Branched-Chain Amino Acids Prevent Hepatocarcinogenesis and Prolong Survival of Patients With Cirrhosis

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Abstract

BACKGROUND & AIMS:

Although a low plasma level of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) is a marker of cirrhosis, it is not clear whether BCAA supplements affect disease progression. We performed a multicenter study to evaluate the effects of BCAA supplementation on hepatocarcinogenesis and survival in patients with cirrhosis.

METHODS:

We enrolled 299 patients from 14 medical institutions in Japan in a prospective, multicenter study in 2009; 267 patients were followed through 2011. Patients were given BCAA supplements (5.5–12.0 g/day) for more than 2 years (n = 85) or no BCAAs (controls, n = 182). The primary end points were onset of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and death. Factors associated with these events were analyzed by competing risk analysis.

RESULTS:

During the study period, 41 of 182 controls and 11 of 85 patients given BCAAs developed HCC. On the basis of the Cox and the Fine and Gray models of regression analyses, level of α-fetoprotein, ratio of BCAA:tyrosine, and BCAA supplementation were associated with development of HCC (relative risk for BCAAs, 0.45; 95% confidence interval, 0.24–0.88;P= .019). Sixteen controls and 2 patients given BCAAs died. Factors significantly associated with death were Child–Pugh score, blood level of urea nitrogen, platelet count, male sex, and BCAA supplementation (relative risk of death for BCAAs, 0.009; 95% confidence interval, 0.0002–0.365;P= .015) in both regression models.

CONCLUSIONS:

On the basis of a prospective study, amino acid imbalance is a significant risk factor for the onset of HCC in patients with cirrhosis. BCAA supplementation reduces the risk for HCC and prolongs survival of patients with cirrhosis.

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