Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice. All statements are merely the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to prescription medication.
Liraglutide is the generic form of an injectable prescription medication used to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity. Lower doses of the drug are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating type 2 diabetes, in the branded form of the drug called Victoza. Higher doses of the drug are FDA-approved for weight loss, in the branded form of the drug called Saxenda.
We want to note that all three of these drugs contain the same active ingredient; the branded versions are just sold at specific doses of liraglutide.
In this article we’ll review published medical studies on liraglutide to determine if it’s effective for treating type 2 diabetes and obesity. We’ll highlight potential side effects of the drug, and explain whether the branded versions are more likely to be effective than the generic liraglutide.
Is Liraglutide Effective For Weight Loss?
A 3 milligram (mg) dose of liraglutide is the dose approved by the FDA for weight loss, and this dose has been studied in various medical trials.
A clinical trial published in the Lancet journal found that 3 mg liraglutide was more effective for weight loss than another popular weight loss medication called Orlistat, and also more effective than lower doses of liraglutide. Trial participants taking liraglutide 3 mg lost an average of 15.9 pounds over the 20 week trial.
One interesting finding from the above-linked study is that those taking liraglutide also experienced a statistically significant decrease in blood pressure, and also a reduced risk of pre-diabetes.
Another medical study on liraglutide 3 mg reported an average weight loss of 12.8 pounds more than placebo, and 7.9 pounds more than another leading weight loss drug. Similar to the previous study, there were favorable health changes in the liraglutide group including improved cholesterol and blood pressure parameters.
Liraglutide is also effective for weight loss at lower doses, though less so. A meta-study concluded that liraglutide causes significant weight loss even at lower doses than the maximum 3 mg dose.
In this study, patients on the 1.2 mg dose lost an average of 16.3 pounds. Patients on the 1.8 mg dose lost an average of 17.2 pounds.
We will conclude from the available research that liraglutide is effective for weight loss. In every clinical trial we reviewed, liraglutide caused weight loss in trial participants.
Is Liraglutide Effective For Diabetes?
Liraglutide has been studied in many clinical trials for its effectiveness in treating type 2 diabetes. It’s approved by the FDA at doses of 1.2 mg and 1.8 mg for the treatment of this condition.
A meta-study from 2011 reported that liraglutide reduced blood sugar levels at both a 1.2 mg and a 1.8 mg dose. The researchers noted that the drug also reduced systolic blood pressure which could be considered a potential secondary benefit for patients with both high blood pressure and diabetes.
Another medical review published in the Current Diabetes Reviews journal examined whether liraglutide was effective as an adjunctive treatment to insulin in patients with type 1 diabetes. These two drugs were taken concurrently.
The researchers analyzed results from over 2,400 patients, and concluded that liraglutide combined with insulin reduced blood glucose more than insulin alone. The trial participants using liraglutide also required less daily insulin.
A recent medical review examined the long-term efficacy of liraglutide for treating diabetes, which provides valuable information because most clinical trials are shorter in duration. This study lasted 5 years.
In those taking liraglutide, Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels, which is a marker for blood sugar, decreased from 7.9 to 7 by the end of the trial. This is a decrease of 11.4%. The study authors also noted that fasting blood sugar levels experienced a “significant reduction.”
We conclude that liraglutide is effective for treating and managing type 2 diabetes. It may be effective for treating and managing type 1 diabetes as well, but more research is needed.
Liraglutide Side Effects
Liraglutide does cause side effects in some patients, and some of the side effects are severe in nature.
A meta-study published in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome reported the most common side effects of liraglutide to be the following: nausea, vomiting, dyspepsia (indigestion), constipation and diarrhea. These side effects are relatively mild.
The more rare side effects are the ones that are concerning in our opinion. The research review above reports an increased risk of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), gallbladder, liver disease and increased heart rate as rare side effects of liraglutide use. The percentage of patients that experienced these side effects was not reported in the study.
The FDA label of liraglutide 1.2 mg and 1.8 mg contains a “black box” warning indicating increased risk of thyroid C-cell tumors. This type of warning is the most severe issued by the FDA, and indicates a side effect that’s potentially life-threatening.
The FDA label of liraglutide 3 mg contains the same black box warning.
The black box warnings indicate that the tumor risk has only been proven in animal and not in human studies, but it seems logical for patients with a personal or family history of thyroid disorders to speak with their doctor about alternative type 2 diabetes or weight loss medications which may not confer this risk.
How Does Liraglutide Work?
The mechanism of action of liraglutide is that the drug causes increased insulin secretion in response to glucose. As documented by StatPearls, which is one of the largest free medical databases in the U.S., liraglutide can help normalize the insulin and glucose interaction after eating, which is dysregulated or totally absent in type 2 diabetic patients.
Our Saxenda reviews article explained how liraglutide is in a medication class called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists. GLP-1 receptors in the pancreas stimulate insulin release, so activating these receptors is what causes the favorable effects of this drug.
According to StatPearls, liraglutide can optimize cardiovascular function in some patients by improving endothelial function and cardiac output, which is potentially why some of the clinical trials we highlighted earlier found that the drug reduced blood pressure.
Should I Take the Brand Name Version of Liraglutide?
The brand name versions of liraglutide are Victoza (the lower-dose version for type 2 diabetes) and Saxenda (the higher-dose version for weight loss). Patients are often curious about whether the generic or branded versions are more effective.
At the time of writing this article, the generic version of liraglutide is not available for purchase in the U.S., according to GoodRx. Typically the generic version of prescription medications becomes available when the drug manufacturer's patent expires.
If and when the generic version of liraglutide becomes available, we would recommend that patients speak with their doctor about this drug rather than Victoza or Saxenda. Generic drugs are typically cheaper and equally effective as branded drugs.
A thorough medical review that we cite often on Illuminate Health found that on average, generic and brand name drugs are equally effective. The researchers analyzed data from two large commercial insurance databases to compare efficacy and hospitalization rates between the generic and branded version of the same drug and found no average difference.
Liraglutide is dosed at 0.6 mg, 1.2 mg and 1.8 mg for treating type 2 diabetes. The drug is dosed at 3 mg for treating obesity.
Doctors will generally prescribe liraglutide at the lowest dose in the effective dose range to minimize risk of side effects. If liraglutide is prescribed for type 2 diabetes, this means that the drug will often be prescribed at a starting dose of 0.6 mg. The doctor will monitor patient response and will typically increase the dose slowly over the course of weeks if the patient’s blood sugar levels fail to improve.
Liraglutide is not approved for daily use at any dose above 3 mg.
Liraglutide User Reviews
Liraglutide has been reviewed over 2,000 times on Drugs.com, which is a website where patients publish reviews of medications they’re prescribed. The average rating of liraglutide for type 2 diabetes is 7.6/10, and the drug’s average rating for obesity is also 7.6/10.
The top positive review of liraglutide for diabetes is written by a user named “T2D under control!” who claims that the drug significantly reduced their blood sugar levels and was superior to another commonly-prescribed diabetes medication:
“diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 4 yrs ago. I was prescribed Metformin, then added glipizide, which made me gain a half a pound a day until I quit taking it 30 days & 15 lbs later. Then I was prescribed [liraglutide]. The first 3 weeks, I was sick to my stomach, all day, every day. I had NO energy at all. I would get out of bed, get dressed & then lay back down - it was really THAT bad. BUT after around the 4th week, I started feeling normal again. My A1C went from 9.2 to 5.4 in just 5 weeks.”
The top negative review of liraglutide is from a user named “Lolo” who claims that they experienced discomforting side effects:
“Finished 2 weeks on [liraglutide]. 0.6 for one week then 1.2 for a week. I'm nauseous 24/7. No appetite. No energy. Nothing tastes good anymore. I stopped talking this med. After 1 day without it, the nausea was gone, my energy returned, my appetite came back and food had flavor again.”
The top positive review of liraglutide for obesity is written by a user named “lbdd13” who claims that the drug successfully caused weight loss and had minimal side effects:
“I am currently in week 3. I have lost 14 pounds. The side effects have been minimal, and are a little stronger on a day that I increase dosage. The notable side effects are a light nausea when it is time to eat, or after a meal in which I have eaten more than I should. I am incredibly pleased with the results of this medication. I feel good, and my stamina for exercise has increased. My blood pressure has dropped significantly”
The top negative review of liraglutide for obesity comes from an anonymous user who claims that the drug did not cause significant weight loss:
“Just finished my 3rd week on [liraglutide], about to start the 2.4 dose tomorrow. Result - nothing. No side effects eg. nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pains, dizziness. Just nothing. No weight loss except one pound.”
Animation Showing How Liraglutide Works
A YouTube video on liraglutide published by a channel called "egpat" breaks down in further detail the mechanism of action of the drug. The video appears unsponsored and may be useful to patients seeking to understand this drug on a more granular level:
Liraglutide Vs. Semaglutide
Semaglutide is another generic drug in the same medication class as liraglutide which is also prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes. Patients are often curious about which drug is more effective.
There do exist clinical trials directly comparing the two drugs, for both diabetes and weight loss.
A medical review published in the Healthcare journal compared the effectiveness of the two drugs for treating type 2 diabetes. The study authors found that semaglutide was superior. Blood sugar levels were 0.47% lower with semaglutide 1 mg than with liraglutide 1.2 mg, and 0.3% lower with semaglutide 1 mg than with liraglutide 1.8 mg.
A medical trial found that semaglutide was significantly more effective for weight loss than liraglutide.
We would not recommend semaglutide for weight loss, given that the drug is not approved by the FDA for that health outcome. We would recommend that patients speak with their doctor about semaglutide rather than liraglutide for type 2 diabetes, because semaglutide appears to be slightly more effective in a head-to-head comparison.
Our Clean Weight Loss Picks
There are food-based nutrients which have been shown in medical studies to be effective for weight loss.
Dietary fiber was shown in a medical review published in The Journal of Nutrition to cause 16 pounds of weight loss in 6 months when combined with moderate caloric restriction (750 calories per day below baseline).
Supergut Fiber Mix is our top fiber supplement, because it contains three different types of fiber powder, and retails for only $1.75 per serving at a subscription rate.
MCT oil was shown in a meta-study to cause more than one pound of weight loss over 10 weeks. This equates to potential annualized weight loss of 6 pounds per year with less than one tablespoon's worth of MCT oil per day.
Bulletproof MCT Oil is our top MCT oil product, because the only ingredient is MCT oil derived from coconuts. and it currently costs only $15.50 for over a month's worth of product.
Ginger intake "significantly decreased body weight" according to a 2019 meta-study on ginger and weight loss that analyzed data from 14 clinical trials.
Pique La Ginger is our top ginger product, because it's an organic tea in convenient crystallized form, and all that's needed is to pour the powder into a glass and add hot water.
All three of the products mentioned in this section are entirely free of additive ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy or unsafe.
We are not suggesting that any of the products referenced in this section are as effective as liraglutide, or any other FDA-approved weight loss medication. Rather, we're sharing options that patients with an aversion to pharmaceutical medication may wish to speak to their doctor about.