The use of statins alone, or in combination with pioglitazone and other drugs, for the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease/non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and related cardiovascular risk. An Expert Panel Statement

Vasilios G Athyros, Theodore K Alexandrides, Helen Bilianou, Evangelos Cholongitas, Michael Doumas, Emmanuel S Ganotakis, John Goudevenos, Moses S Elisaf, Georgios Germanidis, Olga Giouleme, Asterios Karagiannis, Charalambos Karvounis, Niki Katsiki, Vasilios Kotsis, Jannis Kountouras, Evangelos Liberopoulos, Christos Pitsavos, Stergios Polyzos, Loukianos S Rallidis, Dimitrios Richter, Apostolos G Tsapas, Alexandros D Tselepis, Konstantinos Tsioufis, Konstantinos Tziomalos, Themistoklis Tzotzas, Themistoklis G Vasiliadis, Charalambos Vlachopoulos, Dimitri P Mikhailidis, Christos Mantzoros
Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental 2017, 71: 17-32
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the most common liver disease, is characterized by accumulation of fat (>5% of the liver tissue), in the absence of alcohol abuse or other chronic liver diseases. It is closely related to the epidemic of obesity, metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). NAFLD can cause liver inflammation and progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), fibrosis, cirrhosis or hepatocellular cancer (HCC). Nevertheless, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the most common cause of death in NAFLD/NASH patients. Current guidelines suggest the use of pioglitazone both in patients with T2DM and in those without. The use of statins, though considered safe by the guidelines, have very limited use; only 10% in high CVD risk patients are on statins by tertiary centers in the US. There are data from several animal studies, 5 post hoc analyses of prospective long-term survival studies, and 5 rather small biopsy proven NASH studies, one at baseline and on at the end of the study. All these studies provide data for biochemical and histological improvement of NAFLD/NASH with statins and in the clinical studies large reductions in CVD events in comparison with those also on statins and normal liver. Ezetimibe was also reported to improve NAFLD. Drugs currently in clinical trials seem to have potential for slowing down the evolution of NAFLD and for reducing liver- and CVD-related morbidity and mortality, but it will take time before they are ready to be used in everyday clinical practice. The suggestion of this Expert Panel is that, pending forthcoming randomized clinical trials, physicians should consider using a PPARgamma agonist, such as pioglitazone, or, statin use in those with NAFLD/NASH at high CVD or HCC risk, alone and/or preferably in combination with each other or with ezetimibe, for the primary or secondary prevention of CVD, and the avoidance of cirrhosis, liver transplantation or HCC, bearing in mind that CVD is the main cause of death in NAFLD/NASH patients.

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