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Vitamin E Helps Those with Fatty Liver Disease

In an NIH-funded study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that daily vitamin E improved the livers of patients who have a type of liver disease known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The study results are welcome findings because there are currently no approved treatments for the disease, says a Saint Louis University researcher on the project. Also see our article Krill Oil Reduces Fat in Heart and Liver.

Increasingly common, NASH is characterized by excessive fat that causes inflammation and damage in the liver; NASH affects 3 to 4 percent of all adults in the U.S. Linked to weight gain and obesity, NASH can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and death.

"Fatty liver disease is a growing problem in the U.S., and we currently have no approved medication to offer patients," said Brent Tetri, M.D., a hepatologist at Saint Louis University Liver Center and study researcher. “With this study, we’re pleased to find that vitamin E should help some of our patients.”

During 96 weeks of treatment, patients with NASH were given 800 IU daily of the natural form of vitamin E, 30 mg per day of pioglitazone or a placebo for 96 weeks. Researchers found that 43 percent of those treated with vitamin E showed significant improvement of the liver; 34 percent of those who received pioglitazone and only 19 percent of those who received a placebo improved.

Separately, researchers also studied the effects of a drug, pioglitazone, in treating NASH. It, too, improved the condition of patients’ livers, although its use was associated with weight gain.

Researchers caution that neither treatment improved liver disease in all patients, and that diabetic patients were not included in this study. Diabetes is common in NASH patients, and further research is needed to determine if vitamin E or pioglitazone will be appropriate treatments for diabetic patients.

"This study is a promising step in treating NASH,” said Tetri, professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University.

The study was published in the advance online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine on April 28.

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.


60th Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

NEJM, online edition Apr 28, 2010

Saint Louis University Medical Center 4/29/2010