UT Southwestern researchers announced successful results of a clinical trial for a commonly prescribed weight loss drug called liraglutide. In overweight or obese adults who also had a high cardiovascular risk, liraglutide once a day, combined with lifestyle interventions significantly reduced two types of fat that have been associated with heart health risk: visceral fat and ectopic fat.
“Our study used cutting-edge imaging technology to evaluate different components of fat in the body. The main finding was a significant decrease in visceral fat in patients without diabetes but who were overweight or obese. These results show the potential of a liraglutide treatment to significantly reduce the risk of chronic disease among this population,” Parag Joshi, MD, said. He is a preventive cardiologist, assistant professor of cardiology and lead author of the study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.
Visceral fat is stored within the abdominal cavity around important internal organs, such as the liver, pancreas, and the gut. Ectopic fat is stored in tissue that usually contains small amounts of fat, such as the liver, skeletal muscle, the heart, and the pancreas.
All 185 study participants received a liraglutide injection once a day for 40 weeks. The relative effects of liraglutide on fat reduction were two times greater in abdominal tissue and six times greater in the liver than those observed in total body weight. The treatment outcome was consistent across the categories of race/ethnicity and BMI, and among participants with or without baseline prediabetes. Liraglutide also reduced fasting blood glucose and inflammation in this non-diabetic test population, most of whom had normal blood sugar levels at the beginning of the study.
In a 2016 study led by UTSW researchers called the Leader Trial, the rate of first death from cardiovascular causes, non-fatal myocardial infarction, or non-fatal stroke among patients with type 2 diabetes was lower in those treated with liraglutide than in those given a placebo. “Our findings add a possible mechanism for why liraglutide shows a positive outcome on cardiovascular health and at the same time, it shows its benefits in people without diabetes,” Dr. Joshi said.
According to the researchers, obesity is estimated to affect 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 young people, promoting a substantial risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. “Excess visceral and ectopic fat (e.g. liver fat) is critical to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Joshi said. “It remains a challenge to identify those most at risk in order to offer them treatment, in addition to lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise.” The study was funded by a grant driven by a Novo Nordisk researcher. Other UT Southwestern researchers who contributed to the study include Colby R. Ayers, Bienka Lewis, Robert Oslica, Susan Rodder, and Ambarish Pandey.
Date: August 5th, 2021
Reference: Neeland IJ, Marso SP, Ayers CR, et al. Effects of liraglutide on visceral and ectopic fat in adults with overweight and obesity at high cardiovascular risk: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, 2021.
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