late acute phase may improve outcome compared to an exclusively low protein diet. In unselected critically ill patients, clinical outcome may not be improved by a high protein intake during the acute phase.

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