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Diabetes Drug May Treat Fatty Liver

Preliminary Study Shows Actos May Ease Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 30, 2006 -- Early research shows the diabetes drug Actos may help treat nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a common liver disease that currently has no drug treatment.

However, it's too soon to recommend Actos for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) patients, experts warn.

The researchers in this study wanted only to see if Actos was promising enough to deserve a larger, longer study on the possible benefits for NASH patients.

They concluded the drug passed that test.

What Is NASH?

NASH is liver inflammation, possibly with liver damage, caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. The condition can lead to cirrhosis, in which the liver can't function normally.

While it's not normal to have fat in the liver, most people with fatty livers don't have NASH.

The disease affects 2% to 5% of Americans, according to the National Institute on Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

An additional 10% to 20% of Americans have fatty livers, but no liver inflammation or liver damage, says NIDDK.

NASH and other fatty liver conditions are becoming more common, possibly because of the rise in obesity, notes NIDDK.

NASH Study

The new study appears in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers included Renata Belfort, MD, of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The team studied 55 Texans with NASH. On average, patients were in their late 40s to early 50s and were obese, based on BMI (body mass index), which relates height to weight.

In addition to NASH, the patients also had type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance, a condition which can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar. In cases of insulin resistance, the body responds sluggishly to the hormone, requiring the body to make more insulin to control blood sugar.

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