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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 5:31 EDT

Out With the Old? Treating Fatty Liver Disease

April 27, 2011

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Contradicting previous data, the use of vitamin E or the diabetes drug metformin, was not superior to placebo on a measured outcome for treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in children and adolescents, according to a new study.

“Coincident with the rise in prevalence of childhood and adolescent obesity over the past few decades, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has become the most common cause of chronic liver disease in children in the United States,” according to background information in the article. NAFLD encompasses a range of severity, from mild to severe disease that may ultimately result in advanced fibrosis (development of excess fibrous connective tissue in an organ), cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Insulin resistance is frequently identified in both adults and children with NAFLD, and treatment approaches to NAFLD target reduction in insulin resistance and oxidative stress. Pediatric pilot data demonstrated potential efficacy of metformin or vitamin E in treating NAFLD.

Joel E. Lavine, M.D., Ph.D., of Columbia University, New York, and colleagues conducted a randomized-controlled trial evaluating vitamin E for the treatment of NAFLD in children. The predefined primary outcome measure for this trial was sustained reduction in alanine aminotransferase (ALT; an enzyme which is significantly associated with NAFLD activity score and fibrosis stage in children) defined as 50 percent or less of the baseline level or 40 U/L or less at visits every 12 weeks from 48 to 96 weeks of treatment.

The researchers found that the attainment of sustained reduction in ALT level was similar to placebo (10/58; 17 percent) in both the vitamin E (15/58; 26 percent) and metformin treatment groups (9/57; 16 percent).

Among the 121 patients who had either NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis; fatty inflammation of the liver) or borderline NASH at baseline, the resolution of NASH was significantly greater in children treated with vitamin E than with placebo (58 percent vs. 28 percent). Differences between treatment groups in terms of frequency or severity of adverse events were not significant.

“In summary, this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of metformin or vitamin E for the treatment of NAFLD in children without diabetes or cirrhosis had a negative primary outcome. The data suggest that children treated with vitamin E who had biopsy-proven NASH or borderline NASH had significant improvement in secondary histologic outcomes with vitamin E,” the authors were quoted as saying.

“However, risk of biopsy might outweigh the benefits of therapy, so development of noninvasive markers for identification and monitoring of those who may benefit is desirable. Lifestyle modification is warranted for all children with NAFLD. The role of treatment with vitamin E in those who have a biopsy demonstrating borderline or definite NASH remains to be determined,” the authors said.

SOURCE: JAMA, published online April 27, 2011