Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) has a prevalence of 1% in Western countries. Its causes as well as its medical treatment are, to date, still debated. Recently, studies of agents suggested to have antiapoptotic, insulin-sensitizing or anti-inflammatory effects in patients with NASH have been conducted, one of which is ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), a tertiary bile acid. Between 1994 and 2008, four prospective randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of the treatment of NASH with UDCA were conducted. The first study, by Lindor et al., compared the impact of 13-15 mg/kg/day of UDCA to a placebo. The second study by Dufour et al. had an additional third arm that administered combination therapy with UDCA and vitamin E. The third and fourth studies by Leuschner et al. and by Ratziu et al. evaluated high doses of UDCA at 25-35 mg/kg/day, and used liver biopsies and serum liver enzyme levels to evaluate the impact of UDCA. With the exception of Ratziu et al.'s study, which was lacking a second liver biopsy, none of these studies showed any significant differences in the treatment of NASH with UDCA compared with a placebo. However, Dufour et al. did observe a significant improvement of NASH with the combination (UDCA/VitE) vs placebo therapy, whereas UDCA monotherapy was not effective in the treatment of NASH. Nevertheless, the effects of other bile acids and combination therapies need to be explored.
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