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Semaglutide vs liraglutide: How these medications work for weight loss

Choosing the right medication could make all the difference for your weight loss.

Semaglutide vs Liraglutide for Weight Loss | Juniper

You're probably familiar with names like Wegovy and Saxenda. These drugs are widely known for being a great weight loss tool and have gained some real attention over on social media.

Both have helped thousands of people lose weight and keep those unwanted pounds off for good.

But what makes these medications so powerful when it comes to weight loss and weight management? It all comes down to these active ingredients: semaglutide and liraglutide.

Both were initially designed to treat type 2 diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels and are recommended for use in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise.

While both ingredients are responsible for weight loss, there are some important differences you need to know about, too.

What is semaglutide?

Semaglutide is the active ingredient in medications like Wegovy and Ozempic.

While its original purpose was as a diabetes drug, developed to help adults with type 2 diabetes control and improve blood sugar levels, clinical trials have found that semaglutide is also a safe and effective treatment for weight loss.

Both containing semaglutide, Ozempic and Wegovy work in similar ways by mimicking a natural hormone in your body, called GLP-1.

This hormone is produced by your digestive system in response to eating food. It acts on both the brain and the digestive system to regulate how full you feel after a meal and slows down the emptying of your stomach into the rest of your digestive system.

GLP-1 also regulates insulin secretion in response to eating meals so that your blood sugar is better controlled and reduces your appetite by signalling your brain that you've eaten a meal.

Wegovy is used for weight loss management in the UK, and is one of our medication offerings here at Juniper, while Ozempic is licensed for the treatment of diabetes.

You can use semaglutide for weight loss as part of the Juniper Weight Reset Programme if you are aged between 18 and 75 and:

  • You have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more (clinically obese); or
  • You have a body mass index of 27 or more (significantly overweight) and you also have a medical condition that is often caused, or made worse, by excess body weight.

What is liraglutide?

Liraglutide (a.k.a the active ingredient used in the drug Saxenda) is a prescription medication for adults who are overweight or obese, with a body mass index of 27-30.

It's intended to help patients achieve sustained weight loss [1].

Liraglutide is a glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist which means it regulates the body's hunger signals. Plus, it delays gastric emptying, leaving you feeling fuller for longer and suppresses your appetite.

Initially, liraglutide (Saxenda) was only available via private prescription but has recently been made available on the NHS, as long as you meet certain criteria.

The criteria include:

  • A body mass index (BMI) of at least 35 or in some cases 32 (depending on your background and other lifestyle factors).
  • Non-diabetic patients with high blood sugar (known as pre-diabetic).
  • Patients with a high risk of developing health issues relating to obesity e.g cardiovascular disease.

The reason for this criteria is that people who meet the above factors are at high risk of experiencing severe consequences of obesity, meaning they'll benefit the most from the use of weight loss medication.

The NHS guidelines state that these weight management drugs can be prescribed for up to 2 years [2].

Semaglutide vs liraglutide: How do they work?

Both semaglutide and liraglutide belong to a family of drugs called GLP-1 receptor agents.

This means these drugs affect this particular receptor which is expressed in the pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, heart, lungs, kidneys and brain.

GLP-1 receptors in the pancreas and brain have been shown to have a positive impact on glycemic control and body weight [3].

Both liraglutide and semaglutide work in a similar way, as patients who take the drug all share the same baseline characteristics (such as a higher body mass index, severe weight gain and other weight-related comorbidities).

The goal of these medications is to increase and stimulate insulin production to lower blood sugar levels and reduce feelings of hunger.

While these medications will help to lower energy intake, diet and lifestyle changes are still key when it comes to reaping all the benefits these weight loss treatments have to offer.

What is the difference between semaglutide and liraglutide?

While both drugs are used in obesity management to lower body weight and produce clinically relevant weight loss, there is a lot more to consider when deciding which treatment will benefit you long-term.

Dosage

Semaglutide is designed to be a longer-acting drug, meaning you only have to administer the injection once per week to see the benefits of this weight management tool.

For those taking Wegovy for weight loss, the recommended dose is typically 2.4mg in weekly injections.

However, clinicians usually prescribe a lower dose to start with (0.5mg) and gradually increase it over time. This is so your body can adjust to the medication, hopefully reducing the likelihood of side effects.

Liraglutide treatment involves a daily injection.

With Saxenda, the starting dose is usually 0.6mg, which can be increased by 0.6mg each week until you reach the full dose of liraglutide, 3.0 mg.

Side effects

Both of these GLP-1 receptor drugs share similar side effects, most to do with gastrointestinal-related discomfort, which should decrease in severity over time.

Semaglutide seems to have fewer side effects, which is largely because it's administered once per week versus daily [4].

Make sure to consult with your prescribers if you have any concerns about additional side effects or adverse events while taking these medications.

Is semaglutide cheaper than liraglutide?

The NHS looks at the cost-effectiveness of medications and uses this research to decide what should be made available through this scheme.

Semaglutide is proven to be a more cost-effective drug when it comes to weight control, although it is still more expensive than liraglutide on a per-dose basis.

However, when you compare the cost of treatment, semaglutide ends up being a cheaper option.

This comes down to the fact that semaglutide is only 1 pen per week compared to the daily liraglutide injection.

Semaglutide vs liraglutide: Which is more effective for weight loss?

For those who are navigating a chronic disease as a result of overweight or obesity, finding the most effective treatment is a top priority.

So, it comes as no surprise that many are wondering which of these weight loss drugs offers the best results in a chronic weight management plan.

In 2016, roughly 40% of adults were considered overweight and 13% had obesity according to the World Health Organisation [5].

Carrying extra weight comes with a heightened risk of health conditions including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Both semaglutide and liraglutide work in the body by mimicking natural hormones to lower blood sugar levels and curb appetite, which leads to energy intake regulation.

Controlling calories is a huge factor when it comes to being able to maintain your weight loss. Both drugs work on the GLP-1 receptors, which makes them very similar. The similarities might make your decision a difficult one.

What the research tells us

When it comes to making your decision, there are 2 statistically significant case studies that both look at the efficacy and safety of semaglutide compared to liraglutide, comparing which drug is most effective for weight loss.

Both case studies compare with a placebo group for a more controlled trial.

The first study had participants involved in a 52-week randomised clinical trial that investigated how efficient semaglutide injections are for weight loss, compared to liraglutide injections versus the placebo group [6].

Participants either received doses of semaglutide or liraglutide or the placebo injection.

Liraglutide was administered at a dose of 0.6mg per week (a standard dose for all those who take the drug) and semaglutide was administered at different daily doses starting at 0.05mg, 0.1mg, 0.2mg, 0.3mg or 0.4mg.

It was increased every 4 weeks for the semaglutide patients and the findings concluded that weight loss was greater in participants who took over 0.2mg of semaglutide daily, compared to those taking the daily dose of liraglutide.

By the end of the year, those given semaglutide had lost an impressive 11.2-13.8% of their starting weight, in comparison liraglutide patients had only lost around 7-8%.

The second study was done on patients who have diabetes and took place over a 26-week time frame [7].

Although this study wasn't done specifically to evaluate weight loss, the results were still in favour of those taking once-weekly semaglutide.

These participants lost more weight than those on liraglutide, with successful patients losing between 5-10% of their overall body weight.

The results between the 2 treatment groups were very similar but the information observed in trial data confirms semaglutide — which is the active ingredient in Wegovy — is the most effective method when it comes to weight loss.

As always, make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before exploring these drugs to help you make the best choice for your body.

Approach weight loss holistically with Juniper

Thinking about kickstarting your weight loss journey?

When it comes to using weight loss medications, it's important to look beyond the drugs and find a holistic weight management program backed by health coaching, lifestyle changes and diet advice.

Juniper's Weight Reset Programme includes tailored treatments, personalised medication (we use Wegovy, which contains semaglutide, and Mounjaro, which contains tirzepatide) and lifestyle coaching.

The program offers 3 core pillars:

  • A biological reset: GLP-1 medications require a prescription and work by reducing the associated with appetite and help lower your body's "set point", which is the weight your body likes to naturally maintain.
  • A behaviour reset: Experienced professionals will help you every step of the way. You'll learn how to keep a healthy diet, you'll learn more about the benefits of exercise and receive 1:1 health coaching.
  • The community: Those who engage in a community group more often achieve sustained weight loss and build positive relationships through what is often a challenging journey.

When it comes to losing weight, pairing medication with the right health coaching and weight loss maintenance strategies will help you reach your goal weight allowing you to live happier and healthier.