Intermittent fasting in paediatric critical illness: The properties and potential beneficial effects of an overnight fast in the PICU

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Although evidence for the superiority of continuous feeding over intermittent feeding is lacking, in most paediatric intensive care units (PICU) artificial feeding is administered continuously for 24 h per day. Until now, studies in PICU on intermittent feeding have primarily focused on surrogate endpoints such as nutritional intake and gastro-intestinal complaints and none have studied the effects of an extended fasting period. Intermittent fasting has been proven to have many health benefits in both animal and human studies. The observed beneficial effects are based on multiple metabolic and endocrine changes that are presumed crucial in critical illness as well. One key element is the transition to ketone body metabolism, which, among others, contributes to the stimulation of several cellular pathways involved in stress resistance (neuro)plasticity and mitochondrial biogenesis, and might help preserve brain function. Secondly, the fasting state stimulates the activation of autophagy, a process that is crucial for cellular function and integrity. Of the different intermittent fasting strategies investigated, time-restricted feeding with a daily extended fasting period appears most feasible in the PICU. Moreover, planning the fasting period overnight could help maintain the circadian rhythm. Although not investigated, such an overnight intermittent fasting strategy might improve the metabolic profile, feeding tolerance and perhaps even have beneficial effects on tissue repair, reperfusion injury, muscle weakness, and the immune response. Future studies should investigate practical implications in critically ill children and the optimal duration of the fasting periods, which might be affected by the severity of illness and by age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5122-5132
Number of pages11
JournalClinical Nutrition
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: ESPEN Research Fellowship 2019 , Sophia Research Foundation ( S19-33 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)


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