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Can Liraglutide be Used for Weight Loss?

Liraglutide (Saxenda) has been used for weight loss for several years, helping to reduce appetite. We explain this ground-breaking treatment.
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Saxenda and your weight loss journey

Liraglutide can absolutely be used for weight loss.

In fact, it’s the first GLP-1 receptor agonist to be approved for weight loss worldwide.

Liraglutide comes in the form of a daily injection, which is better known by the brand name, Saxenda.

Saxenda has been prescribed to people as a treatment for obesity since it was approved in early 2017, and it has been subject to various studies to determine how efficient the treatment is for weight management.

How does Liraglutide work?

Liraglutide works by affecting your hunger hormones, making you feel less hungry and helping you feel fuller for longer.

It stimulates the production of insulin in your pancreas — insulin is the hormone that is responsible for controlling your blood sugar levels and it is produced after you eat to let your body know that it can store the sugar from your food and don’t need any more at the moment.

By telling your body to produce insulin, Liraglutide effectively helps you to feel full more quickly. It also helps to slow the production of a hormone called Glucagon, which is insulin’s other half in the hunger cycle.

Glucagon is produced when your blood sugar levels drop and it sends signals to your brain to say that you’re hungry, so by reducing the amount of Glucagon produced Liraglutide helps you to feel less hungry.

Are Liraglutide and Saxenda the same thing?

Yes, Liraglutide and Saxenda are essentially the same thing, as Liraglutide is the active ingredient in Saxenda.

However, it should be noted that Liraglutide is not only used for weight loss and can also be used for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.

As a rule of thumb, when people talk about Liraglutide they could be talking about using it for either reason, but when they talk about Saxenda then they’re speaking about its use for weight loss specifically.

This is because Saxenda is the brand name licensed for Liraglutide as a weight loss medication, and therefore it can only be used for this reason, even though Liraglutide can have other uses.

It seems a bit confusing, but just remember that Saxenda equals weight loss medication and you’re onto a winner.

How effective is Liraglutide?

Various clinical studies have been carried out with Liraglutide in order to determine how effective it is for weight loss.

In a 56-week study where 3,731 adults participated, 2487 received liraglutide daily injections, whist the remainder received a placebo.

In the Saxenda (Liraglutide) group, 34% of participants lost 5% or more of their initial starting weight, 15% of patients lost 10% or more of their initial weight.

3% lost 20% of their starting body mass compared with placebo.  

The results from this study show Saxenda to be an effective weight-loss treatment when used alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle changes.

All participants received a lower-calorie diet plan and physical activity counselling regardless of whether or not they were taking Liraglutide or placebo.

This further proved that Saxenda helps people to lose more weight than if they weren’t taking any treatment.

Furthermore, in another study that took place over 3 years, around half of the participants involved were able to maintain their weight loss over 3 years by continuing to use Saxenda.

Again, this was in conjunction with a lower-calorie diet and increased physical activity

Participants that didn’t continue with Saxenda were less likely to have maintained their weight loss at the end of the study.

At the end of year 3, 26% of those taking Saxenda had maintained a 5% weight loss, whilst only 10% of those on the placebo injection managed the same.

Can I be prescribed Saxenda?

Saxenda is only prescribed to those with a BMI of over 30 (or over 27 in conjunction with an obesity-related health condition).

The NHS recommends conservative methods of weight loss first, such as diet and lifestyle changes.

However, for many people, these changes simply aren’t enough to help them to reach their goals, hence the need for obesity treatments such as Liraglutide.

Liraglutide was actually first developed as a treatment for type 2 diabetes mellitus and released under the name Victoza.

In addition to improving blood glucose levels, the medication was helping those with diabetes to lose weight.

Because of this, the medication underwent more studies to find out whether or not it could also be used as a treatment for obesity in those without diabetes.

Trials were successful, and Saxenda was launched specifically to help with weight loss in early 2017.

Saxenda works by helping to reduce your appetite, making you less likely to snack throughout the day and helping you feel fuller for longer after a meal.

Many people that use the medication find that their portion sizes also reduce along with their appetite, meaning that they consume fewer calories per day.

Can I use Victoza for weight loss?

Victoza is the brand name for Liraglutide when it’s used for type 2 diabetes management, much like Saxenda is the brand name when Liraglutide is used for weight loss.

You may think that this means you can use Victoza for weight loss, but that’s not the case.

Victoza comes in different strengths to Saxenda, as you would need less of the active ingredient to manage diabetes than you would for weight loss.

For reference, the highest prescribed daily dose of Victoza is usually 1.8mg but you can take up to 3mg of Saxenda.

The different pens you’ll get with each treatment reflect these dosage differences, so you won’t be able to inject a dose of more than 1.8mg of Liraglutide using a Victoza pen.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t lose weight while taking Victoza for diabetes management.

Liraglutide works the same way in the body, no matter what condition you’re taking it for, so you will still see the changes to your appetite, just as you would when taking Saxenda.

The effect may be less noticeable, as you’ll often be taking a lower dose of Victoza than you would Saxenda, but it will still be there.

After all, noticing the weight loss in diabetes patients is how scientists started to consider Liraglutide as a weight loss drug in the first place!

Are there any alternatives to Saxenda?

The simplest alternative to Saxenda is good old-fashioned diet and exercise, but if these things haven’t worked for you in the past and Saxenda just isn’t for you, you may want to consider other weight loss medications.

The closest alternative to Saxenda would be a drug called Semaglutide, which is found in diabetes medication.

Semaglutide and Liraglutide are part of the same group of medications, so they work in the same way, the main difference is how often you’ll need to take Semaglutide.

Whereas you need to inject Saxenda every day, Semaglutide is available as a weekly injection, as the effect it has on the body sticks around much longer.

However, this may not be an option for you yet as Semaglutide has only just been licensed for weight loss in the UK and is undergoing manufacturing.

This drug has now been licensed in both the US and the UK for weight loss, under the brand name Wegovy, and hopefully patients here will be able to get their hands on it soon.

Semaglutide can be prescribed off-label to suitable patients who are looking to lose weight but only after a consultation with a medical professional.

There are other weight loss drugs on the market too, such as Orlistat, which is found in Alli, Orlos, and other weight loss medications.

Orlistat is a type of medication known as a fat binder, which means it clings to around a third of the fat you eat so it can’t be digested and is passed from the body in your poo.

Although it is clinically proven to work, Orlistat isn’t always the nicest or most effective option, but it’s definitely one to consider, especially if you’re happy to eat a low-fat diet.

Another option is Mysimba, which is thought to help you lose weight by reducing your cravings.

How fast does Saxenda work?

There’s no hard or fast rule for how quickly Saxenda will begin to work.

Please try not to get discouraged if you don’t feel any different whilst you’re titrating up to the therapeutic dose of 3.0mg daily.

Some people do feel effects and appetite reduction from day one, but for others it can take a few weeks.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell how quickly the medication will work for you until you start taking it.

Generally, it’s recommended that by week 12 on the therapeutic dose, you should have lost around 5% or more of your starting weight.

However, if this doesn’t happen for you, you may want to take a look at other treatments instead.

It’s important to remember that Saxenda is a drug to help with weight loss, which is unfortunately never going to be an overnight process.

This means that a fair amount of patience is required when going through any form of weight management support.

However, within 3 months you should begin to see the effects of the treatment if it works for you.

What is titration? 

Titration is a method of starting your medication at a lower dose and gradually increasing it to a therapeutic dose.

In other words, the dose you stay at for the medication to be effective.

Titration is used when the side effects of the therapeutic dose would be too harsh if you started on it from scratch, such as with medications like Saxenda.

Because of this, titration is used to help to reduce the risk of side effects.

Most of the side effects that occur from GLP-1 receptor agonists are gastrointestinal – meaning that you may feel nauseous or have some issues with your bowels.

Because of this, Saxenda should be started at a low dose of 0.6mg per day and increased each week over a period of five weeks until you reach the therapeutic dose of 3.0mg daily.

If you start injecting Liraglutide at higher doses too soon, you may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, or other side effects of Saxenda.

This is mostly avoidable by adhering to the dosage instructions and titrating up gradually.

What dosage of Saxenda is needed for weight loss?

The therapeutic dose of Saxenda is 3.0mg daily.

Many people that take the medication report that they only need a lower dose to have the desired effects.

However, this is something that you will need to discuss with your prescriber, as it isn’t recommended for most people, particularly if you are able to tolerate any side effects.

It’s recommended that once you’ve reached the 3.0mg daily dosage, you should stay on it for 12 weeks if you’re able to in order to give the medication a chance to work.

If you’ve lost 5% or more of your initial starting weight in this time, you may continue taking Saxenda if your prescriber believes that it’s suitable for you to do so.

However, if you haven’t met this target in 12 weeks, it indicates that Saxenda might not be the right medication for you.

In this case, you may want to discuss alternative options with your prescriber, as they will probably want to end your course of Liraglutide.

At myBMI, we offer a range of treatments for weight management that might be suitable for you, and we want to support you through every step of your journey, so if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask. 

Why does Saxenda make you nauseous?

Nausea is a common side effect of Saxenda and Liraglutide, and with the change this medication causes in your appetite and blood sugar, it’s no surprise.

Your body is trying to get used to the changes to your hormone levels and adapting to how much you can eat in one sitting while you take this medication, and sometimes adapting means feeling a bit sick.

You’ll be glad to learn that nausea usually goes away over time and that it can be lessened by following a titration plan when you start taking this medication.

However, if you’re feeling very sick or are suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea, it’s important to tell your healthcare team about it so they can make any adjustments to your treatment that may be necessary.

If you’re a myBMI patient, our team can prescribe medications to help you manage side effects like nausea at no extra cost, so it’s always worth getting in touch with our team if you’re feeling a bit worse for wear.

Well now you know a whole lot more about why Liraglutide is used for weight loss, and you may have even decided to look into taking Saxenda yourself.

If you’re still on the fence, check out some of our other guides and advice pieces, which answer all of the most frequently asked questions about Saxenda, other weight loss medications, and weight loss in general.

Content Written By

Laura Henderson

Laura Henderson

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

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Content Written By

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