February 16, 2009
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Weight Loss Improves Fatty Liver Disease, SLU Researchers Find
Study Discovers How Much Weight Loss is Needed to Make a Difference
ST. LOUIS - In a recent study, Saint Louis University
researchers found that weight loss of at least 9 percent helped
patients reverse a type of liver disease known as nonalcoholic
steatohepatitis (NASH), a finding that will allow doctors to give
patients specific weight-loss goals that are likely to improve their
livers. The finding comes from a study of the diet drug orlistat (also
known as Xenical and Alli), which did not itself improve liver disease.
Neuschwander-Tetri, M.D., a hepatologist at Saint Louis University
Liver Center and study researcher said, "It's a helpful study because
we can now give patients a benchmark, a line they need to cross to see
Brent Neuschwander-Tetri, M.D.
The study looked at patients with NASH, which is
a type of liver disease characterized by excessive fat, causing
inflammation and damage in the liver. Researchers set out to see if
orlistat, which limits fat absorption, along with calorie restriction
would lead to weight loss and improve liver disease in overweight
patients with NASH, which was determined by a liver biopsy.
patients participated in the study, with all instructed to consume a
1,400 calorie diet and vitamin E, and half also receiving orlistat for
36 weeks, at which time liver biopsies were repeated.
orlistat itself was not linked directly to improved liver health,
weight loss was, and, further, researchers were able to pin-point the
percentage of weight loss needed to improve liver damage.
who lost 5 percent or more of body weight over nine months showed
improvement in insulin resistance and steatosis (fat accumulation in
the liver), and those who lost at least 9 percent showed reversal of
their liver damage.
The data about the drug orlistat was less
clear. Those in the orlistat group lost 8.3 percent body weight and
those in the other group lost 6 percent body weight, not a
statistically significant difference. As for liver disease, orlistat
did not itself improve liver enzymes, measures of insulin resistance or
reverse liver damage.
"The bottom line is that weight loss can
help improve fatty liver disease," said Neuschwander-Tetri, who is a
professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University. "Now we know
how much weight loss is needed for improvement, and we can give
patients specific goals as they work to improve their health."
Published in the January edition of
the study was conducted at Saint Louis University and Brooke Army
Medical Center and was funded by Roche Pharmaceuticals, the maker of
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of
Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west
of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical
scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a
local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks
new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease,
heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.