And for many patients, it works.
“Liraglutide appears to be very effective in inducing weight loss over three months of treatment,” Camilleri told Healthline.
How drug helps you lose weight
Essentially, liraglutide works like the hormone GLP-1, which is released from the small intestine during and after meals.
This is the framework for many other diabetes medications, such as exenatide (Byetta/Bydureon), lixisenatide (Lyxumia), albiglutide (Tanzeum), and dulaglutide (Trulicity).
However, these other medications have not yet proven in research to aid in weight loss as effectively as liraglutide.
For patients on the drug for its original purpose — improving blood sugar levels —liraglutide works in three specific ways:
- It slows down the rate at which food leaves your stomach and empties into your small intestine for further digestion, which helps to prevent blood sugar spikes after eating.
- It helps to prevent your liver from producing and releasing too much sugar (glycogen).
- It helps your pancreas produce more insulin.
The aspect of the stomach emptying more slowly is what leads to weight loss in people who do not have diabetes.
“In clinical practice,” explained Camilleri, “measurement of stomach emptying at five weeks may serve as a biomarker to determine which patients should continue on the treatment and which patients might be better candidates for other weight loss treatments.”
The most notable side effect reported by patients is nausea, but this is also what helps people lose weight due to the nausea’s reducing effect on appetite.
“It is essential to titrate the dose up slowly, over five weeks,” said Camilleri, “and to ‘pause’ for patients to become less nauseated with treatment dose before escalating by 0.6 milligrams every week.”
Camilleri adds that taking liraglutide if you don’t have diabetes doesn’t seem to result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).