Ty Johnston, PharmD Student
Trying to lose weight can cause people a huge deal of stress. Some people just don’t have the time to maintain a specific diet or find time to get in a workout. But there’s no denying the obesity rates in Canada, which have been trending up for the last several years. If the current trend continues, 21% of the Canadian adult population will be obese by 2019.1 It is well-known that obesity causes severe health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, gout, infections, liver disease, osteoarthritis, pregnancy complications, obstructive sleep apnea, and others.7 Is weight loss a lost cause for overweight people who have barriers to achieving a healthier weight? Maybe medication can help.
What is Saxenda?
Saxenda is a brand name for a medication approved to help people lose weight and goes by the generic name liraglutide. Victoza is another brand of the same medication (liraglutide); however, it’s used to treat type 2 diabetes. In other words, both Saxenda and Victoza are the same medicine, but have been approved by Health Canada for different reasons: Saxenda for weight loss, and Victoza for diabetes. Saxenda and Victoza are used daily through subcutaneous (beneath the skin) injections and are prescription medications.
How does it work?2
Liraglutide is a protein that mimics a hormone called GLP-1, which has various effects in the body. Without getting into the specifics, GLP-1 causes the release of another hormone (insulin) that results in better use of energy (glucose) from food by helping it get into your cells. Also, GLP-1 importantly decreases appetite leading to weight loss.
In addition, liraglutide is resistant to being broken down in the same way that GLP-1 is broken down in the body. This means that liraglutide produces the same effects as GLP-1, but the effects are longer-lasting! Therefore, it results in significant appetite suppression and weight loss.
Does it really work?3-6
Although the drug monograph claims it’s useful, the real question is: does liraglutide really help us with weight loss? The good news is that liraglutide’s effect on weight loss has been studied in people that are likely similar to yourself.
When people combine liraglutide with exercise and diet, they can achieve an average weight loss of 17.6lbs (8Kg) after 2 years of therapy.
Is it safe? How about the cost?7,8
A disadvantage of liraglutide is that it comes with annoying side effects. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation. However, these side effects typically only last a week or two until your body adjusts to the medication.
In addition to these side effects, one of the most discouraging aspects of liraglutide is its cost. Unfortunately, this medication is very expensive. It costs about $1,165 for a 90 day supply.
The Bottom Line
Saxenda (liraglutide) is a medication that has been approved by Health Canada for weight loss. While it’s effective, its use does come with some caveats. Like any other medication, the benefits of liraglutide don’t come without cost and the risk of side effects.
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- Twells LK, Gregory DM, Reddigan J et al. Current and predicted prevalence of obesity in Canada: a trend analysis. CMAJ 2014;2:E18-26.
- Ussher JR and Drucker DJ. Endocrine Reviews. 2012. 187-215.
- Astrup A, Rossner S, Van Gaal L et al. Effects of liraglutide in the treatment of obesity: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Lancet 2009;374:1606-16.
- Wadden TA, Hollander P, Klein S et al. Weight maintenance and additional weight loss with liraglutide after low-calorie-diet induced weight loss: the SCALE Maintenance randomized study. Int J Obes (Lond) 2013;37:1443-51.
- Pi-Sunyer X, Astrup A, Fujioka K et al. A randomized, controlled trial of 3.0 mg of liraglutide in weight management. N Engl J Med 2015;373:11-22.
- Astrup A, Carraro R, Finer N et al. Safety, tolerability and sustained weight loss over 2 years with the once-daily human GLP-1 analog, liraglutide. Int J Obes (Lond) 2012;36:843-54.
- RxTx: CTMA. Weight Management. April 2016.