With obesity still on the rise in the United States, traditional methods of losing weight have begun to be supplemented with weight loss medication. To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved five drugs for long-term use and the treatment of obesity. One of the more recent examples is liraglutide, an injectable pharmaceutical that was originally developed by Novo Nordisk as a treatment for type 2 diabetes under the trade name Victoza. The newer formulation, known as Saxenda and approved in 2014, was designed specifically as a chronic weight management treatment.
The way Saxenda aims to achieve weight loss is mainly through the regulation of appetite. The human body naturally produces a hormone known as GLP-1 (glucagon-like-peptide), a hormone produced and secreted in the small intestine. GLP-1 is released in response to food being present in the intestines. Once released, the hormone eventually signals the brain and triggers a sensation of hunger being satiated. At the same time, GLP-1 enhances the production of insulin, thereby lowering blood sugar levels.
In patients with obesity, not enough of the GLP-1 hormone is produced in the body, and feelings of hunger can become nearly insatiable. Indeed, this is part of the reason losing weight through dieting alone is an uphill battle for many people. But Saxenda essentially mimics the GLP-1 hormone by signaling the brain to trigger a feeling of satiety. The medication also binds to receptors in the pancreas in order to promote insulin production just like GLP-1.
Yet where the natural GLP-1 hormone lasts for only a few minutes, the effects of Saxenda last for hours. This means that food cravings are curbed all day, allowing new eating habits to emerge and become normalized. Over time, the reduced food intake leads to a calorie reduction and eventual weight loss. Additionally, though, the medication helps reduce inflammation (a significant factor in obesity) and regulate high blood pressure.
Like all weight loss drugs, Saxenda requires a prescription to obtain. A doctor will only prescribe it to adult patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, the generally accepted level that corresponds with obesity. It can also be prescribed for some patients with a BMI of 27 or higher, but they must also have an additional weight-related medical condition like high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, or hypertension. Saxenda is intended to supplement lifestyle changes like regular exercise and a reduced-calorie diet.
The nature of the medication requires Saxenda to be taken via subcutaneous injection. Saxenda comes as a liquid solution in a pre-filled injector pen that you can administer yourself (after being trained by a healthcare provider). The injector pen contains an 18 mg dose of Saxenda in 3 ml of solution, and it is meant to be injected once per day. Though it can be taken any time of day, doctors recommend taking it at a consistent time each day in the stomach, upper arm, or thigh.
Though the FDA has approved Saxenda for use and deemed it safe, it comes with a warning about thyroid cancer that could possibly affect some patients; however, this warning comes from some rodent studies that indicated a potential problem with thyroid tumors in the animals. There still is no direct evidence that it could be a problem for humans as well, but there have been other known issues. Below are some of the most common side effects of Saxenda:
For the vast majority of patients, any side effects will subside over time as they adjust to the medication. Any worsening of symptoms should be reported to the doctor without delay. In rare cases, use of Saxenda may lead to pancreatitis, kidney damage, gallbladder problems, and suicidal thoughts or depression. Also, because of the risk of infection, patients should never share their Saxenda pen with anyone else.
As clinical trials have shown, not everyone will have the same weight loss response to Saxenda. In one study of 4,800 patients, 60% of those on the medication lost at least 5% of their body weight and 31% lost more than 10% of their body weight. By contrast, of those in the placebo group, only 34% lost 5% of their body weight. It’s also worth noting that about half the people in the study maintained their weight loss for at least three years.
Though there haven’t been any direct comparisons studied, the data seems to indicate that Saxenda is roughly equivalent to other weight loss medications in terms of results. It also may appeal to fewer people because of the need for an injection; several of the other available drugs are taken orally, for instance. Overall, though, Saxenda may be a worthwhile choice for some people who haven’t responded well to other options.
As noted above, Saxenda isn’t the only weight loss medication approved by the FDA for long-term use. In fact, the most recently approved medication is called Wegovy (semaglutide). Like Saxenda, Wegovy mimics the GLP-1 hormone in order to increase satiety and promote a shift to a reduced-calorie diet. Wegovy is also sometimes prescribed for patients with diabetes mellitus due to its positive impact on insulin production.
One of the most important differences between the two medications, though, is that Wegovy only needs to be injected once per week rather than once per day. When you enter a Wegovy weight loss program with True You, you’ll receive ongoing nutritional support and guidance as you move toward your goals. Sustainable weight loss with Wegovy is only possible if paired with physical activity and healthy eating habits. Our friendly staff will be there to provide support all along the way.
If you’ve tried endless fad diets and punishing exercise regimens but still haven’t found the freedom you’re looking for, it may be time for a new approach. In addition to Wegovy, True You offers a number of state-of-the-art endoscopic procedures that can transform your weight loss journey. If you’d like more information about our endobariatric procedures and support services, please contact us to request a consultation.