Thanks to everyone who came to my packed, full house, talk on 7 Steps to Permanently Lose Weight. One question that comes up over and over and seems to return to our society every few decades (after just enough time, I guess, for people to forget the research) is the HCG diet. “My friend did this and lost …” or “I’m taking the safer homeopathic HCG …” or “I went to a doctor who prescribed the *real* HCG because it’s safer…” Please read on.
First of all, let’s get some correct definitions:
Diet: n. the foods you routinely eat. Unfortunately, to some, “diet” means a special food restriction you do for a short period of time to lose weight. This is important; your food routine is 80% of your ability to maintain your ideal weight. If you became overweight, was your routine healthy?
Food: n. that which is eaten to sustain life, provide energy, and promote the growth and repair of tissues; nourishment. How much true food do you eat?
What is HCG?
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) is hormone that supports the normal development of an egg in a woman’s ovary, and stimulates the release of the egg during ovulation. It is available by prescription only to treat fertility issues in women and sometimes increase sperm count in men. More rarely, HCG is prescribed to pre-pubescent boys to assist in the normal dropping of the testicles into the scrotum, or to cause the testes to release testosterone.
Is HCG good for weight loss?
The brutal answer is NO: There are some very high quality studies that clearly show HCG is NOT an effective weight loss aid (see below). Also, HCG is NOT available as an over-the counter (OTC) nutraceutical (a.k.a. nutritional dietary supplement) contrary to what HCG-promoting websites, multi-level marketing and advertisements suggest. HCG is ONLY available by prescription and is only approved for the uses described, above.
Still, people I know on the HCG diet are losing weight faster than I am!
Right. I hear this all the time: one of my patients knows someone who’s on the HCG Diet and has lost x-amount of pounds. Our own public library even sponsored HCG diet talks and it has certainly become all the rage, again. Whether these acquaintances have bought a fraudulent over-the-counter HCG product or actually found a clinic willing to prescribe HCG as a weight loss aid, they really went for the hype and did not look into the truth.
So, how is weight loss still possible?
This is the cold, hard, fact of the HCG diet: Consuming far fewer calories than what the body requires for fuel does result in weight loss, period. Consuming more calories than what the body requires for fuel will result in weight gain, period. If necessary, continue to read that sentence over again.
Doing the HCG Diet combines HCG with an excessively low 500 calories/day diet (see below). Here are some problems:
- 500 calories is about ¼ the calories required to obtain the proper nutrients for a healthy diet;
- Because 500 calories is not enough to maintain the energy, after time, the body’s metabolism will drop to “conserve” calories against further starvation. Slowed metabolism subsequently results in rapid weight gain after the low-calorie diet ends and the individual resumes normal caloric intake, with or without HCG.
My doctor, the advertisement, the health food store clerk, friend, neighbor… someone told me HCG was “scientifically proven.”
Whoever is making this claim is badly uninformed and probably listening to marketing hype.
There is a lack of scientific data to support the notion that adding HCG to a low calorie diet furthers weight loss or increases satiety (the sensation of being fed or satisfied) [i],[ii],[iii]. An evaluation of all 24 previously conducted studies asked whether HCG+ calorie restriction was more effective than calorie restriction alone (completed by Lijesen et al. in 1995 using a method—called a meta-study—of carefully analyzing all the available data, positive and negative, to come up with an unbiased answer). Lijesen wrote:
“… there is no scientific evidence that HCG causes weight-loss, a redistribution of fat, staves off hunger or induces a feeling of well-being. Therefore, the use of HCG should be regarded as an inappropriate therapy for weight reduction…”
Not only that, people on the HCG diet reported just as much fatigue, cravings and a few studies report side effects directly caused by the HCG and that required hospitalization including ruptured ovarian cysts.[iv]
Importantly, since the 1970’s doctors and researchers have known that HCG does not help any aspect of weight loss whatsoever[v]. Yes, history repeats or so it seems. The next quote is by Greenway and Bray from 1977 after testing two groups both put on the same diet; one was given HCG and the other placebo (by double blind is meant that no one, neither the dieters nor the researchers, knew who got HCG and who didn’t)[vi]:
“Injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) have been claimed to aid in weight reduction by reducing hunger, and affecting mood as well as aiding in localized (spot) reduction. We have tested these claims in a double-blind randomized trial using injections of HCG or placebo. Weight loss was identical between the two groups, and there was no evidence for differential effects on hunger, mood or localized body measurements. Placebo injections, therefore, appear to be as effective as HCG in the treatment of obesity.”
Not only that, HCG may not be very safe: research also shows that adverse reactions to HCG include arterial thromboembolism (blood clots that break loose in the blood stream and can plug up smaller arteries—read: stroke, cardiac, lung problems), CNS symptoms (eg, headache, irritability, restlessness, depression, fatigue, aggressive behavior), and genitourinary and hypersensitivity effects, as well as local effects from the injection (eg, pain, edema).[vii]
In both animal and human studies, HCG use with elevated insulin (injected or pancreatic response) increases the rate of bilateral (both sides) ovarian cysts.[viii]
How come HCG can be sold in my health food store or online?
It is illegal to sell HCG over-the-counter. As for homeopathic HCG, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States lists active ingredients that may be legally included in homeopathic drug products. HCG is not on this list and therefore cannot be legally sold as a homeopathic medication for any purpose.
In December 2011 and again in August 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warnings to manufacturers that the products they sell are illegal and make unproven claims.[ix]
Pretty bare-bones although some offices provide menu ideas or even a cookbook.[x] For one single and useful change you can make, read my earlier blog here.
The Bottom Line
I understand that weight loss can be frustrating. Please understand that weight gain is a SYMPTOM of some other health problem. Please understand that this health problem came about by not giving your body enough of the correct tools (food) and too many stressors (antifoods, drugs and other chemicals, stressful situations and people…)
I understand how many of you have unsuccessfully tried many things. You may have been told (or tell yourself) that achieving your weight goals is impossible, have no “will power” (which is a really wrong idea that comes only from having tried useless fad diets that don’t work. It is NOT lack of willpower that failed, it was the poor and misguided information given.), or is genetic (this is disproven), or…
You do not need to spend hours in the gym or nibble only bird seed.
Weight gain is a symptom of other underlying health issues that can be corrected.
Work with us. Restoring health is the first step in accomplishing your weight goals and weight will not stably come off until health is restored. KEEP HEALING! Use natural, whole food tools. Once your body is in “safe mode” the weight will come off.
Get the facts—food quality, not quantity counts.
[i] Lijesen GK, Theeuwen I, Assendelft WJ, Van Der Wal G.The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1995 Sep;40(3):237-43.
[ii] Bosch B, Venter I, Stewart RI, Bertram SR. Human chorionic gonadotrophin and weight loss. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. S Afr Med J. 1990 Feb 17;77(4):185-9.
Low-dose human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) combined with a severe diet remains a popular treatment for obesity, despite equivocal evidence of its effectiveness. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, the effects of HCG on weight loss were compared with placebo injections. Forty obese women (body mass index greater than 30 kg/m2) were placed on the same diet supplying 5,000 kJ per day and received daily intramuscular injections of saline or HCG, 6 days a week for 6 weeks. A psychological profile, hunger level, body circumferences, a fasting blood sample and food records were obtained at the start and end of the study, while body weight was measured weekly. Subjects receiving HCG injections showed no advantages over those on placebo in respect of any of the variables recorded. Furthermore, weight loss on our diet was similar to that on severely restricted intake. We conclude that there is no rationale for the use of HCG injections in the treatment of obesity.
[iii] Robb-Nicholson C. By the way, doctor. I’ve been trying to lose weight for a long time and nothing seems to work. What do you know about the HCG diet? Harv Womens Health Watch. 2010 May;17(9):8.
[iv] Rabe T, Richter S, Kiesel L, Zaloumis M, Runnebaum B. [Influence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in combination with a 500 calorie diet on clinical and laboratory parameters in premenopausal women with and without hormonal contraception]. Aktuel Endokrinol Stoffwechsel. 1987 Jul;8(3):142-9.
82 premenopausal, healthy, nonpregnant volunteers were treated with a 500 kcal reduction diet for 28 days. They were randomized into 2 groups–OC and non-OC users. In addition, 1 of the subgroups in each main group was treated with hCG injections (250 IU/day im for 21 days. The non-OC users (both with and without hCG injections) consisted of 24 subjects each. In the groups of OC users, 13 patients were treated with hCG, 16 were not treated; 5 volunteers discontinued their diet. All groups experienced strong sensations of hunger during the 1st week of the diet (9-16%) which decreased slowly thereafter. No differences between the individual groups could be found. Diet adjustment improved more greatly in those groups who had not received hCG (15-20%) than in the groups with hCG (2-12%). No change was found during the dieting among the subgroups. Serum electrolytes, urea, uric acid, creatinine, and liver enzymes did not change during the dieting. Slight changes were observed in serum cholesterol and triglycerides. Side effects were seen in 2 volunteers from the hCG group, 1 of whom suffered from severe headache and the other who suffered from ovarian cysts which were punctured by laparoscopy. The success of the diet was based on motivation and good information, rather than on the hCG administration. (author translation)
[v] Stein MR, Julis RE, Peck CC, Hinshaw W, Sawicki JE, Deller JJ Jr. Ineffectiveness of human chorionic gonadotropin in weight reduction: a double-blind study. Am J Clin Nutr. 1976 Sep;29(9):940-8. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/29/9/940.long
Our investigation was designed to retest the hypothesis of the efficacy of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) on weight reduction in obese women in a clinic setting. We sought to duplicate the Asher-Harper study (1973) which had found that the combination of 500 cal diet and HCG had a statistically significant benefit over the diet and placebo combination as evidenced by greater weight loss and decrease in hunger. Fifty-one women between the ages of 18 and 60 participated in our 32-day prospective, randomized, double-blind comparison of HCG versus placebo. Each patient was given the same diet (the one prescribed in the Asher-Harper study), was weighed daily Monday through Saturday and was counselled by one of the investigators who administered the injections. Laboratory studies were performed at the time of initial physical examinations and at the end of the study. Twenty of 25 in the HCG and 21 of 26 patients in the placebo groups completed 28 injections. There was no statistically significant difference in the means of the two groups in number of injections received, weight loss, percent of weight loss, hip and waist circumference, weight loss per injections, or in hunger ratings. HCG does not appear to enhance the effectiveness of a rigidly imposed regimen for weight reduction.
[vii] Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin. Drug Facts & Comparisons . Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; 2005.
[viii] Poretsky L, Clemons J, Bogovich K; Hyperinsulinemia and human chorionic gonadotropin synergistically promote the growth of ovarian follicular cysts in rats. Metabolism. 1992 Aug;41(8):903-10.