Saxenda Review: Are Weight Loss Injections Safe?

Saxenda Review: Are Weight Loss Injections Safe?


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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 weight loss treatment.

Saxenda is one of the leading weight loss prescription medications. Interestingly, it’s an injectable medication unlike the capsule weight loss medications phentermine and Contrave which we previously reviewed.

Saxenda is the branded version of a generic drug called liraglutide, and we'll use these terms interchangeably throughout this article because they refer to the same active drug compound.

In this article we’ll review the medical research on Saxenda to provide our determination on whether this drug is safe and effective for weight loss. We'll highlight side effects of the drug, share real user reviews, and explain whether there are certain foods that patients need to avoid while using Saxenda.

Is Saxenda Effective For Weight Loss?

Saxenda has been studied in many clinical trials for its effectiveness in causing weight loss. A clinical trial published in the Lancet journal found Saxenda to be more effective than both placebo and another popular weight loss medication called orlistat. Patients on Saxenda lost an average of 15.9 pounds over the 20 week trial.

One interesting note about the above study is that Saxenda users also experienced a statistically significant decrease in blood pressure, and also a reduced prevalence of prediabetes.

A 2012 medical review on the efficacy of Saxenda documented that patients on the medication lost an average 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 secondary benefits to Saxenda use aside from weight loss, including favorable blood pressure and cholesterol changes.

Both of the above-referenced trials involved adult patients, but a recent clinical trial evaluated Saxenda for treating obesity in adolescents. The drug was found to be effective.

A 5% Body Mass Index (BMI) reduction was experienced by 51/113 patients in the Saxenda group, and a 10% BMI reduction was experienced by 33/133 patients.

We will conclude from the available research that Saxenda is effective for weight loss, and may have favorable secondary benefits such as reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels for patients with metabolic syndrome.

Saxenda Side Effects

The main side effects of Saxenda are gastrointestinal in nature. According to the manufacturer's website, common side effects are nausea, diarrhea, constipation and vomiting.

The more concerning side effect in our opinion is the potentially increased risk of cancer, which Saxenda lists on their website. A medical review on the side effects of Saxenda for weight loss concluded that the drug "may be associated with an increased risk of thyroid, pancreatic, and early breast cancer”.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. requires drug companies to list potentially life-threatening side effects on the drug label in a "black box" warning. In the case of Saxenda, the drug's FDA label does contain a black box warning referencing a potentially increased risk of thyroid C-cell tumors with use of the drug.

The cancer risk is certainly more rare than the common side effects like nausea, but in light of this information it may be prudent for patients with a personal or family history of cancer to speak with their doctor about alternative weight loss medication options. 

Foods to Avoid While on Saxenda

Patients are often curious about whether there are certain foods or categories of food that they need to avoid while using Saxenda.

The drug's FDA label does not list any specific foods that users need to avoid, which suggests that there are no potentially dangerous food-drug interactions.

The manufacturer's website doesn't share information about specific foods to avoid while on Saxenda. Their website does state that users experiencing nausea may benefit from eating low-fat foods, so this is an important consideration to keep in mind since nausea is a potential side effect of Saxenda.

Given that Saxenda is a weight loss drug, we would generally recommend eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods like fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods while using the drug. This should further improve weight loss outcomes, since a healthy diet is associated with healthy weight.

How Does Saxenda Work?

Saxenda’s active ingredient is a chemical compound called liraglutide, which stimulates insulin secretion by the pancreas. Medical research has shown that this compound can cause weight loss in two ways: delayed gastric emptying and appetite suppression.

Delayed gastric emptying means food stays in the stomach longer than usual, which keeps a patient full for longer. Appetite suppression is probably caused by this effect.

Because liraglutide stays in the body for a relatively long time (it has a half-life of 13 hours), Saxenda only needs to be used once daily in most cases.

As we documented in our liraglutide reviews article, the drug can improve cardiac output and vascular function, which explains the blood pressure and cholesterol reductions in some of the studies we've reviewed.

Saxenda Vs. Wegovy

Wegovy is another injectable weight loss medication, so patients are often curious about which drug is more effective.

The active ingredients in both drugs have similar safety and efficacy profiles when their clinical results are compared, which is unsurprising since they’re similar chemical compounds (liraglutide vs. semaglutide). 

A medical review published in the Healthcare journal examined the two drugs head-to-head and found that Wegovy was more effective for weight loss than Saxenda. 

As we explained in our Wegovy reviews article, we don't believe that there is enough research to suggest that either drug is clinically superior, so we'd recommend that patients ask their doctor about which of the two drugs they recommend for weight loss.

OTC Weight Loss Options

SuperGut product shot

There exist several over-the-counter (OTC) weight loss products that don't require a prescription, and which have medical research backing. We are not suggesting that these products are as effective as Saxenda; just that it may be worthwhile for an overweight patient to discuss these options with their doctor given their documented efficacy and lack of significant adverse effects.

We recommend dietary fiber as a safe and effective weight loss supplement.

An extensive medical review published in The Journal of Nutrition found that dietary fiber intake directly predicts weight loss when consumed at a high enough dose. It's zero-calorie plant matter that makes you feel full faster, and consume fewer calories overall.

The fiber supplement we recommend is SuperGut Fiber Mix. It contains a clean and effective formulation: a blend of three different types of unflavored dietary fiber and zero additive ingredients. It can be mixed into liquids or foods. Interested consumers can buy SuperGut fiber at this link.

We recommend using two fiber mixes per day, which provides 16 grams (g) of total fiber. This is within the fiber dosing range associated with the greatest weight loss outcomes in the above-linked study (8-29 additional grams per day).

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil is another dietary supplement which has been shown in clinical trials to cause weight loss.

MCT oil is quickly absorbed by the body and increases metabolic rate, which causes fat loss. A meta-study on MCT oil documented weight loss of 1.12 pounds. The trials lasted 10 weeks on average. This equates to a potential annualized weight loss of 5.84 pounds with MCT oil supplementation.

We recommend Bulletproof MCT Oil as our top MCT oil product, because it has a clean and effective formulation. The only ingredient is MCT oil derived from coconuts, and the product has no questionable additives. Interested consumers can buy Bulletproof MCT Oil at this link.

The effective dose range of MCT oil for weight loss (based on the medical review) is 1.7 g to 10 g per day. Bulletproof's MCT oil provides 14 g in one tablespoon, so around two-thirds of one tablespoon should be a maximally-effective dosage.

Saxenda User Reviews

Saxenda has been reviewed over 1,000 times on Drugs.com and has an average rating of 7.5/10 which is relatively good. This website allows prescription drug users to publish personal reviews of their experience on the drug.

We cannot verify the authenticity or accuracy of any reviews on this website.

The top positive review of Saxenda comes from a user named "lbdd13" who claims the drug has been effective and has caused 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."

The top negative review is from an anonymous user who is unhappy about their results on Saxenda:

"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."

We don't want to discredit this second patient's experience, but we do want to note that the weight loss results they experienced are actually relatively favorable. One pound weight loss in three weeks equates to an annualized weight loss of 17 pounds which would be significant.

Saxenda Cost

Saxenda can be expensive without health insurance in the U.S. According to GoodRx, the lowest retail price at the time of updating this article is $1,335.83, and the average retail price is $1,613.36.

The drug manufacturer's website has a Cost Navigator resource page that patients can use to determine if they're eligible for discounts. We would also recommend that patients speak with their health insurer if they're prescribed Saxenda to check if the drug is covered.

Unfortunately, there is no generic version of Saxenda available for purchase at the time of updating this article, but that may change in the near future. If so, we will update this article reflecting that change.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

Saxenda is effective for weight loss in both adult and adolescent populations. The drug also may have favorable secondary effects such as decreased blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

A medical study found that another popular weight loss medication called Wegovy was slightly more effective than Saxenda, but we don't believe there is enough research to conclusively say so.

Saxenda does cause side effects in some patients, the most concerning of which involve potentially increased cancer risk.

Patients seeking natural weight loss alternatives may benefit from speaking with their doctor about dietary fiber and MCT oil supplementation.




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