The hCG Diet
I am always surprised when HCG pops up on the radar screen; I thought the stuff was banned for use in weight control. But, actually, the FDA didn’t ban hCG. They just banned selling and advertising hCG without a warning label. No matter that the American Society of Bariatric Physicians issued a statement about hCG’s ineffectiveness for weight control, or that the American Medical Association put out a safety warning. These things alone or together do not add up to a product ban. But what exactly is hCG?
Several forms of hCG
hCG (human choriogonadotropic hormone) is sold as an injectable, pill and homeopathic tincture (drops). Injectable hCG is indicated by prescription for the treatment of infertility, growth hormone deficiency, organ transplants, and AIDS-related muscle wasting. That is the form condemned by the medical societies for the treatment of obesity. In addition, injectable hCG is banned by Major League Baseball and the Olympic Committee as a performance-enhancing drug – not that hCG enhances performance, but it mitigates the side effects of ending a cycle of steroids.
Over-the-counter oral hCG pills, powders and drops do not present a safety problem; they are simply ineffective. Hormones (think insulin) are made of protein that is digested, and therefore changed, in the gastrointestinal tract. Laboratories are devising ways to protect hormones during digestion, but they aren’t there yet. hCG drops are delivered under the tongue (sublingual) to enter the blood supply directly - although many doctors say hCG degrades before it reaches the bloodstream. One double-blinded research study suggested that sublingual hCG works, but the research subjects followed a very low calorie diet and that's where the confusion rests.
The original hCG Diet
The original hCG Diet for weight loss was popularized by Dr. A.T.W. Simeons, a British endocrinologist. He observed that calorie-deficit pregnant women from India had higher than usual hCG secretions, which seemed to produce a loss of stored fat while preserving muscle in the mother. hCG is produced in the hypothalamus section of the brain by pregnant women and growing children. In pregnancy, hCG helps the uterus to accept the embryo and, among its other actions, hCG triggers the mobilization of fat to be used for fuel.
Dr. Simeons proposed pairing hCG with a low calorie diet to produce selective fat loss. In 1954, he published a diet protocol in The Lancet, Letters to the Editor. His protocol consisted of daily hCG injections along with a 500 calorie diet. The diet allowed unlimited use of tea and coffee with artificial sweeteners, and one tablespoon of milk, 200 grams (7 ounces) of very lean meat, fish or poultry, two vegetables, two fruits, and two bread sticks per day.
Over the years, several studies (1, 2) showed that the effectiveness of Simeons’ hCG diet was entirely due to calorie restriction. Some of them concluded that weight loss with or without hCG was equal and that hCG had no effect on fat mobilization, appetite or sense of hunger, or on body fat distribution. In 1995, a meta-analysis review of prior studies concluded that there is no scientific evidence that hCG is effective in the treatment of obesity. Nevertheless, the hCG Diet program has enjoyed worldwide popularity for years.
After Dr. Simeons’ death in 1970, hCG Diet clinics sprang up everywhere. The diet protocol was often changed but the hCG injections continued. In 2007, infomercial salesman, Kevin Trudeau, released a book, The Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You to Know About, a variation of Dr. Simeons’ diet plan. The company that marketed the book was later charged with deceptive advertising by FTC.
The Bottom Line
Reputable studies refute the effectiveness of the hCG Diet and respected medical organizations warn against it. Still, it is freely promoted all across the Internet, and so buyer beware!
- MR Stein, et al. Ineffectiveness of human chorionic gonadotropin in weight reduction: a double-blind study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1976
- RL Young, et al. Chorionic Gonadotropin in Weight Control A Double-Blind Crossover Study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1976
Have you used or considered using the hCG Diet?