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HCG Diet for Weight Loss Debated on The Dr. Oz Show

Tim Boyer's picture

HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is a hormone made by the placenta in women during pregnancy that helps support the normal growth and development of a fetus. Since the 1950s, however, HCG has been promoted for weight loss through a low calorie HCG diet that the FDA warns is dangerous.

Last year on the Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Oz discussed the HCG diet with pro-HCG diet advocates who claimed that the HCG diet works miracles for weight loss while maintaining lean muscle mass. Opponents of the HCG diet, however, pointed out that the VLCD (very low calorie diet) recommended with HCG would cause weight loss by itself and that HCG can cause harm to a woman’s body such as unusual hemorrhaging.

Unconvinced, by the HCG diet, Dr. Oz did not recommend it for his viewers last year. This year, however, he is giving HCG diet experts another chance to show that the HCG diet is effective and safe.

Five Truths About the HCG Diet as Controversy Evolves

“About a year ago on this show I challenged a leading weight loss expert to do more research about HCG. Today, she’s back with her results and she says what she has found has the potential to convince me that HCG for weight loss can work,” says Dr. Oz as he reintroduces the debate over whether viewers should try the HCG diet for weight loss.

With Dr. Oz is special guest Sheri Emma, MD who states that she has done her research and is ready to reveal to Dr. Oz what she has found.

When asked by Dr. Oz if her results show specifically whether the HCG component of the HCG diet helps with the weight loss or helps keep the weight off, Dr. Emma tells him that it’s a little complicated.

“It’s the diet that drives the weight loss, it’s HCG injections that affect how you lose the weight,” says Dr. Emma as she elaborates by telling Dr. Oz that a standard low calorie diet will cause weight loss, but at the same time muscle is lost as well. But with the HCG injections in conjunction with the very low calorie diet, she states that her research has shown that the muscle mass is retained, which she states is important toward maintaining the weight loss rather than regaining it later on.

“It [HCG] changes your body composition in favor of muscle over fat. It’s more of a selective fat loss and that’s what helps you keep the weight off,” says Dr. Emma.

Dr. Oz tells viewers that according to Dr. Emma’s data, diet study participants who took HCG injections with the low calorie diet lost 41 percent less muscle than those participants who lost weight with the low calorie diet without HCG injections.

As a show of support, a group of women who all claim to have lost weight and maintained their weight loss appeared on stage with signs revealing the weight they lost. One supporter stated that she lost 55 pounds and that after 2 years she has kept the weight off and is currently on a 1500-1800 calories per day diet and does not constantly feel hungry because the HCG is suppressing her hunger.

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To balance the debate, Dr. Oz brings onstage an obesity expert who has looked at Dr. Emma’s data and has this to say about it:

“I really just want to make two points about this diet,” says special guest Dr. Craig Primack an obesity specialist who does not believe that HCG lives up to the claims made by Dr. Emma. “The HCG diet for 99 percent of the women in this country who have done it and will do it has been studied the last 50 years. We see that this diet doesn’t lose weight nor keep it off. Dr. Emma’s diet is a little bit different. When we start to look at her data, we see that there’s a trend for a little bit of muscle retention in that study, but we have to really look at a bigger population to see if that data will hold up,” says Dr. Primack.

Dr. Emma counters that her diet differs from the older HCG diets in that a higher “customized” HCG dose is used; that since one patient’s weight differs from another that the calories allowed per day is also customized (not always restricted to just 500 calories/day) to keep the person healthy; and, that exercise is encouraged, whereas in the older style HCG diet there was no exercise involved.

However, Dr. Primack is not convinced by Dr. Emma’s arguments because he states that since the protein intake is higher and exercise is used in her new HCG diet, that the lean muscle mass retained could be a result of those two factors alone and not due to the HCG. In fact, muscle mass has been shown to be increased with added protein in a diet with exercise as any bodybuilder or athlete will attest.

Playing the devil’s advocate, Dr. Oz states that the top reason why health professionals are against the HCG diet is because it’s a starvation diet that significantly lowers caloric intake and that HCG has no affect toward suppressing hunger.

Regarding HCG induced hunger suppression Dr. Emma talks about how that some women may be getting morning sickness due to the influx of HCG during their pregnancy, and that this could be tied in somehow with its potential for having hunger suppressing abilities.

Dr. Primack, however, believes that it is a leap of faith to draw any conclusion between HCG and hunger suppression during pregnancy and that the numbers are not there to support the claim that HCG aids weight loss by suppressing hunger. Furthermore, he adds that 500 calories is too extreme and requires constant monitoring by a health professional that a dieter may not be getting.

“Most people use 800 [calories per day] as a safer and even going up to 1,200 calories as a significantly safer diet,” says Dr. Primack.

Dr. Oz also brings up the safety of taking HCG injections and states that according to an FDA warning that the HCG diet has been associated with health complications such as pulmonary embolisms, depression, cerebrovascular issues, cardiac arrest and death.

Dr. Emma states that complications with taking HCG injections are typically associated with the higher doses used in fertility treatment, but not so much with the relatively lower doses she uses on her patients with the HCG diet.

At the end of the show, Dr. Oz tells viewers that he does recognize that Dr. Emma’s data may show a trend toward maintaining muscle mass during a very low calorie HCG diet, but he does not believe that eating only 500 calories a day is healthy. His recommendation for viewers who may want to try the HCG diet is that they should do so at a higher daily calorie count such as 1,200 calories a day while being watched closely by their physician who will also insure that they are getting safe amounts of HCG injections.

Reference: The Dr. Oz Show - "The HCG Diet Controversy"