What Is Nutrition Support Therapy?

Nutrition care is a patient right. Patients of all ages, demographics, ethnicities, and backgrounds need nutrition to live. In some cases, an individual cannot eat enough (or any) food to maintain proper nutrition status and overall health due to an illness or medical condition. When nutrition needs cannot be met by mouth, nutrients must be supplied differently—this is called nutrition support therapy. 

There are two main nutrition support therapies: enteral (via a feeding tube) or parenteral (via an intravenous catheter). The amount, type, and route of nutrition support are individually tailored to each patient based on needs and clinical factors.

Nutrition support professionals (NSPs) determine the type and route of nutrition support. Nutrition support professionals can be dietitians, nurses, pharmacists, physicians, advanced practice providers, or other healthcare providers. Nutrition support professionals may work across various healthcare settings, including, but not limited to, hospitals, outpatient clinics, homecare agencies, or long-term care facilities. Nutrition support professionals may work independently or as part of an interdisciplinary team.

The information below will review the following key concepts regarding nutrition support therapy.

Nutrition Support Therapy: Nutrition support therapy provides enteral or parenteral nutrition to treat or prevent malnutrition. Nutrition support therapy is part of nutrition therapy, which is a component of medical treatment that can include oral, enteral, and parenteral nutrition to maintain or restore optimal nutrition status and health.

Enteral (EN-ter-al) Nutrition: Enteral nutrition (EN), also called “tube feeding,” is one way patients can receive the nutrition they need. Enteral nutrition includes all the nutrients required, formulated into a liquid form. The liquid can include ready-to-feed formulas, formulas made from a powder or a concentrate, or can be blenderized food. Blenderized formulas may be home-blended or commercially prepared. For babies, human breast milk or infant formula can be considered an EN formula. Enteral nutrition is administered via an enteral access device or a feeding tube that directly accesses the stomach or small intestine. Learn more here.  

Parenteral (pah-REN-ter ul) Nutrition: Parenteral nutrition (PN) is another way patients can receive the nutrition they need. Parenteral nutrition is chosen when a patient cannot use the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or nutrition needs cannot be met through the GI tract alone. Parenteral nutrition is a unique sterile intravenous (IV) solution administered directly into the bloodstream via an IV catheter that is inserted into a vein. Each PN admixture is specifically formulated in a sterile pharmacy to meet a person’s unique nutrition needs. Parenteral nutrition contains fluid, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed to meet nutrition needs. It was once called total parenteral nutrition, TPN, or hyperalimentation. Learn more here.

Additional Resources
ASPEN Enteral Nutrition Resources
When is Enteral Nutrition Indicated: Consensus Statement

ASPEN Parenteral Nutrition Resources
Indications and Appropriateness of Parenteral Nutrition : Consensus Recommendation

Disclaimer: This content has been developed for use by healthcare professionals to inform other clinicians and/or patients/caregivers. ASPEN is making this content available for informational purposes only. This content is not based on ASPEN Board Approved documents and should not be confused with ASPEN clinical guidelines as it was not developed according to ASPEN guideline processes. Recommendations provided here do not constitute medical or other professional advice and should not be taken as such. To the extent that the information presented here may be used to assist in the care of patients, the primary component of quality medical care is the result of the professional judgment of the healthcare professionals providing care. The information presented here is not a substitute for the exercise of professional judgment by healthcare professionals. Circumstances and patient specifics in clinical settings may require actions different from those recommended in this document; in those cases, the judgment of the treating professional should prevail. Use of this information does not in any way guarantee any specific benefit in outcome or survival. This tool is intended to supplement, but not replace, professional training and judgment.