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What’s the Story on the hCG diet?

Unfortunately, most people on the ‘hCG diet’ are unaware of what they are actually taking, and do not know the history of the diet.  This blog is not intended to promote or vilify hCG, but to provide information that you might find useful. HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin.  It is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy that mainly helps a developing fetus to support itself.  HCG is first detected in the mother’s blood and urine about 8 to 10 days following conception, and is measured by clinicians to help monitor the pregnancy.  Some tumors produce hCG as well.  Blood measurements are used to help diagnose/differentiate hormone-producing cancers such as those arising from uterine, ovarian, and testicles. The FDA has approved hCG injections for…

  • Increasing fertility in women by stimulating ovulation
  • Increasing fertility in men by helping testicular function
  • Promoting the ‘drop’ of undescended testicles in pre-pubertal boys

Caution is used in prescribing hCG when patients have ovarian cysts, pituitary tumors, thyroid disease, adrenal disease, abnormally developed ovaries, abnormal uterine bleeding, asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, migraine headaches, or tumors of the breast, uterine, ovaries, or prostate.  Taking hCG during pregnancy can harm the fetus as well. Using hCG to stimulate weight loss began in the 1950’s; and, its success has always been coupled with a near-starvation calorie restriction.  Most of the early studies on the ‘hCG diet’ were conducted in the 1970’s.  Interestingly, the diet is almost exactly the same today as it was 60 years ago:  an extremely restricted diet (typically around 500 calories per day) coupled with daily injections prescribed by a clinician or diluted over-the-counter substitutes. The theory behind hCG is not that it induces weight loss by itself.  The near-starvation calorie restriction induces weight loss, and hCG is thought to prevent hunger by ‘mobilizing fat stores in the body.’ The facts:

  1. Very low calorie diets induce weight loss.
  2. Restriction to less than 1,200 calories per day may be dangerous to your health, and needs careful clinical supervision.
  3. 60 years of investigation supply strong evidence that hCG provides no additional assistance beyond that of a placebo.  Patients on the same diet who injected saline as opposed to hCG had similar weight loss.
  4. Reports have linked hCG to headaches, hair-thinning, leg cramps, breast tenderness, constipation, blood clots, and even sudden cardiac death (presumably from an arrhythmia).
  5. Over-the-counter hCG formulas are an absolute waste of money.  The concentration of hCG within these products is not regulated; and, many that have been investigated were found to have such low concentrations of hCG that they would have no biologic activity.
  6. Any successful diet (or surgical intervention nonetheless) requires long-term dedication to changing habits.  It is ALWAYS about conscientious choices, balance, and portion control.

Be safe!