Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s) and published for informational purposes only. We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to prescription medication.
Liraglutide is the generic form of an injectable prescription medication for type-2 diabetes and weight loss. Lower doses of the drug are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. for 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 7.2 kilograms (kg) over the 20 week trial, which equals 15.9 pounds (Ibs).
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 5.8 kg (12.8 lbs) more than placebo, and 3.6 kg (7.9 lbs) 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 7.4 kg, which equals 16.3 lbs. Patients on the 1.8 mg dose lost an average of 7.8 kg, which equals 17.2 lbs.
We will conclude from the available research that liraglutide is effective for weight loss on average. This doesn’t mean it will be effective for every patient. The weight loss results outlined in this section are some of the most favorable weight loss results from any prescription weight loss drug we’ve reviewed on Illuminate Health.
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 and 1.8 mg.
A meta-study from 2011 reported that liraglutide at both of its prescribed doses was effective for reducing blood sugar levels on average. 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 compared to 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 medical 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 the side effect profile is relatively concerning. Given that it’s an injectable medication that’s directly absorbed into the bloodstream, it’s unsurprising that the side effects may be somewhat more severe than an oral tablet.
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 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 increases 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.
As documented in our Saxenda reviews article, 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?
As we referenced in the intro to this article, 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., but it may be available for purchase by the end of August 2022, according to GoodRx. Typically the generic version of prescription medications becomes available when the 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.
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 prescribed 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.
We cannot verify the legitimacy or accuracy of any reviews on this site.
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 Saxenda, 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.”
Liraglutide Vs. Ozempic
Ozempic is another prescription drug in the same medication class as liraglutide which is indicated for 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.
One medical trial found that Ozempic was significantly more effective for weight loss than semaglutide.
A separate medical review published in the Healthcare journal compared the effectiveness of the two drugs for treating type-2 diabetes. The study authors found that Ozempic was superior for this condition as well. Blood sugar levels were 0.47% lower with Ozempic 1 mg than with liraglutide 1.2 mg, and 0.3% lower with Ozempic 1 mg than with liraglutide 1.8 mg.
We would not recommend Ozempic for weight loss, given that the drug is not approved by the FDA for that outcome. We would recommend that patients speak with their doctor about Ozempic rather than liraglutide for type-2 diabetes, because Ozempic appears to be slightly mor effective in a head-to-head comparison.