Does nutrition really matter?

I listened to a fascinating webinar yesterday about nutrition for patients having major surgery.  The information was pretty technical and specific, but I had to share one particularly interesting tidbit.  While it may not directly apply to most of us, it illustrates the importance of nutrition and how seemingly small dietary changes can have a big impact.

The study focused on the effects of giving supplemental arginine to malnourished people who had surgery to treat head or neck cancer.  Arginine is an amino acid that helps our immune system function properly and may help the body target cancer cells and prevent metastases.  The patients were given tube feeding 7-10 days prior to and 10 days after surgery for their cancer.  They were divided into two groups.  One group received the regular tube feeding, and the other received a tube feeding with arginine replacing some of the regular protein.   The results are shown in the graph below.

Source: Buijs N et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92:1151-1156.

The graph shows how long patients survived after surgery.  The bottom axis gives the length of survival after surgery in months, while the left hand axis shows the percentage of surviving patients, with 1.0 being 100%, 0.8 being 80%, and so on.  The dark line represents the people who received the arginine.  The dotted line represents the people who received the regular tube feeding.

As you can see, starting at 24 months (two years), the lines separate, showing a higher rate of survival for the patients who received arginine around surgery.  The lines get farther and farther apart as time goes on.  After 84 months (seven years), none of the patients who received the regular tube feeding had survived, yet at that same point, 40% of the patients who received arginine are still alive.

Now, you may not be undergoing anything as big as a major surgery for cancer.  But when you think about how this small dietary change over the course of less than three weeks had such a big impact on the lives of these patients, you should hopefully realize how even small changes in your own dietary habits can have big results.

Something to think about.

This post is not meant to encourage taking arginine, protein, or any other supplements.  Do not take any supplement or start any special diet without consulting your doctor.  

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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