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Diabetes Drug for Weight Loss May Fight Your High-Fat Cravings

Tim Boyer's picture
Liraglutide for weight loss

Are you a diabetic who needs to lose a few pounds? A new study reveals that one particular drug used to treat diabetes may help you lose weight by decreasing your high-fat food cravings.


Prescription drugs for weight loss typically work by targeting regions of the brain involved with appetite and satiety, and thereby interfere with hunger signals so that the dieter will feel less inclined to eat and be better able to resist the temptation to snack or eat more than he or she should.

According to a recent news release from the Endocrine Society, researchers are presenting at the Endocrine Society’s 98th annual meeting in Boston their findings that the diabetes drug “Liraglutide” leads to weight loss by acting on an area of the brain that controls attention and possibly making desirable foods—such as high-fat foods―less rewarding to the brain.

“Our finding suggests liraglutide may make people more attentive to what they are eating, particularly high-calorie or high-fat foods,” said study co-investigator Olivia Farr, PhD, an Instructor in Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston.

The potential usefulness of liraglutide toward weight loss was reported earlier after FDA approval of the drug Saxenda, which contains almost double the dose of the active component as that used with the liraglutide-containing diabetes drug Victoza. Victoza was used for helping overweight Type 2 diabetics lose weight whereas the higher dose drug Saxenda was used for overweight and obese patients without diabetes.

According to the press release, injectable liraglutide is an analog, or mimicker, of the glucagon-like peptide (GLP) hormone in the body that controls metabolism and appetite. And, although in the past researchers suspected liraglutide may work directly in the brain to decrease weight, it was unclear how or where in the human brain the liraglutide acted. Today, however, that issue is less murky.

Researchers now know that there are receptors for the glucagon-like peptide (GLP) hormone in the cerebral cortex of the forebrain where higher thought processes take place. This discovery led to the findings of a subsequent study presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting where functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) is used to analyze and compare the brains of patients on liraglutide and a placebo control.

The release reports that 18 adults with Type 2 diabetes were randomly selected to receive either liraglutide, up to 1.8 milligrams, or a placebo for 17 days. Then after a three-week “washout” of no medication, the same participants received 17 days of the opposite treatment. On day 17 of both treatments, study participants were presented with images of different foods while their brains were being scanned.

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What the researchers found was that when participants were on liraglutide, that their reward center activity in the cerebral cortex was suppressed toward highly desirable, high-fat foods in comparison to when viewing images of fruits, veggies and low-fat foods.

“This decreased activation means that individuals on liraglutide find highly desirable foods less attention-grabbing and less rewarding than they typically would without liraglutide,” Farr said. “Thus, this medication may prove to be better for weight loss for people who tend to eat more high-fat food as a reward, such as when they are stressed. Our study identifies neural targets for more effective weight loss therapeutics in the future.”

The release reports that the investigators plan on repeating the experiments using higher doses of liraglutide to see how the results compare.

For additional liraglutide-related information on weight loss, here are a few select articles published previously:

New Weight Loss Drug FDA Approved in Time for New Year Resolutions

New FDA-Approved Weight Loss Drug Doubles Odds of Success Toward Losing Weight

U.S News & World Report Reveals 4 Effective Diet Options

Reference: Endocrine Society press release “Liraglutide May Make High-Fat Foods Less Desirable to the Brain's Reward Centers”

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