Non-Insulin Injectables and Weight Loss

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Women doctor standing by weight scale

Most people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes know what they’re going to hear from their doctor or diabetes educator: it’s time to shed a few pounds. Indeed, losing a little weight will go a long way to help keep blood sugar levels under control.

But sometimes it’s not enough to watch what you eat and go to the gym. Sometimes you do need to take a medication—or maybe even a combination of medications. Some meds may help you get your blood sugar under control, with the added benefit of helping you lose weight, while others help you lose weight, which then helps you manage your blood sugar levels. And depending on your situation, a non-insulin injectable treatment might be a great option for you—one that helps you achieve your goals.

A Welcome Side Effect

Sometimes, the medication you take to help you manage your diabetes has the happy additional benefit of aiding you in your goal to lose weight. That’s the case for many people with diabetes who take a type of non-insulin injectable medication called glucagon-like peptide-1 analogues, or GLP-1 receptor agonists.

GLP-1 receptor agonists work by stimulating insulin production while suppressing the liver’s production of glucose. The goal is to keep your blood sugar from staying high after you eat a meal. They’re one of two types of what are called incretin-based treatments that are designed to help bring your blood sugar levels down after eating—but the other category of meds, known as DPP-R inhibitors, are oral medications.

You might have heard of Byetta, which is the brand name for an injectable medication called exenatide, or Victoza, which is the brand name for the liraglutide that is often prescribed to help people with type 2 diabetes gain better control over their blood sugar. There’s also a GLP-1 receptor agonist called dulaglutide, which is sold under the brand name Trulicity, that’s available for weekly injection. And one brand new GLP-1 receptor agonist, lixisenatide (Adlyxin), is injected daily at mealtime.

Of course, consistently managing your blood sugar level is of utmost importance. But these meds have a welcome secondary benefit. Liraglutide is known for curbing your appetite, since it tends to slow the digestion process down. Byetta also helps you feel full by delaying the process by which your stomach is emptied. If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s nice to not have your medications working against you. And you might also realize you’ve shed a few extra pounds while using dulaglutide with maybe a little less effort than usual.

A second category of non-insulin injectable medication, amylin analogues, is one used by people with type 2 diabetes who must also give themselves insulin injections. Pramlintide, which you may know by the brand name Symlin, is designed to help you manage your blood sugar levels. But like GLP-1 receptor agonists, it can also help you lose weight. How? By keeping you feeling full longer. Since it delays the emptying of your stomach, you don’t feel hungry, which may keep you from wandering into the kitchen and scavenging for snacks.

When Weight Loss Is Your Main Goal

Now there’s also a form of the GLP-1 receptor agonist liraglutide that is used primarily to help people lose weight—not as a diabetes treatment. A version of liraglutide called Saxenda has gotten a lot of press since it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a weight-loss drug in late 2014. People who are overweight and have diabetes or another weight-related condition like high cholesterol or high blood pressure can take this medication. However, since the FDA noted that the primary purpose for the drug was to aid in weight loss, not to treat type 2 diabetes, you may want to discuss with your doctor whether this is the right kind of medication for you.

Also, Saxenda is not a magic weight loss solution. You‘re still going to have to put some effort into the process. That is, you will give yourself injections of this medication while also sticking to a modified diet and exercise regimen. And you may also experience some side effects from liraglutide. The most common complaints are usually gastrointestinal issues.

Non-insulin injectable diabetes treatments are not for everyone, but they do work very well for many people. Recent advances in medication injection devices make drug administration virtually painless. If you’re interested in trying them to help you lose weight but are concerned about giving yourself an injection on a regular basis, talk to your doctor about ways to minimize the anxiety and hassle.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Aug 2
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