The Independent Pharmacy

How Does Saxenda Work

Daniel Hurley
Daniel HurleyMPharm IPPharmacist Independent Prescriber

Reviewed on 11 Oct 2023

Saxenda works by signalling your brain that you don’t need to eat anymore. That way, you’ll start to feel full sooner and lose the stubborn pounds that you have been holding on to. While it’s not a miracle solution that will work overnight, Saxenda can be beneficial to your well-being in the long run, and you might find it easier to reach your goals.

Losing weight is a deeply personal and often challenging journey, and everyone’s experience is unique. When you’ve given your best to a calorie-controlled diet and exercise and still haven’t seen the results you hoped for, medications like Saxenda may offer a helpful solution. But before considering Saxenda or any weight loss drug, it’s important to understand how it works in your body.

Here’s how Saxenda can boost your weight loss journey.

Key Takeaways:

  • Saxenda helps you lose weight by working similarly to a hormone called GLP-1 that makes you feel full and reduces appetite, so you eat fewer calories.
  • When used properly along with diet and exercise changes, Saxenda can lead to substantial weight loss of around 5-10% of your starting weight over 3-6 months.
  • Saxenda only works if you take it every day by injection, carefully increasing the dose over time to get the benefits on weight while minimising side effects.
  • The weight you lose with Saxenda is more likely to stay off in the long run if you stick with the healthy eating and exercise habits you started during treatment.

How Saxenda Works

Saxenda helps you lose weight by reducing appetite and making you feel fuller after eating. It does this by mimicking the effects of a natural hormone called GLP-1 that is made in your intestines.

When you use Saxenda, it sends signals to your body and brain similar to the “I’m full” signals we naturally get after eating. This signals to the brain’s appetite control centres that you are satisfied and don’t need to eat more. Saxenda also slows down digestion, so food stays in your stomach longer. This combination of effects allows you to feel full and reduce calorie intake at meals.

In addition, Saxenda helps control blood sugar levels. It stimulates the release of insulin to lower high blood sugar. Saxenda also lowers levels of glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar. By regulating these two key hormones, it improves your body’s ability to control blood glucose.

How Does Saxenda Help With Weight Loss?

For many, Saxenda has provided an additional boost in their weight loss journey, especially when healthy diet and exercise alone haven’t yielded the desired results. In clinical trials, people taking Saxenda lost significantly more weight than those who only dieted and exercised.

On average, people taking Saxenda lose 5-10% of their initial body weight over 3-6 months. For example, someone weighing 200 pounds may lose 10-20 pounds with Saxenda. This amount of weight loss can have meaningful health benefits, like improving blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Many individuals have found Saxenda to be a more effective choice compared to some other anti-obesity medications, but it’s essential to find what works best for your unique situation. In studies, people lost 2-3 times more weight with Saxenda compared to other prescription weight loss drugs like Contrave, Qsymia, or Orlistat.

The effects of Saxenda on weight are dose-related. This means higher doses are associated with increased weight loss, up to the maximum daily dose of 3 mg. Taking Saxenda as prescribed is important to get its full weight loss benefits.

What Are the Effects of Saxenda On the Body?

Saxenda’s active ingredient is liraglutide. Liraglutide works in a similar way to a hormone called GLP-1 that your body makes naturally after eating.

GLP-1 is released from your intestines after meals. It travels to your brain and tells it, “I’m full. It’s time to stop eating!” This helps regulate your appetite and food intake.

Liraglutide in Saxenda mimics the effects of GLP-1. It activates the same fullness signals as natural GLP-1.

When you inject Saxenda, the liraglutide enters your bloodstream. It attaches to receptors in the body that control appetite. This makes you feel satisfied with less food and helps curb cravings.

Saxenda also slows down how quickly food empties from your stomach. This keeps you feeling full longer after meals.

In addition, Saxenda causes the release of insulin when blood sugar is high. It helps control blood glucose levels.

Natural GLP-1 only lasts a few minutes. But Saxenda keeps working to reduce hunger for over 24 hours. This long-lasting effect allows once-daily injections to promote weight loss.

How Does Saxenda Work In the Brain?

Saxenda acts on specific areas of the brain to help reduce hunger, leading to weight loss. It works in the brain by:

  • Activating regions linked to satiety (feelings of fullness). Saxenda turns on neurons, which are nerve cells, in parts of the brain like the hypothalamus and brain stem that make you feel full.
  • Suppressing activation of hunger centres. Saxenda inhibits neurons that create hunger signals in the brain, making you less motivated to eat.
  • Regulating satiety hormones. Saxenda causes the release of leptin, GLP-1, and PYY, which are hormones that signal fullness to the brain and control food intake.
  • Potentially altering dopamine levels. Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain associated with cravings and reward-driven eating. Saxenda may change dopamine activity to reduce food cravings.

In essence, Saxenda shifts the balance of signals in the brain to promote feelings of fullness over hunger, leading you to eat less and supporting weight loss.

Does Saxenda Affect Metabolism?

Saxenda seems to have minor effects on metabolism, our body’s energy-burning process, that add to its appetite-lowering effects.

Small studies indicate Saxenda may increase resting energy expenditure or metabolic rate. This modest increase in daily calorie burning could promote additional weight loss over time.

Saxenda may also enhance metabolic flexibility - the body’s ability to switch between using carbs and fats for fuel. Improved metabolic flexibility allows for increased fat burning, which can support weight loss goals.

While Saxenda does have some impact on metabolism, its primary strength lies in helping individuals manage their appetite, making the journey a bit more manageable. Decreased food and calorie intake accounts for the majority of weight loss attributed to Saxenda in clinical trials.

While Saxenda may provide a minor boost to metabolism, its primary weight loss effects come from helping patients eat fewer calories by reducing hunger signals and promoting feelings of fullness after meals.

Will Saxenda Help Me to Keep the Weight Off?

It’s completely natural to wonder about the long-term effects of weight loss medications like Saxenda, especially when thinking about maintaining your hard-earned progress.

Research shows that continued Saxenda treatment helps maintain weight loss. In a 56-week clinical trial, people who used Saxenda for the full 56 weeks kept off significantly more weight compared to those who only used it for the first 32 weeks.

However, discontinuing Saxenda may lead to some weight regain over time. People who stop Saxenda treatment need to focus on lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly to maintain lost weight.

Using Saxenda in combination with nutrition education, behaviour therapy, and physical activity helps sustain weight loss over the long run. Relying on Saxenda alone without lifestyle changes makes weight regain more likely after stopping treatment.

The key is continuing healthy eating and exercise habits formed during Saxenda use. With dedication to a healthy lifestyle, long-term weight maintenance is achievable after discontinuing Saxenda.

Does Saxenda Help With Diabetes?

In addition to weight loss, Saxenda has been shown to improve blood sugar control in patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

In clinical trials, Saxenda decreased A1C levels (a measure of long-term blood glucose) more than placebo and other diabetes medications. People with type 2 diabetes on Saxenda were also more likely to achieve A1C levels under 7%, the target for good diabetes control.

Saxenda may also help lower the dose requirements for insulin and other anti-diabetic medications needed to regulate blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

The effects of Saxenda on blood glucose are likely due to multiple factors - decreased food intake, delayed gastric emptying, improved insulin secretion, and other biological mechanisms.

By promoting weight loss and directly improving glycemic regulation, Saxenda can be a useful addition to a comprehensive diabetes treatment plan for obese patients with type 2 diabetes.

Though importantly diabeties should be manage in a face-to-face enviroment. We will not be able to provide this treatment if you have diabeties.

Common Side Effects

We understand the concerns about potential side effects, and like all medications, Saxenda has its list. It’s essential to be informed and discuss any worries with your healthcare provider. The most common include:

  • Nausea - Occurs in about 40% of patients but usually resolves within 4-8 weeks. Taking Saxenda with food may help.
  • Diarrhea - Reported in up to 20% of patients. Staying well hydrated can help manage diarrhoea.
  • Constipation - Approximately 19% of patients experience constipation. Increasing fibre intake may relieve constipation.
  • Vomiting - Around 15% of patients vomit, especially when first starting Saxenda. Slowly increasing the dose can minimise vomiting.
  • Headache - Headaches are experienced by about 13% of patients on Saxenda. They are usually mild and temporary.
  • Dizziness - Saxenda may cause dizziness in around 7% of patients. Taking the dose at bedtime may prevent dizziness.

Rare but serious side effects include thyroid tumour development, low blood sugar, kidney problems, and severe allergic reactions. Saxenda is not recommended for patients with a personal or family history of certain medical conditions. Usage precautions should be reviewed carefully with the prescribing doctor.

How to Use Saxenda Effectively

Here are some tips for using Saxenda effectively for weight management:

  • Adhere to dosing schedule - Saxenda is injected once daily at any time of day, with or without meals. Take it at the same time each day for optimal results.
  • Start at a lower dose - The starting dosage is 0.6 mg daily and increased weekly to reduce side effects. Slowly ramping up the dose improves tolerability.
  • Drink lots of water - Staying well hydrated can minimise adverse effects like nausea and constipation. Aim for 64 ounces or more per day.
  • Follow proper injection technique - Rotate injection sites each day when injecting Saxenda. Follow the instructions for proper handling and injection.
  • Combine with lifestyle changes - Low-calorie diet, exercise, and behaviour changes promote further weight loss and maintenance when combined with Saxenda.
  • Track progress - Keep a log of weight, waist circumference, doses injected, and any side effects to monitor progress. Share this with your doctor.
  • Seek medical guidance - Work closely with your healthcare provider for dosage adjustments, advice on managing side effects, and treatment planning.

Proper use of Saxenda, along with healthy lifestyle changes, can help patients achieve and sustain meaningful weight loss. Close adherence to medical guidance is key.

Comparing Saxenda to Other Medications

Saxenda has some similarities to other prescription weight loss drugs, as well as some differences:

  • Wegovy is also a GLP-1 receptor agonist like Saxenda. However, Wegovy is a higher dose formulation of an active ingredient, semaglutide, compared to Saxenda’s liraglutide. Wegovy can produce more weight loss but has a higher rate of side effects.
  • Contrave, Qsymia and Xenical are older weight loss medications that work differently than Saxenda. They are pill-based rather than injectable. Saxenda produces greater average weight loss compared to these drugs.
  • Victoza contains the same active drug as Saxenda (liraglutide) but at a lower dose. Both are injected once daily. Saxenda, at the higher dose, has greater effects on appetite and weight but also more potential side effects.
  • Ozempic and Trulicity are also GLP-1 agonists used mainly for type 2 diabetes, not obesity. Saxenda is specifically FDA-approved for chronic weight management in obese patients.

When choosing a weight management medication, factors like effectiveness, side effects, dosing, costs, and potential health benefits should be considered. Discuss the pros and cons of Saxenda compared to alternatives with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much weight can you lose in a month with Saxenda?

In clinical trials, people lost an average of 5-10% of their initial body weight over 3-6 months on Saxenda. Results vary, but for someone weighing 200lbs, that equates to 10-20lbs of weight loss in a month at the upper end.

How quickly do you lose weight with Saxenda?

Most people see the most dramatic weight loss with Saxenda in the first 3-6 months. However, weight continues to reduce over 12-16 months in patients who adhere to the treatment regimen. Gradual but steady weight loss is typical.

Does Saxenda speed up your metabolism?

Saxenda may slightly raise resting metabolic rate, but its primary weight loss effects come from reducing appetite, not by significantly speeding up metabolism. Calorie restriction is responsible for most of its weight loss benefits.

What not to do when taking Saxenda?

Do not skip daily doses, stop taking it abruptly, or use a higher dosage than prescribed without medical guidance. Avoid medicines that can increase heart rate when combined with Saxenda.

Will I regain weight if I stop Saxenda?

Some weight regain after discontinuing Saxenda often occurs, especially if previous lifestyle habits resume. Keeping up a healthy reduced-calorie diet and exercise habits learned during treatment can help maintain lost weight.


Losing weight and keeping it off is a difficult journey that requires commitment and lifestyle changes. While medications like Saxenda can offer support, it’s important to remember that every individual’s journey is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Remember, you’re not alone in this. Using Saxenda as part of a personalised weight management plan can be a supportive step in your unique journey. Combining medication with meaningful adjustments to your nutrition, physical activity, sleep habits, stress management, and other behaviours is crucial.

Saxenda offers the potential to help reduce hunger, control cravings, and jumpstart weight loss. Achieving and maintaining weight loss is a testament to your dedication and resilience. It’s about embracing healthy habits that resonate with you, even beyond the duration of any medication.

We understand that this journey requires patience, persistence, and self-love. Every step you take, no matter how small, is a victory. Significant weight loss takes time and dedication. By partnering closely with your doctor and educating yourself on proper medication use, you can give yourself the best chances for long-term results. Embracing change is never easy, but with commitment and support, medications like Saxenda can be a valuable ally in your journey towards well-being.

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