A clinical trial led by Dr. Ian Neeland of University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute in Cleveland could have implications for overweight and obese adults who could benefit from reducing intra-abdominal fat. The study found liraglutide, an injectable weight loss medication, reduced intra-abdominal and liver fat in participants more than placebo in addition to a low-calorie diet and increased physical activity, according to a news release.

The findings were published in the August issue of Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

Visceral fat, excess fat in and around the abdominal organs, is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. Ectopic fat, deposited in body locations where fat is not normally stored, such as the liver, is also a risk factor, according to the release. Liraglutide is currently approved for weight loss and is shown to help to induce and sustain weight loss in patients with obesity. In smaller doses, liraglutide is used as a non-insulin injectable diabetes medication meant to improve blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. For patients with type 2 diabetes and heart disease, it reduces the risk of major cardiovascular events, such as heart attack, stroke or death. This trial, completed at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, investigated whether three milligrams of liraglutide daily by subcutaneous injection would reduce visceral and ectopic fat in trial participants.

“We know liraglutide helps people with type 2 diabetes and can also aid in weight loss,” Neeland, director of cardiovascular prevention and co-director of the Center for Integrated and Novel Approaches in Vascular-Metabolic Disease for UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, said in the release. “What we didn’t know was if it specifically reduced visceral and ectopic fat. Discovering this was important because of the potential to widen its use and help more patients.

Adults enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial had a body mass index of more than 30 or a BMI of more than 27 with a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. A person with a BMI greater than 25 is considered overweight. One-hundred and 85 participants were assigned to 40 weeks of treatment with once-daily liraglutide (3.0 mg) or placebo. Additionally, everyone in the study also decreased their caloric intake by 500 calories per day and underwent guideline-recommended physical activity counseling.

Measured with MRI, the study found liraglutide reduced visceral fat in participants by up to 11% and reduced liver fat by up to 33% compared with placebo. In conclusion, once-daily liraglutide is a viable treatment for reducing visceral fat in adults who are overweight or obese and at high risk for cardiovascular disease, when paired with lifestyle interventions like maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.

“These findings are significant because it can be difficult for patients to reduce visceral fat. Armed with this information, we have another tool in our toolbox to address this risk factor for diabetes and heart disease,” Neeland said in the release.

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