4 Experimental Treatments for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Actos, Avandia, metformin, and vitamins C and E are among possible treatments for fatty liver disease.

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Here's a look at what recent research shows about a few experimental treatments for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, also known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH. The chronic condition can cause inflammation or damage to the liver and lead to such severe problems as cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer. It usually doesn't cause symptoms, but signs may include weight loss, fatigue, and pain on the upper right side of the abdomen.

Vitamins C and E. There's conflicting evidence on whether a combination of these vitamins can help people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. A study published in 2005 in the Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology found that a combination of vitamins C and E served as a safe, cheap, and effective treatment option for people with fatty liver disease. However, a small study published last July in the journal Hepatology found that supplements of vitamins E and C does not seem to boost the effects of making lifestyle changes (changing diet, incorporating exercise) in 5-to-18-year-olds with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Metformin (sold under the brand names Fortamet, Glucophage, Glumetza, and Riomet). Taking this diabetes medication led to improvements on certain liver tests in 30 percent of patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, but this was probably because of weight loss caused by taking metformin, according to a pilot study, the results of which were published last October in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. A few other studies investigating whether metformin is effective in treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are currently recruiting volunteers or soon will be. Taking metformin during pregnancy has been found to be safe.

Rosiglitazone (Avandia). Improvements were seen on certain liver tests in patients taking this diabetes medicine, but other tests failed to show a benefit, according to research published in July in the journal Gastroenterology. Another study is now recruiting participants to compare how Avandia stacks up against other diabetes medications in treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. However, there's one important concern about using Avandia to treat fatty liver disease: Some data suggest that Avandia may increase the risk of a heart attack.

Pioglitazone (Actos). Nondiabetics who took this diabetes drug for 12 months experienced improvements in the liver damage caused by fatty liver disease and fibrosis (the buildup of scar tissue in the liver), researchers reported in October in Gastroenterology. A separate study based in San Antonio, Texas, which aims to investigate the role of pioglitazone in treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, is one of a few similar studies worldwide that are currently recruiting participants.

If you've been diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or are worried about ending up with the condition one day, consider these 5 tips for treatment and prevention. And while vitamins are being tested as an option to treat fatty liver disease, they also have potential drawbacks.