Nutritional Support May Be Lifesaving in Heart Failure

Megan Brooks

May 05, 2021

Personalized nutritional support for adults hospitalized with chronic heart failure and deemed to be at high nutritional risk reduced the risk of dying or suffering adverse cardiovascular events compared with standard hospital food, new research indicates.

The Swiss EFFORT trial focused on patients with chronic heart failure and high risk of malnutrition defined by low body mass index (BMI), weight loss, and low food intake upon hospital admission.

"This high-risk group of chronic heart failure patients showed a significant improvement in mortality over 30 and 180 days, as well as other clinical outcomes, when individualized nutritional support interventions were offered to patients," Philipp Schuetz, MD, MPH, Kantonsspital Aarau, Aarau, Switzerland, told | Medscape Cardiology.

"While monitoring the nutritional status should be done also in outpatient settings by [general practitioners], malnutrition screening upon hospital admission may help to identify high-risk patients with high risk for nutritional status deterioration during the hospital stay who will benefit from nutritional assessment and treatment," said Schuetz.

The study was published online May 3 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

It's Not All About Salt

The findings are based on a prespecified secondary analysis of outcomes in 645 patients (median age, 78.8 years, 52% men) hospitalized with chronic heart failure who participated in the open-label EFFORT study.  

One third of patients were hospitalized for acute decompensated heart failure and two thirds had chronic heart failure and other acute medical illnesses requiring hospitalization.

All patients were at risk of malnutrition based on a Nutritional Risk Screening (NRS) score of 3 points or higher. They were randomly allocated 1:1 to individualized nutritional support to reach energy, protein, and micronutrient goals or usual hospital food (control group). 

By 30 days, 27 of 321 patients (8.4%) receiving nutritional support had died compared with 48 of 324 patients (14.8%) in the control group (adjusted odds ratio [OR]: 0.44; 95% CI, 0.26 - 0.75; P = .002)

Patients with high nutritional risk (NRS >4 points) showed the most benefit from nutritional support.

Compared with patients with moderate nutritional risk scores (NRS score 3 to 4), those with high nutritional risk (NRS >4) had a highly significant 65% increased mortality risk over 180 days.

The individual component of the NRS with the strongest association with mortality was low food intake in the week before hospitalization.

Patients who received nutritional support in the hospital also had a lower risk for major cardiovascular events at 30 days (17.4% vs. 26.9%; OR, 0.50; 95% CI, 0.34 - 0.75; P = .001).

"Historically, cardiologists and internists caring for patients with heart failure have mainly focused on salt-restrictive diets to reduce blood volume and thus optimize heart function. Yet, reduction of salt intake has not been shown to effectively improve clinical outcome but may, on the contrary, increase the risk of malnutrition as low-salt diets are often not tasty," Schuetz told | Medscape Cardiology.

"Our data suggest that we should move our focus away from salt-restrictive diets to high-protein diets to cover individual nutritional goals in this high-risk group of patients which includes screening, assessment, and nutritional support by dietitians," Schuetz said.

In a linked editorial, Sheldon Gottlieb, MD, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, says there has been "relatively little attention" paid to the role of diet in heart failure other than recommending reduced salt intake.     

In fact, in the 2021 American College of Cardiology expert consensus recommendations for optimizing heart failure treatment, roughly five words are devoted to diet and exercise and there is no mention of nutrition assessment by a dietitian, he points out.

"This study adds another tile to the still-fragmentary mosaic picture of the patient with heart failure at nutritional risk who might benefit from nutritional support," Gottlieb writes.

" 'Good medical care' dictates that all hospitalized patients deserve to have a standardized nutritional assessment; the challenge remains: how to determine which patient with heart failure at nutritional risk will benefit by medical nutrition therapy," Gottlieb says.

The Swiss National Science Foundation and the Research Council of the Kantonsspital Aarau provided funding for the trial. Schuetz's institution has previously received unrestricted grant money unrelated to this project from Nestle Health Science and Abbott Nutrition. Gottlieb owns a federal trademark for "Greens, Beans, and Leans" diet, and has a pending federal trademark for "FLOATS": flax + oats cereal.

J Am Coll Cardiol. Published online May 3, 2021. Abstract, Editorial

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