1. Assessment of nutrition in patients with chronic renal failure by body composition measurement techniques may be affected by variable hydration.
2. This study aimed to derive a four-component model of body composition (consisting of fat, protein, total body water and body mineral) from a combination of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and total body water measured by deuterium oxide dilution, allowing assessment of body protein stores without the effect of variation in hydration. Patients with chronic renal failure on haemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis and conservative treatment and a control group were studied. Patients with chronic renal failure were at an ‘ideal’ state of hydration on clinical assessment.
3. Hydration was defined by total body water as a percentage of fat-free mass measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, and no differences were found between chronic renal failure subgroups and control subjects (except in the female undialysed chronic renal failure subgroup). Hydration was significantly correlated with percentage total body fat in the control groups but not in patients with chronic renal failure.
4. Lean tissue measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry was significantly reduced in three of the six chronic renal failure groups compared with control subjects (male and female patients on haemodialysis and female patients on peritoneal dialysis). Protein estimated from the four-component model failed to detect these abnormalities.
5. Lean tissue measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry in normal subjects strongly correlated with fat-free mass measured by total body potassium in normal subjects (male r = 0.91; female r = 0.89, both P < 0.0001). The correlation of protein estimated from the four-component model with fat-free mass measured by total body potassium was far weaker in male control subjects (r = 0.51, P < 0.05) and not significant in female control subjects (r = 0.38, P not significant). In the normal subjects protein estimated from the four-component model showed a much greater variation from protein estimated by total body potassium than did protein estimated simply as 27% of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry fat-free mass minus total body mineral.
6. Hydration in patients with chronic renal failure in whom fluid balance is believed to be normal on clinical criteria does not differ from that in normal subjects. The combined model of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and total body water is not a useful method for the measurement of body protein.