Background: Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a form of progressive fatty liver disease that is strongly associated with insulin resistance, which suggests that insulin sensitizing agents such as metformin may be beneficial for NASH.
Aim: To assess the effects of metformin on insulin sensitivity, body composition, serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels and liver histology in patients with NASH.
Methods: Patients underwent liver biopsy, metabolic profiling and imaging studies before and at the end 48 weeks of metformin (2000 mg/day) therapy. The primary endpoint was a three-point improvement in the histological NASH activity index.
Results: Of 28 patients enrolled, 26 (13 females; average age 44 years) completed 48 weeks of treatment and underwent repeat metabolic studies, imaging and liver biopsy. Thirty per cent achieved a histological response. Most patients lost weight, the average being 6 kg. There was a marked association between weight loss and improvements in NASH activity index and ALT levels (both, P < 0.01). Insulin sensitivity also improved, but the degree of change did not correlate with histological improvement.
Conclusion: Metformin leads to improvements in liver histology and ALT levels in 30% of patients with NASH, probably by its effects in causing weight loss.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00063232.