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Nutrition in Intestinal Failure


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Nutrition in Intestinal Failure

August 30, 2021

Intestinal failure is defined by the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) as the reduction of gut function below the minimum necessary for the absorption of macronutrients and/or water and electrolytes, such that intravenous supplementation is required to maintain health and/or growth (1). Five major conditions may contribute to intestinal failure, namely short bowel, intestinal fistula, intestinal dysmotility, mechanical obstruction and extensive small bowel mucosal disease (2). In the event of an enterocutaneous fistula, the primary mechanism of intestinal failure is the malabsorption of the ingested food as a result of a reduction or bypass of the absorptive mucosal surface (2).

The main symptom of intestinal failure is diarrhoea or high stoma output, which when severe, can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss. To prevent dehydration and malnutrition, parenteral nutrition is often used in the management of intestinal failure. However, it is not without its own complications, high cost, and decrease in quality of life in the long term (3). Therefore, dietary modifications as part of a multidisciplinary approach together with novel intestinotrophic pharmaceuticals and surgery may be able to stimulate intestinal adaptation and optimise intestinal absorption in order to achieve independence from parenteral nutrition (3).

Food and fluid not only provide nourishment, with appropriate modifications they can also help improve intestinal adaptation and symptom control (3). Early dietary modification is critical for optimal intestinal adaptation. Diet should be tailored to the individual’s remaining bowel anatomy.

Timely dietary education and counselling are also crucial to enhance adherence and successful outcomes (3,4). The table below provides specifics regarding diet modifications for intestinal failure, which is adapted from Parrish CR, Di Baise JK (4).

General Tips

  • Consume 6-8 small meals or snacks per day
  • Chew foods well


  • Ensure high protein foods are included at each meal


  • Generous intake of complex carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, rice, potato, bread)
  • Limit simple sugars and sugar alcohols in both foods and fluids


  • Limit fat to < 30% in individuals with a colon
  • Include oils with essential fatty acids (e.g. sunflower, soy, walnut)

Oxalate (a molecule found in plant foods that helps remove excess calcium from the body. Too much oxalate in your diet can cause kidney stones)

  • Limit if the colon is present


  • Consider oral rehydration solutions (isotonic)
  • All fluids may need to be limited if persistent high output


  • Increase salt intake in individuals without a colon; continue usual intake in ones with a colon


  • Encourage some soluble fibre (in food) if a colon is present

In recent years with the advancement of technology, chyme reinfusion therapy has been used as one of the ‘distal nutrition’ techniques to restore digestive function to the downstream intestine and reduce the need for parenteral nutrition (5). Chyme reinfusion therapy, developed by Dr Etienne Levy in the 1970s, establishes an extracorporeal circulation of the chyme between the collection pouch and the downstream small intestine (5). This corrects intestinal failure, restores enterohepatic cycles and stimulates L-cell enterocytes in proportion to the additional function that the downstream intestine can perform (5). Researchers in France, Picot et al, conducted a retrospective study of 306 patients treated with chyme reinfusion therapy from 2000 to 2018 (5). Before chyme reinfusion therapy, 211 (69%) patients had IVS for nutrition and/or hydration. Intravenous supplementation was stopped in 188 (89%) patients, a week after the beginning of chyme reinfusion therapy. Nutritional status improved in regard to weight gain (+3.5 ±8.4%). Interestingly, weight gain was more significant in malnourished patients. Although, food had to be prepared as puree texture to avoid clogging the tubing, which can be perceived as a technique constraint; eighty-one patients with double enterostomies pureed their food at home. Less than 5% of them asked for chyme reinfusion therapy to be stopped as they enjoyed the ability of choosing the foods they preferred. Thus, chyme reinfusion therapy has shown promising results in improving nutritional status while decreasing dependency on intravenous supplementation among patients who may have required intravenous supplementation over periods spanning weeks or months.

Written by

Andrew Xia

Advanced Clinical Dietitian

MSc in Nutrition and Dietetics (1st Hons)

  1. Pironi L, Arends J, Baxter J, Bozzetti F, Pelaez RB, Cuerda C, et al. ESPEN endorsed    recommendations. Definition and classification of intestinal failure in adults. Clin Nutr 2015 Apr;34(2):171e80. PubMed PMID: 25311444.
  2. Pironi L, Arends J, Bozzetti F, Cuerda C, Gillanders L, Jeppesen PB, Joly F, Kelly D, Lal S, Staun M, Szczepanek K, Van Gossum A, Wanten G, Schneider SM; Home Artificial Nutrition & Chronic Intestinal Failure Special Interest Group of ESPEN. ESPEN guidelines on chronic intestinal failure in adults. Clin Nutr. 2016 Apr;35(2):247-307. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2016.01.020. Epub 2016 Feb 8. Erratum in: Clin Nutr. 2017 Apr;36(2):619. PMID: 26944585.
  3. Parrish, C. R., & DiBaise, J. K. (2017). Managing the Adult Patient With Short Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 13(10), 600–608.
  4. ParrishCR, DiBaise JK. Short bowel syndrome in adults—part 2. Nutrition therapy forshort bowel syndrome in the adult patient. Practical Gastroenterology.2014;38(10):40–51.
  5. Picot,D., Layec, S., Seynhaeve, E., Dussaulx, L., Trivin, F., & Carsin-Mahe, M.(2020). Chyme Reinfusion in Intestinal Failure Related to Temporary DoubleEnterostomies and Enteroatmospheric Fistulas. Nutrients, 12(5), 1376.

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