Over 70 percent of people in Qatar are either overweight or obese. So it’s little wonder that a drug promising to reduce obesity appears like a beacon of hope against this growing epidemic. But is Saxenda safe, and can it really deliver long-term healthy weight loss?
What is Saxenda?
In 2014, the FDA approved the drug liraglutide for weight loss under the name Saxenda. Liraglutide was already available as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, sold as Victoza.
Saxenda is recommended for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, or a BMI of 27 with at least one weight-related condition such as pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Dosage is 3mg daily injected subcutaneously.
How Does Saxenda Promote Weight Loss?
Scientists began researching liraglutide’s effects on obesity when diabetic patients taking the drug reported losing weight. It mimics a hormone produced by the intestines called glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1), which helps to lower fasting blood glucose by stimulating the body’s beta cells to release insulin—that’s how it helps diabetics manage their blood sugar. GLP-1 also regulates appetite and food intake by telling your brain when you’re full. And that may be what Saxenda owes its weight loss potential to.
How Effective is Saxenda?
Clinical trials lasted around a year and involved over 4,500 patients following a combination of reduced-calorie diet and increased physical exercise; split into one group taking Saxenda and one taking a placebo. After 12 weeks of treatment, over 60 percent of those getting a 3mg injection of Saxenda lost at least 5 percent of their body weight; compared to 34 percent for the placebo group. But according to some doctors, this isn’t an impressive weight loss for an expensive injectable medication with a lot of potential side effects; especially when you consider that people usually lose more weight in control trials.
In a trial testing Saxenda’s effects on sleep apnea, obese patients given 3mg liraglutide daily saw significantly more weight loss and greater improvement in their sleep apnea. After 32 weeks of treatment; the group taking Saxenda had lost on average 6.8kg (compared to 1.8 for the placebo group) and had fewer disruptions in their sleep (6.1 events per hour compared to 12.2 for the placebo group).
But while this may sound promising, these effects don’t come without risks.
How Safe is Saxenda?
Just like any other pharmaceutical, Saxenda has a long list of side effects, some more serious than others. The most common side-effects include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dyspepsia (indigestion)
Serious side effects include:
- Thyroid tumors and cancer. In studies involving mice and rats, Saxenda causes thyroid tumors and thyroid cancer.
- Gallbladder problems, including gallstones
- Low blood sugar
- Increased heart rate
- Kidney problems and kidney failure
- Allergic reactions
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
Are There Alternatives?
If you’re worried about your health or want to lose weight, speak to a doctor; nutritionist or fitness expert about steps you can take to improve your wellbeing without taking pharmaceuticals. There are many things you can do to begin losing weight healthily right now. Here are our four top tips:
Crowd out the junk food:
Instead of cutting foods out, which can make you feel like you’re missing out, crowd them out with healthier, tastier alternatives. For example, replace your usual sugar-charged milk chocolate bar with a fiber-packed energy ball or a handful of nuts and a square of extra dark chocolate; or opt for some hummus and crackers instead of processed crisps.
Fill your plate with vegetables and reduce your intake of carbohydrate rich foods like rice, bread, pasta and couscous, which can raise your blood sugar, make you hungry and increase your weight. The high fiber content in vegetables will help you feel fuller, and the vitamins and minerals they contain will support your immune system and your health. If you’re hungry, instead of reaching for something sweet, make sure you always have some vegetables to snack on, whether raw with a dip, lightly steamed with a drizzle of olive oil, or blended up into a quick smoothie.
Most of the empty calories we consume come from processed and ready-made foods. These are calories that are devoid of any nutrients, which means all they do is make us gain weight, deregulate our appetite, and promote disease. By cutting out these foods, you can avoid one of the major reasons for excess weight, balance your appetite and keep yourself healthier. Buy fresh, whole, organic foods and cook your meals from scratch. You’d be surprised how quick and easy this can be once you have a few recipes you’re comfortable making.
If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it long-term. You might start a grueling gym program full of motivation on the first week in January, but if you don’t really like what you’re doing, you’ll find it all too easy to give up come February. On the other hand, when you choose an activity you enjoy, you’ll not see exercise as a chore and be more likely to keep it up long-term. And long-term exercise means long term weight loss and wellbeing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s yoga, zumba, running, swimming, playing badminton, step-dancing or even just walking—all that matters is that you’re moving and having fun.
Is Saxenda Safe?
The question is whether the modest weight loss some can achieve with Saxenda is worth the risks associated with this drug. We all love the idea of a quick fix, but even these weight loss pills don’t deliver. After all, Saxenda is recommended as an addition to a calorie controlled diet and exercise, rather than as a standalone solution to obesity: it isn’t a magic pill, and it isn’t quick. Is it safe? You decide.References