Newswise — CLEVELAND – A clinical trial led by Dr. Ian Neeland with University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute could have implications for overweight and obese adults who may 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. The findings were published this month in 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. 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 noninsulin 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. 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,” said Ian Neeland, MD, 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.

Adults enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial had a body mass index (BMI) 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. 185 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 percent and reduced liver fat by up to 33 percent 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,” said Dr. Neeland.

You can read the full paper in this issue of Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology by clicking here.


About University Hospitals / Cleveland, Ohio Founded in 1866, University Hospitals serves the needs of patients through an integrated network of 23 hospitals (including 5 joint ventures), more than 50 health centers and outpatient facilities, and over 200 physician offices in 16 counties throughout northern Ohio. The system’s flagship quaternary care, academic medical center, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, is affiliated with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Oxford University and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. The main campus also includes the UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, ranked among the top children’s hospitals in the nation; UH MacDonald Women's Hospital, Ohio's only hospital for women; and UH Seidman Cancer Center, part of the NCI-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. UH is home to some of the most prestigious clinical and research programs in the nation, with a total research portfolio of $289 million and more than 3,000 active clinical trials and research studies underway. UH Cleveland Medical Center is perennially among the highest performers in national ranking surveys, including “America’s Best Hospitals” from U.S. News & World Report. UH is also home to 19 Clinical Care Delivery and Research Institutes. UH is one of the largest employers in Northeast Ohio with more than 30,000 employees. Follow UH on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. For more information, visit


Journal Link: Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology