Gastric cancer causes significant malnutrition in patients, negatively impacting their survival rates, and affecting their quality of life. But can supplementing with the amino acid arginine improve care?

Gastric cancer, or stomach cancer, usually develops in the innermost layer of the stomach—the mucosa. Unfortunately, the early stages of stomach cancer often don’t produce symptoms, so the cancer often grows before its detected. Prognosis is often poor.

Gastric cancer can often be treated by surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted therapies. Some of these treatments have severe side effects, including nausea and lack of appetite.

These side effects, plus the progression of the cancer, often result in malnutrition. If the patient suffers from malnutrition, their survival rate goes down. Malnutrition also prevents some cancer treatment from working effectively.

H Zhao, Y Wang, et al, researchers at the Department of Intensive Care Unit, Daqing Oilfield General Hospital, Daqing, China, hoped to improve nutrition for patients with gastric cancer by supplementing with arginine.

The amino acid arginine is usually produced in the body. Arginine plays an important role in immune function, and wound healing. However, the malnourished gastric cancer patients were not producing enough.

The researchers developed a randomized, double-blinded clinical trial. Malnourished patients with gastric cancer were given either the standard postoperative nutrition, or arginine-enriched nutrition. Both these groups had similar baseline characteristics.

Promising results for arginine supplement and gastric cancer trial

The arginine group had significantly better overall survival rates, of 41 months compared to 30 months. The arginine group also had better progression-free survival, of 18 months compared to 11.5 months.

Immunity was improved, too. The arginine group had significantly higher levels of T cells and natural killer cells, which are critical to the functioning of the immune system.

The researchers concluded that arginine-supplemented nutrition could become a valuable treatment for malnourished gastric cancer patients.

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23812551