Liraglutide: An Overview of Its Uses and Benefits
Liraglutide is the generic for Saxendra and Victroza. Like semaglutide, it is a GLP-1 agonist that is used to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity. Obesity is a chronic disease that increases the risk for other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, dyslipidemia, and obstructive sleep apnea.1
Liraglutide is administered once a day and improves weight loss, mainly by reducing appetite rather than by increasing energy expenditure.
The medical indications for liraglutide and semaglutide are identical. Liraglutide is intended for use in adults with an initial body mass index (BMI) of
• 30 kg/m2 or greater (obesity) or
• 27 kg/m2 or greater (overweight) with at least one weight-related medical condition, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or abnormal blood lipids.
Table of Contents
What does liraglutide do to the body?
Like other prescription weight loss drugs, liraglutide helps reduce blood sugar and appetite.
Liraglutide stimulates insulin release from the pancreas and inhibits glucagon secretion. Insulin and glucagon have opposite actions when it comes to regulating blood sugar. Insulin levels increase after you have a meal. Insulin ushers glucose from the bloodstream into body cells, where it can be used for energy. This reduces blood sugar. Excess and prolonged high blood sugar irritates the lining of blood vessels, increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Excess glucose your body does not need for energy is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles. Once your glycogen stores are full, excess glucose is stored as fat.
Glucagon has the opposite role; it stimulates the release of glucose from the liver and muscles so it can be used by body cells. It also prevents your liver from storing more glycogen and converts other nutrients, such as amino acids, pyruvate, and lactate, into glucose.2
Liraglutide also slows stomach emptying. Since food stays in the stomach longer, you feel full longer. This increases satiety and prevents over-eating.
Is liraglutide used for weight loss?
Yes, liraglutide is used for weight loss. In 2014, it was approved for chronic weight management in adults, and in 2020, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved liraglutide for weight management for people aged 12 and older who have obesity.
For adolescents, obesity is defined as weighing more than 60 kg (132 pounds) and having a weight corresponding to a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or higher for adults. Liraglutide should be used to supplement a reduced-calorie, nutritious diet and plans to incorporate daily physical activity into your schedule.
Is liraglutide the same as insulin?
No, liraglutide is not the same as insulin. Insulin is used to replace natural insulin produced by the pancreas. Insulin treatment is more commonly used for people who have type 1 diabetes mellitus, a condition that typically presents in childhood. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes is not associated with obesity.
You should not take liraglutide with insulin unless specifically advised to do so by your doctor because they both can cause low blood sugar.3 However, in some cases, liraglutide is prescribed as an add-on therapy to insulin for better glucose control for people with type 2 diabetes.4
Other side effects associated with liraglutide include:
- Gastrointestinal: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain
- Dry mouth
- Intestinal infections
- Low blood sugar
Low blood sugar can cause irritability, confusion, dizziness, fatigue, sweating, hunger, headache, or loss of consciousness.
How much weight can you lose with liraglutide?
Liraglutide has been evaluated in two large studies that enrolled more than 3,000 participants with obesity or overweight.
Adding liraglutide to lifestyle counseling resulted in weight losses that averaged 8.9 to 13.3 pounds more weight loss than counseling alone.
More than half of the trial participants could maintain at least a 5% weight loss for at least one year.
Between 25% and 33% of participants achieved a 10% weight loss.
Weight regain did occur when participants discontinued taking liraglutide.1
Who should not take liraglutide?
Do not take more than one GLP-1 agonist at the same time.
You should not take liraglutide if you have multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 or a family history of medullary thyroid cancer. Animal studies showed that an increased dose of liraglutide or a longer treatment period increased the risk of thyroid cancer in rats. It is unclear whether people would have a similar risk. Tell your doctor if you notice a lump in your neck, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, or shortness of breath.
You should also not use liraglutide if you have a known allergy to liraglutide or any of its components or are pregnant.
Tell your doctor if you have had any of the following conditions:
- Stomach conditions that cause your stomach to empty more slowly
- Kidney or liver disease
- Heart disease
- High triglycerides (fat) in your blood
- Problems with your gallbladder or pancreas
- A history of depression or suicidal thoughts
Liraglutide can slightly increase your risk of acute gallbladder disease (infection or gallstones), acute pancreatitis (pancreas inflammation), and severe low blood sugar.5
What are the benefits of using liraglutide?
Liraglutide, like semaglutide, is used to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity. Many people experience these benefits when taking liraglutide or semaglutide:
- Weight loss
- Reduced pain
- Decreased blood pressure
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- Better lung function
- Reduced stroke or heart attack risk
- Lower triglycerides
- Less joint strain
- Better sleep
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- Guh DP, Zhang W, Bansback N, Amarsi Z, Birmingham CL, Anis AH. The incidence of co-morbidities related to obesity and overweight: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. Mar 25 2009;9:88. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-88
- Hædersdal S, Lund A, Knop FK, Vilsbøll T. The Role of Glucagon in the Pathophysiology and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2018;93(2):217-239. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2017.12.003
- Davies MJ, Bergenstal R, Bode B, et al. Efficacy of Liraglutide for Weight Loss Among Patients With Type 2 Diabetes: The SCALE Diabetes Randomized Clinical Trial. Jama. Aug 18 2015;314(7):687-99. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.9676
- Nakaguchi H, Kondo Y, Kyohara M, Konishi H, Oiwa K, Terauchi Y. Effects of liraglutide and empagliflozin added to insulin therapy in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized controlled study. J Diabetes Investig. Nov 2020;11(6):1542-1550. doi:10.1111/jdi.13270
- Whitten JS. Liraglutide (Saxenda) for Weight Loss. Am Fam Physician. Jul 15 2016;94(2):161-6.