Weight Loss Drug Helps Decrease Belly And Liver Fat, UH Study Finds

A UH clinical trial found that an injectable drug, liraglutide, can reduce abdominal fat and liver fat, when combined with diet and exercise. [Sonis Photography / Shutterstock]
A UH clinical trial found that an injectable drug, liraglutide, can reduce abdominal fat and liver fat, when combined with diet and exercise. [Sonis Photography / Shutterstock]

Findings from a new University Hospitals clinical trial suggest that an injectable weight loss medication, liraglutide, can help to reduce intra-abdominal fat and liver fat.

Weight loss drugs may seem like an optional, aesthetic choice, but reducing this type of abdominal fat and liver fat can have a huge impact on health, said Dr. Ian Neeland, with the UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

“Obesity is not just an aesthetic issue,” he said. “It obviously drives risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other medical complications.”

There are different types of fat, including visceral fat, which is excess fat in and around abdominal organs, and ectopic fat, which can be found in the liver and heart. This is different than subcutaneous fat, the fat under a person’s skin.  

“When fat accumulates inside the body as opposed to under the skin, that creates a situation of inflammation and abnormal hormones, and that leads to diabetes and heart disease,” Neeland said.

Neeland led the study, which found that liraglutide reduced fat in the 128 study participants more than a placebo. The study’s participants also ate a low-calorie diet and increased physical activity.

The clinical trial found that the drug can decrease visceral and ectopic fat, which can then help doctors address diabetes and heart disease in patients, Neeland said.

It is currently on the market and is administered once each day through injection. It’s one of the most popular weight-loss drugs on the market, with liraglutide taking up more than 50 percent of all weight loss prescriptions, according to Neeland.

There are also some similar medications designed to replicate liraglutide’s success.

“The field is growing, and there’s lots of interest now in looking at these weight-loss medications, not just for weight loss benefits, but for cardiovascular health benefits and to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and dying from heart disease,” Neeland said.

In order for a doctor to prescribe liraglutide, a patient must be obese, which equates to a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. Patients can also get a prescription if they are overweight, with a BMI of 27, but with weight-related comorbidities, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or obstructive sleep apnea.

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