1. The effects of increasing glucose intake on nitrogen balance, energy expenditure and fuel utilization were measured in 12 malnourished adult patients receiving parenteral nutrition with constant, very high nitrogen intake (500 mg of N/kg), high (105 kJ/kg) or low (30 kJ/kg) glucose intake and constant fat intake (7 kJ/kg). Each patient received each diet for 8-day periods in random order.

2. Energy balance and nitrogen balance were determined daily. Blood samples, taken at admission, during 5% (w/v) dextrose (D-glucose) infusion and at the end of days 7 and 8 of each diet, were analysed for urea, glucose, lactate, triacylglycerols, fatty acids, glycerol, 3-hydroxybutyrate, insulin and glucagon.

3. The effect of increasing glucose intake was to increase nitrogen balance by 0.60 ± 0.25 (sem) mg/kJ. At zero energy balance, nitrogen balance was 48 mg day−1 kg−1. This confirms findings of previous studies: that the effects of glucose on nitrogen balance are greater at high than at low nitrogen intakes, and that, in malnourished patients, unlike in normal adults, markedly positive nitrogen balance can be achieved at zero or negative energy balances.

4. Changes in nitrogen balance were due almost entirely to changes in urea excretion.

5. The high nitrogen intake markedly increased plasma insulin and glucagon concentrations and reduced glycerol, fatty acid and 3-hydroxybutyrate concentrations, independent of any glucose effect. Glucagon concentrations were significantly decreased by added glucose intake, an effect not previously seen at low nitrogen intakes. At this high nitrogen intake, the effects of added glucose appear to be mediated by both insulin and glucagon.

6. Unlike the effects at low nitrogen intakes, added glucose caused no increase in energy expenditure (thermogenesis) or creatinine excretion, and almost no increase in glycogen stores.

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