Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects millions of people worldwide. The condition is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints, which can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. While there are several treatment options available, including pain management medication and physical therapy, new research suggests that liraglutide may offer potential benefits for osteoarthritis patients.Saxenda (Liraglutide) is a medication that is typically used to treat type 2 diabetes. The drug works by mimicking the effects of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which helps to regulate blood sugar levels in the body. In addition to its anti-diabetic properties, liraglutide has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, which could make it a promising treatment for osteoarthritis.
Due to the established anti-inflammatory effect of GLP-1 agonists, this led researchers to investigate its effect on osteoarthritis in mice and human knee cartilage. A study published in Scientific Reports in 2022 researched the effects of liraglutide in mice with osteoarthritis as well as human knee cartilage from patients undergoing knee surgery from their osteoarthritis (1). For the mice, they injected liraglutide into the knee joint and compared it to other commonly used methods of treatment of osteoarthritis, like steroids. They were trying to see if liraglutide effectively reduced pain and improved mobility in these mice. For the human knee cartilage, the researchers tested the tissue with different liraglutide doses to see its effect on inflammatory cell production and inflammatory protein release.
What they found was that, in the mouse models, liraglutide seemed to effectively and more rapidly improve mobility and reduce pain in the mice with the first dose. For the next doses, liraglutide was as effective as steroids. This may indicate a potential use of liraglutide for osteoarthritis; however, more studies are needed to say for sure.
When examining the effects of liraglutide on human knee cartilage in patients with osteoarthritis, they found that it reduced the release of inflammatory proteins while also promoting the production of anti-inflammatory proteins and cells. They also noticed that the tissue of these patients contained a ton of receptors for GLP-1, which may indicate that GLP-1 has a role to play in osteoarthritis.
The results of the mouse model and experiments on human knee cartilage for patients with osteoarthritis are very exciting and show great promise. The study allowed researchers to see that there could be a potential benefit of liraglutide for osteoarthritis. This may also open avenues for other GLP-1 agonists, such as Mounjaro and Wegovy. However, these are preclinical studies, so no major conclusion can be drawn.
So can you use Saxenda for osteoarthritis? Right now, we are not sure. Saxenda is not currently approved by the Federal Drug Administration for use in osteoarthritis and will not be until larger clinical trials are performed. There is a long road ahead for the approval of Saxenda for osteoarthritis. However, these early preclinical studies are promising.
If you would like to learn more about GLP-1 medications or want to see if you might be eligible for medication-assisted weight loss, check out Mochi Health, where board-certified obesity medicine physicians can offer expertise in this realm!
Dr. Constantine Joseph Pella, MD
Boston University Medical Center