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The HCG Diet: Fact and Fiction

Here is your health and wellness trivia question:

“What hormone, found only in the urine of females, is connected with an almost $40 million fine of a famous informercial hypester, numerous suspended athletes and a bounty of modern fertility clinics?”

If you answered HCG, you were dead on. It is also connected to a pop fad diet called the “HCG Diet” that is decades old.  For example, I recently ran across a middle-aged female who swore by the HCG Diet.  What was interesting is that the husband was a doctor and fully behind her new program.

But first a little history:  HCG is short for Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin.  HCG comes from the placenta and the embryo and is found, as I mentioned, in the urine of females. Interestingly enough, the biggest users of HCG have actually been male professional athletes.  HCG is similar to Leutenizing Hormone which stimulates testosterone output.  It is often coupled with steroids to maximize testosterone production.  A number of prominent athletes have been suspended for using HCG, including Manny Ramirez.

NOTE:  Many of the men on the Peak Testosterone Forum are using HCG as part of their HRT (testosterone therapy program).  A typical program will include testosterone cypionate, Arimidex (anastrazole) and HCG.  HCG, in this case, is used not to boost testosterone but rather preserve testicular volume and/or fertility and improve mood.  HCG is also used completely on its own, something I cover in my link on HCG Monotherapy.  If you go too high with HCG, it creates a negative feedback loop that shuts down the body’s own endogenous testosterone production and it also can really ramp up aromatization to estradiol and so this must be carefully monitored.

In females, though, its initial use was primarily in the weight loss world.  The typical “HCG Diet” is a combination of weekly HCG injections coupled with very low calorie levels, typically in the 500-1000 range.  The HCG injections are supposed to do everything a woman could want in these circumstances, including accelerated fat reduction, decreased appetite and so on.

Here’s a few reasons to be suspicious of such claims:

1) If HCG really accelerated fat loss effectively, it would be a multi-million dollar industry and one would be reading about it constantly

2) Kevin Trudeau was a huge promoter of the HCG Diet.  Trudeau is the felon, conspiracy wacko – “I’ve been a member of the Trilateral Commision and FBI” – and infomercial wild man.  He was fined tens of millions for his overstatements regarding HCG.

So what does the science say?  One early double-blind study found that patients felt better, had less appetite and lost more weight when on HCG. [1]  So case closed, right?  Well, three years later the same journal came out with additional research showing the exact opposite. [2] In fact, the study concluded “HCG per se offered no advantage over placebo injections in regard to weight loss, distribution of fat lost or hunger index during weight reduction”.  The following year five obese women were put on the standard 500 calorie diets and injections of 125 IU of HCG with no results and, again, the authors concluded that it offered no advantage over straight calorie reduction. [3]  Study after study thereafter left HCG for weight loss in an ever-weakening position.

Finally, in 1995 a meta-analysis was undertaken that definitively concluded that “there is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight-loss of fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being”. [4] The bottom line is that the great majority of studies show no benefit from HCG, making it a big waste of time and money.  Yes, females can lose weight from an “HCG Diet” but it is almost for sure from the low calories that she is consuming and not the injections themselves.

And that leads to a big question:  why would a doc, the acquaintence I spoke of above, knowing full well that study after study has shown HCG to be completely useless for weight loss, push his wife to take the same?  My guess is simple:  the low calorie diet.  Most HCG diets are very low calories and so he knew that his wfie would lose weight anyway.  So the hundreds or thousands that he would spend would be well worth the investment.

Well, you know what I am going to say:  HCG diets, crash dieting, liposuction or any other very rapid way to take off pounds will not lead to long term health and vitality.  I cover the struggle with this sort of lifestyle in my link on Why Crash Dieting Often Does Not Work. In other words, Fix the underlying root problem or eventually you will put back on the pounds.  Remember:  a man with about a 40 inch waist or a woman with a 35 inch waist has substantially more heart attack risk (and often sexual dysfunction to go along with it). Gradual weight loss with a steady dose of exercise are always the answer (unless you have been diagnosed with thyroid, testosterone or other hormonal issues).

What about safety?  Well, in men it seem to have a good track record, although no long term studies have been done as far as I know, assuming an experience physician and adequate monitoring.  In women it does have some potentially nasty side effects, but it is fairly widely used for fertility treatments at significantly higher dosages, so some women will think, “What do I have to lose (except some extra pounds)?”  And prices have really come down at least in the HRT clinics.  I have heard that weight loss treatments charge much more for HCG however.

REFERENCES:

1) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb 1973, 26:211-218, “Effect of human chorionic gonadotrophin on weight loss, hunger and feeling of well-being”

2) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sep 1976, 29:940-948, “Ineffectiveness of human chorionic gonadotropin in weight reduction: a double-blind study”

3) Arch Intern Med, 1977, 137:151-155, “Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) Treatment of Obesity”

4) Br J Clin Pharmacol, 1995 Sep, 40(3):237-43, “The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis”

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