Liraglutide, known more commonly by the brand name Saxenda®, is a weight-loss medication that’s been on the market for a while—since December 2014, to be exact. With the emerging obesity drugs, a med on the market approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about nine years ago seems ancient.
Saxenda was the first GLP-1 receptor agonist to receive FDA approval for weight loss in adults. And since it’s been on the market for almost a decade, many people have used it, and researchers have vetted it, so more information about Saxenda weight loss is available than many other GLP-1-based weight management medications.
Liraglutide, the drug’s active ingredient, was first FDA-approved to treat type 2 diabetes under the brand name Victoza® in January 2010. The diabetes drug uses a lower dosage of liraglutide than Saxenda, and the Danish company Novo Nordisk manufactures both.
In 2021, the Saxenda weight-loss injection was joined by Wegovy®, another FDA-approved GLP-1-based weight-loss drug. Health care professionals can also prescribe type 2 diabetes meds like Mounjaro® and Trulicity® off-label for weight management.
So, if you’ve been looking into Saxenda for weight loss and wondering if it may fit you, you’re in the right place. Let’s dive in.
Saxenda (liraglutide) is an FDA-approved once-daily injectable medication to treat chronic weight management in people with a body mass index (BMI) of 27 or higher and at least one weight-related medical problem, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), or high cholesterol, or those with a BMI of 30 or higher.
In December 2020, the FDA also approved Saxenda for weight management in children ages 12-17 with obesity and weighing above 132 pounds. Health care providers prescribe it with a complete treatment plan that may include a reduced-calorie diet and physical activity.
Saxenda is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonist. The hormone GLP-1 is produced in your gut and helps regulate hunger and insulin release. Saxenda mimics this important incretin hormone to control your appetite and support weight loss.
Saxenda also slows gastric emptying, meaning food stays in your stomach longer, causing you to feel full. This delayed emptying can result in an upset stomach, but we’ll discuss this in detail below.
Yes, many studies have shown how effective liraglutide is for weight loss. A 2017 review of five randomized, placebo-controlled studies in Obesity Science & Practice found that a greater proportion of patients in the liraglutide group lost 5%-10% of their body weight throughout each trial compared with those taking the placebo.
In 2015, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a 56-week double-blind trial of 3,731 patients who received either a 3mg daily subcutaneous injection of liraglutide or a placebo in addition to lifestyle counseling. At the end of the trial, about 63% of the patients in the liraglutide group lost at least 5% of their body weight compared to only about 27% in the placebo group. Also, about 33% of those taking liraglutide and only about 11% taking the placebo lost more than 10% of their body weight.
These studies show meaningful weight loss is possible with Saxenda.
Keep in mind that you'll achieve sustainable weight loss gradually over time. Saxenda isn’t a quick-fix drug. Most prescribing providers will start patients on a lower dose before slowly progressing to a higher dose to improve tolerability.
Novo Nordisk explains that “adults who take Saxenda® will know it's working for them if they lose 4% of their body weight by their 4-month follow-up appointment.” So, you may notice weight loss with Saxenda in the first month but don't be frustrated if it takes longer. The important thing to remember is to be patient and let your health care professional know if you’re not getting the expected results.
When you receive a Saxenda prescription, chat with your health care provider about possible side effects and ask for tips on handling them. Note that Saxenda isn’t for people who plan to become pregnant or are pregnant or breastfeeding. And, with Saxenda for weight loss, common and more serious side effects exist. Here’s what we know.
Common side effects when taking Saxenda for weight loss include:
Injection site reactions
Change in enzyme (lipase) levels in your blood
Risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
More serious side effects include:
Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
Increased risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in adults with type 2 diabetes who also take medicines to treat type 2 diabetes, such as sulfonylureas or insulin
Increased heart rate
Kidney problems (kidney failure)
Serious allergic reactions
Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Saxenda also includes a Black Box warning that lets patients know serious side effects may occur in people on the drug, including:
“Possible thyroid tumors, including cancer. Tell your health care professional if you get a lump or swelling in your neck, hoarseness, trouble swallowing, or shortness of breath. These may be symptoms of thyroid cancer. In studies with rats and mice, Saxenda® and medicines that work like Saxenda® caused thyroid tumors, including thyroid cancer. It is not known if Saxenda® will cause thyroid tumors or a type of thyroid cancer called medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) in people.” “Do not use Saxenda® if you or any of your family have ever had MTC, or if you have an endocrine system condition called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2)."
Saxenda comes in a 30-day supply of medicine in prefilled injectable pens. Adhering to the recommended dosage of Saxenda helps reduce the likelihood of severe gastrointestinal side effects and allows your body to acclimate to the once-daily medication before upping the dose. Your health care provider will decide the correct schedule for you, but here’s the manufacturer recommended Saxenda dosing schedule:
Week one: 0.6 mg
Week two: 1.2 mg
Week three: 1.8 mg
Week four: 2.4 mg
Week five: 3.0 mg (full maintenance dose)
Yes. Another bonus of this weight-loss med being on the market since 2014 is researchers have studied it in patients longer. A three-year randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of liraglutide with 2,254 participants published in the Lancet in 2017 found patients who completed the trial sustained weight loss if they continued to take liraglutide as recommended and paired it with diet and exercise. After 56 weeks, about 63% of those on the drug had lost at least 5% of their body weight–and almost 50% maintained that weight loss at year three.
Many report the side effects quickly began to subside when using Saxenda long-term for weight management. Talk to your health care provider about Saxenda and if it’s right for you. Always let them know what over-the-counter medications or supplements you’re taking and your complete medical history so they can decide on the best treatment for you.
We understand that you may have more questions about Saxenda for weight loss even after reading through the article, so we’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions. Of course, if you have any additional questions, please contact your health care provider.
Can you take Saxenda with other GLP-1 receptor agonists or medications?
The short answer is no. Combining GLP-1-based medications may cause more severe side effects from Saxenda, including a drop in blood sugar levels, resulting in hypoglycemia, which can lead to dizziness and fainting. Not enough medical research exists testing the efficacy of Saxenda paired with other weight loss drugs or supplements, so it’s best to steer clear while taking Saxenda. Talk to your Found-affiliated clinician or health care provider about medications you take or are prescribed while on Saxenda.
In addition, one of the ways Saxenda works is by delaying stomach emptying, which can cause medications not to be completely absorbed in your body. If you’re on oral non-prescription or prescription drugs, tell your doctor so they can ensure you're getting the proper dose.
If you miss a dose of Saxenda, that’s ok. Just be sure to administer it as soon as you remember and then take your next dose, as usual, the next day. If you miss more than three doses, contact your health care professional so they can advise you on how to proceed. Typically, you’ll have to restart treatment but follow your provider’s recommendations.
You can take Saxenda any time of the day, with or without food. The important part is taking it each day at the same time and at a time you'll easily remember.
You will inject your daily dose of Saxenda subcutaneously (under the skin) into your upper arm, thigh, or abdomen.
Access to GLP-1s prescriptions is now available as part of Found's weight-loss program. While GLP-1s are effective for weight loss, they are not clinically appropriate for everyone. Eligibility for a GLP-1 is based on a thorough evaluation of medical history, eating behavior, lab work, and insurance coverage. If a GLP-1 is not appropriate or affordable for you, Found providers can help determine if another effective medication is.
Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.