Taking the drug Saxenda (liraglutide) helped people who lost — then regained — weight after bariatric surgery reverse this weight gain, according to a new study presented at the 2021 ObesityWeek meeting and described in an article at MedPage Today.
Saxenda is a formulation of the drug liraglutide that is approved for the treatment of excess body weight, and is injected once daily in a dose of 3 milligrams. The same drug, marketed under the name Victoza, is used as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, and is injected once daily in a dose of 1.2 or 1.8 milligrams. Liraglutide is a GLP-1 receptor agonist, which works by mimicking the effects of a hormone called GLP-1 — with effects in the body including promoting the release of insulin following meals, slowing stomach emptying, and reducing hunger. Even if they’re not prescribed for the purpose of weight loss, GLP-1 agonists can help people with type 2 diabetes lose weight, and many doctors prescribe them with this potential beneficial side effect in mind.
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For the latest study, researchers looked at 132 people who underwent a form of bariatric surgery called Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. The average age of participants at the beginning of the study was 47 years, and 87% were women (women tend to undergo bariatric surgery at a much higher rate than men). At the beginning of their participation in the study, 18 to 120 months (1.5 to 10 years) had gone by since participants underwent their surgery, with an average duration of 68 months (5 years, 8 months). All participants had initially lost at least 25% of their body weight following the surgery, but had then regained at least 10% of their body weight. The aim of the study was to find out if taking Saxenda could help halt or reverse this weight gain.
Participants were randomly assigned to take either Saxenda or a placebo (inactive injection) by a ratio of two to one, with 89 people ending up in the Saxenda group and 43 in the placebo group. Participants in both groups received lifestyle counseling from a registered dietitian and visited a clinic every 3 months to have their body weight and other health measures assessed. After 56 weeks, members of the Saxenda group had lost an average of 9.65% of their body weight at the beginning of the study — fully reversing, in some cases, the weight gain that followed their initial weight loss after bariatric surgery. Members of the placebo group, on the other hand, continued to gain weight — with an average weight gain of 1.81% during the study period, despite undergoing lifestyle counseling as part of the study. While fewer than one in 20 members of the placebo group lost at least 5% of their body weight during the study period, almost seven in 10 members of the Saxenda group were able to reach this benchmark.
The researchers concluded that Saxenda, and possibly other GLP-1 receptor agonists, could potentially become a standard treatment for cases in which weight loss following bariatric surgery is eventually regained. They pointed out that the drug was generally well tolerated, with minor digestive problems as the most commonly reported side effects — and that about one in four people who received the drug were able to get back to their lowest body weight following bariatric surgery, or even lower.
Want to learn more about bariatric surgery and type 2 diabetes? Read “Is Bariatric Surgery for You?” and “Bariatric Surgery and Diabetes: Questions and Answers.”