Bells and whistles went off in me over this past month after attending 3 different events where friends told me about their interest in trying the hCG diet. They shared success stories of friends who were on it and lost a great amount of weight. I had hoped this diet had died out in the 70’s but somehow it has managed to kick start itself back into the public eye. The icing on the cake was seeing a booth display at a bridal conference encouraging brides to shed weight to look fabulous in their gowns. No health professional amidst the group to talk to.
The human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) diet was first developed in the 1950s based on research by A.T. Simeons. His plan consisted of a three to six week 500 calorie fat-free diet, accompanied by a daily injection of 125 International Unit (IU) of hCG. The new homeopathic version is made into a sublingual mixture which is administered under the tongue. It is taken 6 times a day.
hCG is a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women. In theory, the hCG hormone is supposed to suppress hunger and trigger your body’s use of fat for fuel. That would lead to rapid weight loss without hunger and loss of fat from the most common problem areas (thighs, hips, and stomach). These claim are impressive, but the science tells a little more questionable story.
In Simeon’s day, hCG was a newly discovered peptide hormone found in pregnancy and thought to cause the release of fat from the adipocytes or fat cells in the body so that other cells could burn it to produce other forms of energy. More recently, researchers say that it does not cause the breakdown of fat, but might actually stimulate the secretion of another hormone, leptin, which causes the formation of more fat cells.
This new research shows that hCG’s role in pregnancy was likely misunderstood for many years. These studies indicate that it actually promotes the storage of fat in the pregnant mother, not the release of fat for energy as previously thought. Several other studies have found that the fat redistribution and weight loss observed by Simeon was likely due to another hormone altogether, human placental lactogen, making the entire premise of the diet plan flawed from the beginning.
A comprehensive review of 16 published studies concluded that individuals who were on a 500-calorie diet lost the same amount of weight as those on the diet who also took the hCG injections. The end result of this analysis found that there is no benefit to using hCG as a dietary supplement.
The severe calorie restriction, not the hCG supplement, is responsible for the weight loss. It is not safe to follow any very low calorie diet (a diet with fewer than 1200 calories) without medical supervision.
The hCG diet used to be available only in doctor’s offices. Today you can buy hCG injections, drops and skin products on the Internet and find booths displayed at conferences. Warning, these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Just like taking any product you need to understand the risks. hCG is known to cause many severe side-effects which include blood clots, headaches, restless leg syndrome, constipation, hair thinning and feelings of pregnancy (including generalized swelling, breast tenderness and water retention, even in men!)
In women, it can also cause a rare but life threatening side-effect known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which predisposes the dieter to severe weight gain, blood clots and kidney failure.
The American Society of Bariatric Physicians does not recommend hCG as a weight-loss aid. And it’s not really safe to do the fat-free 500-kcal diet. A person cannot meet his or her daily nutritional requirements with less than 1200 calories.
Failure to meet one’s basic nutritional needs for any extended period of time can lead to many unpleasant and dangerous side-effects, including nausea, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, hair loss and even gallstones. Plus, once you resume a normal diet, without any improved eating or exercise habits, the weight will most likely return very quickly and gain back more than you originally started out with.
This is a fad diet that will run its course and then fade back into the sunset for another decade. There is no convincing scientific evidence that the diet works. Ask your doctor or a dietitian for the evidence, not just testimonials, when seeking assistance for achieving a healthy weight.
Signature Joanne Slyter, Westminster, CO Interest in fad diets