Pharmacological Interventions for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Adults and in Children: A Systematic Review

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Abstract

Background:

Uncertainty exists regarding the treatment of patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) who are unable to lose weight and/or change lifestyle. The present study assesses the effectiveness and safety of pharmacological and dietary supplement interventions for NAFLD.

Methods:

MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library were searched for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) both in adults and in children.

Results:

Fifteen (2 pediatric patients and 13 adults) RCTs met the inclusion criteria. A significant effect on normalization of alanine transaminase was found in patients treated with metformin compared with vitamin E, and in those treated with high-dose (3 g) carnitine vs diet. In contrast, there was no difference in patients treated with pioglitazone combined with vitamin E versus vitamin E alone, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) combined with vitamin E or alone versus placebo, or UDCA versus combination of vitamin E and vitamin C, and in patients treated with vitamin E, probucol, N-acetylcysteine, low doses of carnitine, or Yo Jyo Shi Ko compared with placebo. Aspartate aminotransferase normalization was significantly higher in those treated with UDCA combined with vitamin E versus UDCA alone or placebo, and in those treated with metformin. Small number of subjects, high drop-out rates, and numerous interventions in 1 study limit the value of many studies. Only 7 RCTs analyzed biopsy specimens, but most of them have significant methodological limitations. Pioglitazone had reduced liver necrosis and inflammation in 1 large study.

Conclusions:

Limited data do not allow one to draw firm conclusions on the efficacy of various treatments for NAFLD.

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