Severe depletion of body protein stores can result from prolonged starvation or from hormonal and cytokine-mediated effects during critical illness. Recent advances in the understanding of cytokine actions have substantially refined the interpretation of the nutritional assessment of critically ill patients. In addition, the design of nutritional programs for hospitalized patients has changed considerably during the past decade. Although nutritional support of critically ill patients will not lead to positive nitrogen balance, nutrition can increase protein synthesis, enhance immune function, and beneficially modify the body's response to an illness.
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