(Are We Really Still Talking About This Stuff?)
It never fails. At least once or twice a week, one of my patients will ask me what I think about these “new” HCG diets. It’s usually someone who has tried everything—except diet and exercise—and has been unable to lose any weight. This is important for them to understand, so I pull up a chair, sit down, and this is what I tell them.
HCG (more correctly notated as hCG and known as the human chorionic gonadotropin) has been known to the scientific community for decades. It’s a hormone produced by the placenta and it has several important functions. In early pregnancy, its’ actions help nurture and sustain the growing embryo and help it implant itself in the uterine wall. The blood level of hCG rises predictably each day of pregnancy, allowing physicians to monitor the healthy progress of a normal pregnancy. And it’s the hormone measured in pregnancy tests, both over-the-counter and in a medical office or hospital. For those of us old enough to be familiar with the term “the rabbit died” as indicating a positive pregnancy test, this same hCG was the culprit. In the 1930’s, researchers determined that if the urine of a pregnant woman (containing high levels of hCG) was injected into a female rabbit, specific changes in the rabbit’s ovaries would indicate the presence of hCG, and the woman would be found to be pregnant. Contrary to popular (and apparently persistent) opinion, the death of the rabbit didn’t indicate a positive test. Rather, it was the changes noted in the ovaries, and the rabbit had to be sacrificed to examine them. We’ve come a long way, and Thumper (or his girlfriend) must be happy.
So that’s hCG—a powerful hormone of pregnancy. But how did this ever become associated with weight loss? This is a good example of bad science gone worse.
Even if you’re not a sports-fan, you’re probably familiar with the continued controversy surrounding “performance-enhancing drugs”. We usually, and rightly, associate this with testosterone-like substances—hormones that promote the growth and strengthening of muscles. There are many problems encountered with these drugs. With prolonged use of these “anabolic steroids”, bothersome side effects can occur, including testicular atrophy. HCG has been found to counter-act some of these effects, and has made its way into this dangerous and illicit activity.
But prior to this, a British physician, Albert T. W. Simeons, developed a diet in the mid-1950’s based on the use of hCG injections and an ultra-low calorie diet of only 500 calories. He claimed significant weight loss with no loss of muscle mass. P.T. Barnum would have known that if you rubbed snake oil on your belly and consumed no more than 500 calories each day, you were going to lose weight, and fast. But that degree of caloric restriction amounts to malnutrition, with its multiple and serious side effects. Scrutiny of Simeons’ diet quickly debunked it, and over the ensuing years, multiple reputable agencies and organizations have attempted to place any hCG diet in its proper place.
Here’s what the FDA had to say in 1976:
“The injection of HCG has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective in the treatment of obesity or weight control. There is no substantial evidence that HCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction.”
And in 1995, the “American Society of Bariatric Physicians” took this position:
“There is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity. The studies done to date have found insufficient evidence supporting the claims that HCG is effective in altering fat-distribution, hunger reduction, or in inducing a feeling of well-being. The use of HCG should be regarded as an inappropriate therapy for weight reduction.”
Since that statement, there have been no new studies that would refute this position, nor support the use of hCG. And yet there are “weight-loss clinics” that tout its use and seem to do a brisk business.
And then there’s the Internet. I just went on-line and found the following advertisement of an amazing weight-loss product. Keep in mind that you can lose “1-2 pounds a day” and this is “doctor approved”.
HCG drops are taken orally (Interesting, since hCG is not absorbed through the GI tract)
Same results as HCG clinics, but costs thousands of dollars less
No exercise needed while taking them
No prescription required
Our HCG has all-natural ingredients
No hunger pains while taking HCG diet drops
HCG converts fat into nutrients without loss of muscle
All of that sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And if you read a little further, you’ll find more interesting information in the small print:
“We are in compliance with the FDA guidelines since our formulation doesn’t contain the real HCG hormone, but only its weight reduction qualities.”
Say what? And people actually buy this stuff?
So that’s what I tell my patients. If they buy these products over-the-counter or through the Internet, they’re not getting real hCG. What’s actually in these bottles is anyone’s guess. And if they’re going to an “HCG clinic” and getting the “real stuff”, there are problems associated with these injections. But mainly, it doesn’t work, and you need to question the credentials and motivation of the practitioners in these clinics.
Save your money and stick with a reduced-calorie diet, but not as drastic as 500 calories.
(From the up-coming book “60 Ways to Lose 10 or More Pounds”)