Health Team

Can vitamin E help kids with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

Posted April 26, 2011 5:30 p.m. EDT

America's overweight and obese children face another health concern – liver disease. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common chronic liver condition in these children.

Researchers looked at whether vitamin E might help improve the condition. The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Arfred Rufo, 15, has non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. After arriving from the Philippines eight months ago, his weight increased from 120 to 170 pounds. Without medication to treat the disease, Arfred must lose weight and exercise.

"It's really, really, really hard, like a math exam hard,” he said.

In children with fatty liver disease, their liver fills up with fat and starts to turn yellowish, according to Dr. Joel Lavine with Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital/Columbia University.

A physical exam, blood test or a biopsy is the only way to diagnose the problem.

"By the time symptoms ever do present, it's often times too late to do much about what's already happened to their liver,” Lavine said.

Researchers at 10 university centers looked at whether blood tests showing liver injury would improve in 173 children ages 8 to 17 after taking vitamin E and the diabetes drug Metformin.

"Over 96 weeks, treatment with either vitamin E or Metformin did not result in a significant change from placebo in reduction or normalization of serum tests of injury,” Lavine said.

Researchers did see less cell injury in the liver among the children who took vitamin E compared with those who did not. The most important prescription is lifestyle changes.

"I'm really on a strict diet with my mom and I'm dancing now, I'm exercising,” Arfred said.

Researchers say this was also the first study for treatment of liver disease to include biopsy results from children.