Written on May 23, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Many people try to lose weight yearly, and you may be one of them. According to 2013-2016 data from the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), approximately 49% of American adults tried to lose weight in the past 12 months. There are various reasons why people want to lose weight, including improving their health. Losing 5% to 10% of your body weight can have numerous positive health benefits and improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and glucose control. Recently, a newer class of medications, called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists, has been gaining popularity as a weight loss therapeutic option for those who are struggling with weight. In 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved liraglutide, known by its brand name Saxenda®, as the first GLP-1 agonist for chronic weight management.
You can only get Saxenda® with a prescription from your healthcare provider. Saxenda® is administered via a subcutaneous injection in the abdomen, thigh, or upper arm. The recommended dose of Saxenda® is 3 mg daily, and it can be given without regard to the timing of meals. Saxenda® is approved as a chronic weight management treatment, in combination with diet and exercise, for obese and overweight adult and pediatric (12 years or older) patients [5,6]:
Saxenda® can help decrease body weight by lowering food intake. Saxenda® works by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone in the body to help regulate appetite and metabolism.[1,3,4] GLP-1 slows gastric emptying, suppresses appetite, improves satiety, decreases glucagon secretion, and stimulates beta-cell proliferation and other glucose-lowering effects.[1,3] Saxenda® also activates complex brain pathways to help achieve appetite control, though specifics of how it does this are still unclear.
Several clinical trials have demonstrated that Saxenda® is effective with diet and exercise for weight loss in obese and overweight individuals.[7-9] A clinical study with 564 obese adults found that the liraglutide (3 mg/day dose) group had an average weight loss of 7.8 kg, while the placebo group lost 2 kg.[7,8] Patients who reported nausea and vomiting with liraglutide treatment had an average weight loss of 9.2 kg after one year, compared to 6.3 kg in participants who did not.
In a large, 56-week double-blinded study of 3731 obese and overweight patients, the Saxenda® group lost an average of 8.4 kg of body weight compared to 2.8 kg in the placebo group. Additionally, a greater proportion of patients in the Saxenda® group than in the placebo group lost at least 5% (63.2% vs. 27.1%), more than 10% (33.1% vs. 10.6%), and more than 15% (14.4% vs. 3.5%) of their body weight. Overall, over 90% of Saxenda® patients lost weight, while only around 65% of patients in the placebo group did.
The most commonly reported adverse effects of Saxenda® include nausea, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, injection site reactions, headache, hypoglycemia, dyspepsia, fatigue, dizziness, and abdominal pain. The more weight loss experienced with liraglutide 3 mg/day treatment, the more likely nausea and vomiting are to occur.
Saxenda® has a boxed warning, the most serious warning used by the FDA, on the prescribing information about the risk of thyroid c-cell tumors.[5,6] Saxenda® should be avoided if there is a personal or family history of medullary thyroid cancer or multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2, hypersensitivity, or pregnancy. Treatment should be stopped if pancreatitis is suspected. Monitoring is recommended for acute gallbladder disease, heart rate increase, kidney impartment, hypoglycemia, and suicidal behavior and ideation. Saxenda® should not be used with other liraglutide-containing products or other GLP-1 drugs.
Since Saxenda® is approved for use with diet and exercise, it’s important to implement some lifestyle changes when taking the medication. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning. You can start by eating a variety of healthy foods that include dark leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat milk, and lean meats and proteins. It’s also a good idea to reduce your salts, sugars, and saturated or trans fats. Increasing your physical activity can also help you maintain a healthy weight. You can work to raise your exercise level to 150 minutes each week of moderately intense physical activities. Examples of moderately intense physical activities include a brisk walk for 15 minutes, light yard work, or a casual bike ride.
If you are concerned about your weight and want to learn more about your options, you should consider speaking with your healthcare provider. Everlywell provides access to weight care programs via telehealth. You can connect with a certified clinician to discuss your questions and concerns about your weight and health and complete testing to determine if a GLP-1 online prescription is right for you. You can also meet with your clinician regularly about your medication and get one-on-one lifestyle support and recommendations.