Five Truths About the hCG Diet as Controversy Evolves
The hCG diet is a combination of extreme calorie restriction and receiving doses of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) - a natural hormone produced by the placenta for maintaining a healthy pregnancy. While the FDA has banned liquid drop hCG diet products that claim to cause weight loss, the injectable form of hCG (used for treating infertility) is legal. As a result, many people wishing to lose weight seek physicians specializing in weight loss who are willing to administer the injectable form of hCG.
In a recent TV episode of a popular health show, physicians both pro and con toward prescribing hCG for patients wanting to try the hCG diet made their cases supporting their opinions on the hCG diet. However, what was not addressed was the hundreds of online comments and testimonies of people who have tried or are currently trying the hCG diet and what they have discovered.
The following is a list of five truths about the hCG diet gleaned from both research, professional opinion and people who have tried the hCG diet:
Truth #1—The hCG diet results in quick weight loss of up to 1 pound per day
This is really a no-brainer. Just by restricting your calorie intake alone to the hCG diet-recommended 500 calories per day will result in quick weight loss. Multiple research studies from credible institutions have shown that injectable hCG does not contribute to burning of fat from specific regions of the body, nor does it appear to suppress hanger pangs. Therefore, aside from a possible placebo effect, the hCG hormone is not necessary for weight loss.
Truth #2—The majority of physicians do not support the hCG diet
There are two primary reasons why the majority of physicians do not support a patient’s desire to try to lose weight through the hCG diet. The first reason is because studies have shown that the majority of dieters who lose weight by extreme fasting will gain back the lost weight plus some extra. The second reason is that it is an unhealthy practice and can cause serious illness and damage to the body due to a resulting lack of nutrients.
People who have tried the diet do recognize that rapid weight loss is typically followed by weight gain; however, they also point out that this is because dieters do not change their eating habits that led to their initial weight gain. On the nutrition side of the argument, users of the hCG diet report feeling healthier when they admitted to taking vitamin and protein supplements with their 500 calorie per day diet in comparison to people who did not report taking vitamin supplements with their diet.
Truth #3—There are side effects from the hCG diet
Health authorities warn that nutritional starvation from a diet that limits caloric intake to the hCG-recommended 500 calories per day puts a person at an increased risk for side effects including gallstone formation, electrolyte imbalance and heart arrhythmias. Furthermore, that the hCG hormone in itself can result in irregular periods and vaginal bleeding, ovarian cysts, blood clots, breast tenderness, headaches and a possible increased long-term risk of breast cancer for pre-menopausal women. In men, hCG can cause breast enlargement, breast tenderness, blood clots, decreased sperm production and infertility.
Online comments from people who tried the hCG diet have reported instances of both prolonged vaginal bleeding and loss of normal menses, vomiting, headaches, weakness, and numerous complaints of significant hair loss.
Truth #4—Very low calorie diets are considered safe
Published research studies investigating the safety and efficacy of very low-calorie diets have shown that calorie restricting diets are generally safe, but were typically tested at calorie counts of 800 calories per day and for only short periods of time—not the hCG-recommended 500 calories per day for as long as it takes to lose as many pounds as you want. Furthermore, the same studies recommend that being on a very low calorie diet requires close monitoring by a physician and should not be attempted alone.
In general, women need 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day and men need 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight. A safer weight loss tactic recommended by health authorities is to calculate how many calories you consume per day to maintain your weight at a particular value and then reduce the amount consumed by 500 calories per day for a total of 3,500 calories per week, which results in a pound of fat lost per week.
Truth #5—Not all reported hCG research is credible
The FDA points out that a big part of health fraud is the use of creative marketing techniques to convince potential consumers that a particular product is just the thing they need to buy to achieve good health, weight loss, a cure for a particular disease, etc. Unfortunately, even MDs will forego good science for marketing by referring to poorly executed “pilot studies” or “medical trials” that appear to give scientific support for their product.
In one example as demonstrated on a recent episode of a popular health show, pro-hCG diet physicians reported that in their “pilot study,” individuals on the hCG-diet on average lost 11 pounds of fat and 2 pounds of muscle in comparison to a placebo control group that lost an average 10 pounds of fat and 5 pounds of muscle while on the same calorie diet--but without the hCG hormone injection. The message being that the hCG hormone significantly limits the amount of muscle lost during a 500 calorie per day diet.
However, as one physician who is against the hCG diet pointed out, the pilot study had too few participants to be statistically significant and the findings were skewed because the participants in the two groups differed significantly in their levels of obesity.
To a non-scientist, such findings appear convincing and differences in opinion may appear like so much hand-waving among professionals. But the truth is, there is a lot of bad research performed by people with conflicts of interest toward the results. And this is why seeking information from credible, peer-reviewed journals and taking the word of the FDA is far more important than the word of a guy in a lab coat or scrubs with a slick message and an appealing product that sounds too good to be true.
In summary of the hCG diet
The truth is that the hCG diet can result in fast and significant weight loss in a short period of time, but it is not a healthy or in most cases a permanent fix for losing weight and fighting obesity. Testimonies on the internet are convincing of the diet’s effectiveness for rapid weight loss, but a careful search of the testimonies also reveals that the hCG diet can cause serious health problems. Before trying the hCG diet or any other diet it is highly recommended that you discuss this with your physician first.
“Very Low-Calorie Diets: A Review” JAMA 1993; 270: 967-974; National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity, Richard L. Atkinson et al.
“Ineffectiveness of human chorionic gonadotropin in weight reduction: a double-blind study” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 29: Sept. 1976, pp. 940-948; Mark R. Stein et al.
FDA message on Health Fraud Scams