By Eric Schmalzried, exercise physiologist and personal trainer
Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center
Recently, HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) has experienced a significant
upsurge in popularity as a weight-loss aid. HCG is a hormone produced by the
human placenta during pregnancy and can be found in many products available for purchase online and in certain stores. Some doctors have even recommended and administered the hormone to patients who wish to lose weight.
The HCG diet rage started in the 1950s when Dr. A.T.W. Simeons—based on
his experience using HCG in a different context—began a therapy for weight loss
using a 500-calorie, fat-free diet coupled with HCG injections. He authored
publications on the method, placing it in the public eye and greatly proliferating its use. The diet quickly became popular.
Like many other weight-loss fads, this one promised to make losing weight
fast and easy. Especially attractive to dieters was HCG’s supposed offset of the
fatigue and hunger that frequently accompany a calorie-restricted diet, in addition to burning fat from the areas that typically retain fat the longest (i.e., stomach, hips, thighs, upper arms), all while causing rapid weight loss.
Sounds like a dream come true, right?
One big problem: There was never any sound evidence that the Simeons
therapy actually worked. The initial popularity of the HCG diet faded in the 1970s when it became apparent there was no solid proof of its efficacy. Like many trends that resurface decades later, using HCG has once again risen in prominence, prompting a need for quality information regarding its use.
So, does HCG work as advertised? In a word, no.
An analysis conducted by a group of scientists in 1995 compiled the results of every available study of the HCG diet. They concluded that there was “no scientific evidence that HCG causes weight-loss, a redistribution of fat, staves off hunger or induces a feeling of well-being.”
Clearly, the HCG diet is just like so many other fad diets—outright wrong.
Why, though, are there so many reports of individuals having success with
the diet? The answer is quite simple—caloric restriction. Recall that along with
using HCG itself, the diet dictates that you restrict your caloric intake to a mere 500 calories (the number of calories varies depending on the source, but it is always low).
It is likely that just about anyone taking in only 500 calories per day for an
extended period of time will lose weight, and many will experience significant
Unfortunately, going on a 500-calorie diet is not a good idea unless you are
under the close supervision of a medical professional. A diet so low in calories is
likely to be deficient in a number of vitamins, minerals and other critical nutrients.
In addition, it comes with increased risks for such side effects as gallstone
formation, an imbalance of the electrolytes that keep the body’s muscles and nerves functioning properly and an irregular heartbeat.
Still thinking of giving the HCG diet a try? The following facts should deter
First, products containing HCG are illegal. On Dec. 6, 2011, the Food and Drug
Administration issued warning letters to companies making the diet
The letters notified the companies they were violating federal law by selling
unapproved drugs and by making claims for the products that are not supported by research. If you are currently in possession of a product containing HCG, the FDA’s advice is to throw it away. Second, HCG is obtained from women who donate it for its use in treating infertility, not for making weight-loss products (The hormone taken from generous female donors is extracted from their urine).
Given the multiple strikes against the HCG diet, it is clear that it should not be
utilized as a strategy for weight loss. HCG is ineffective, and the diet that
accompanies it is hazardous to health. Be wary of any diet that promises fast, easy results. It may not be as exciting, but careful nutrient intake accompanied with a regular exercise program is still the safest, healthiest and most sustainable route to weight loss.