The Truth About hCG for Weight Loss

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Expert Review

Diets don't have to be traditional to be effective -- but when a weight loss diet involves injections of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women, you better be careful.

Two thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. That staggering statistic drives an insatiable appetite for solutions -- preferably ones that are quick and easy.

Some dieters grow frustrated with slow weight loss and start looking for a quick fix. Like the "lose 30 pounds in 30 days" promise in The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You to Know About that promotes hCG.

How the hCG Diet Works

In theory, the hCG hormone is supposed to suppress hunger and trigger your body's use of fat for fuel.

Most hCG diet plans restrict dieters to only 500 calories per day of mostly organic, unprocessed foods along with the hCG injections or serum drops under the tongue (note: The oral hCG may contain little, if any, hCG). Follow the plan for 45 days straight, you will fix your metabolism, and lose several pounds a day, so the advertisements claim.

That's unlikely, say diet and nutrition experts. You will lose weight on the hCG diets but the weight loss will be the result of the very low-calorie or starvation-like diet, not the hCG.

Weight of the Evidence

Although it may sound like a plausible weight loss plan, the scientific evidence for using hCG is lacking.

In 1995, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology published an analysis of research showing no benefit of hCG in promoting weight loss. A December 2009 position paper of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians concluded they did not recommend hCG as a weight loss aid.

Quack director Stephen Barrett, MD tells WebMD that "scientific studies have demonstrated that hCG injections do not cause weight loss."

He describes the protocol as extreme, nearly impossible to adhere to, and senseless, especially because the clinical trials have demonstrated that hCG is ineffective as a weight loss aid.

Since 1975, the FDA has said that hCG is not a weight loss drug. Keep in mind that the FDA doesn't regulate web sites selling hCG and doesn't oversee whether the hCG product you order is safe, free of contaminants, and in the correct concentration.

Potential Health Risks

Not only will you waste your money on hCG, but there are also potential consequences -- from side effects of the product and self-injections to nutritional deficiencies.

It is virtually impossible to meet your nutritional needs for carbohydrates, protein, fats, and fiber with less than 500 calories per day and the diet will most likely result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Minimum calorie levels are closer to 1200-1500 daily to satisfy hunger, fuel daily activities, and provide all the nutrients you need for good health each day.

When calories consumed are so low or close to starvation level, your body not only burns fat, but also muscle mass can be used for fuel. The last thing any dieter needs is to lose precious muscle mass, because that is what keeps your metabolism at its best. Not only will you lose fat and muscle, odds are the weight lost will return and when it does, it usually returns as all fat.

The bottom line: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Besides, if losing weight were as simple as promised by the hCG diet, why would the obesity epidemic continue to exist in the U.S.?

Studies show the best diet is the one you can stick with. And there is little chance anyone can stick with this diet plan. Choose a diet that works for your lifestyle, but don't choose one that requires expensive and worthless hCG.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.


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WebMD Expert Review: "The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You to Know About."

Position paper, American Society of Bariatric Physicians, December 2009.

Stephen Barrett, MD, owner and director, Quack

Bosch, B. South African Medical Journal, Feb. 17, 1990; vol 77: pp 185-189.

Lijesen, G. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, September 1995; vol 49: pp 237-243.

Edited on August 2, 2010

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