What Is Nutrition Support Therapy

All people need food to live. Sometimes a person cannot eat any or enough food because of an illness.  The stomach or bowel may not be working quite right, or a person may have had surgery to remove part or all of these organs. Under those conditions, nutrition must be supplied in a different way.

Nutrition can be provided either through a feeding tube (enteral nutrition) or, when the digestive tract cannot be used, through an intravenous tube called a catheter that is inserted directly into the veins (parenteral nutrition).  The amount, type, and route of nutrition are tailored specifically to each patient with the goal being to improve patient outcomes, minimize infections, and allow patients to live their lives as normally as possible.

Nutrition support professionals work in a variety of settings including hospitals, home care agencies, long-term care facilities, research facilities, and academia.  They include dietitians, pharmacists, nurses, and physicians and may work either independently or as part of a nutrition support service or team. They are specialists in providing and managing enteral and parenteral nutrition in diverse patient populations from pediatrics to geriatrics.

Key Terms:

Nutrition Support Therapy

The provision of enteral or parenteral nutrients 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.

Parenteral (pah REN ter ul) Nutrition  

Parenteral nutrition is one of the ways people receive nutrition when they cannot eat or use their gut via tube feeding.  It is a special liquid mixture given into the blood  through an intravenous tube into a vein. The mixture contains all the protein, sugars, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed.  It was once called "total parenteral nutrition," "TPN," or "hyperalimentation."  

Parenteral Nutrition Fact Sheet

Enteral (EN ter al) Nutrition 

Enteral nutrition is another way people can receive the nutrition they need.  Also called "tube feeding," enteral nutrition is a mixture of all the needed nutrients.  It is thicker than parenteral nutrition and sometimes it looks like a milk shake.  It is given through a tube into the stomach or small intestine.  

Enteral Nutrition Fact Sheet