At the top of the list of odd fad diets, the original form of the HCG diet has been widely discredited by healthcare professionals and scientists. However, many people are still enticed by the diet’s promises of losing up to a half pound or a pound a day by combining hormone injections, pellets, drops, or sprays with a restrictive 500-calorie diet — a risky proposition, considering the lack of research on long-term effects.
It has not been proven safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nor has it been proven effective. The FDA has even issued warnings against HCG diet products. The risks can be irreversible, and even may lead to death.
In fact, the death of a friend is why this article exists. Read on to learn more and find her memorial at the bottom. Warn others about these dangers. Prevent tragedy.
HCG Fad Diet Popularization
The television celebrity Doctor, Mehmet Oz of The Dr. Oz Show, introduced an updated form of the HCG diet that allows up to 1,500 calories per day (the classic version of the diet restricted calories to just 500 per day). In his new and updated version of the diet, Dr. Oz states that the original HCG diet “should no longer be in practice by any physician,” though his updated version of the diet still involves restricted eating hormone injections. Very little research has been done on either version of the HCG diet, and it’s worth noting that the data Oz uses to back up these claims does not come from a peer-reviewed journal.
In fact, the main reason that the version of the HCG diet introduced by Oz on his show is likely no safer is because it still requires daily hormone injections. It still has not been approved by the FDA for safety or efficacy, and is still too low calorie for some people. HCG products are currently still banned by the FDA for weight loss, the FDA citing that these types of diet products may be considered fraudulent and scams.
The HCG Diet gets its name not from the diet, but from the the daily dose of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). It is available in injections, pellets, sprays, oral drops, and pills. But what is it?
Calories Aside, What is The HCG Hormone?
HCG is the hormone produced by the placenta primarily during pregnancy to stimulate cell growth. Recent studies have found that some tumors also produce HCG to stimulate cel replication and growth of the tumor. HCG is approved by FDA as a prescription drug only for the treatment of female infertility, and other medical conditions. Not for weight loss purposes.
Chemically, it is quite complex: it is made up of two amino acid subunits labeled A and B. One unit has amino acid sequences that mimic follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and thyroid-stimulating hormone. Consequently, HCG stimulates the gonads, adrenal glands, and thyroid to secrete a number of hormones, including testosterone. The other subunit of HCG is an anabolic agent (for biosynthesis and cell growth). It increases cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and nitric oxide (NO). cAMP is known to be a critical element in tissue production, and NO is known to increase blood flow (which is likely why it is produced more during pregnancy). There are HCG receptors throughout the body, including in the central nervous system (CNS). Animal studies show that it has considerable neurogenic properties, which may be beneficial for HCG treatments in pain management.
Speculations about how HCG Works
Many types of cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer, have been linked to an imbalance of hormones, so we can’t predict what effects manipulating our hormones might have. Since the HCG hormone is meant to stimulate rapid cell growth, if a person already has a tumor (detected or not detected) this hormone may actually increase how fast the tumor grows.
In 1954, British physician A.T.W. Simeons theorized that HCG allows mothers-to-be to access fat reserves to feed their fetuses. In his book, Pounds and Inches: A New Approach to Obesity, he suggested that HCG could help people access their fat reserves and achieve weight loss. This, however can be naive for many reasons. Partly because there are many hormones active for different reasons during pregnancy, and these can actually lead to increased weight gain for the mother rather than mere weight loss from burning fat reserves.
This kind of speculation about HCG’s role in weight loss can also be quite dangerous, sends a bad message to people because how HCG works is not a certainty.
Some male athletes use pharmaceutical preparations of hCG to stimulate testosterone production before competition and/or to prevent testicular shutdown and atrophy during and after prolonged courses of hormone use.
Long-term effects on thyroid and other glands, circadian rhythm, body hair growth patterns, reproductive health, heart and organ health, and hormone balance are not well-known.
What Supporters of the Diet Say:
Some people who have followed the HCG diet find that it results in rapid weight loss with minimal hunger. In general, though, any extremely low calorie diet will result in weight loss. Most research studies suggest that HCG has nothing to do with it.
The amount of calories per day allowed on this diet is below any recommended amount for safe weight loss. For the average person, consuming 500 to 800 calories per day puts them at risk for malnutrition, plus a host of other side effects, including fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and constipation.
According to the HCG diet website, this is because the body’s shape begins to change while on the diet: Deposits of fat move away from the stomach and hips, and instead become available for the body to use immediately, leading to fat loss rather than muscle loss.
What Research Scientists, Opponents, the FDA, and Health Professionals Say:
But what the HCG website doesn't mention is that there's no scientific evidence that the diet won't cause muscle loss as well as fat loss, and most studies on the diet are funded by HCG diet proponents themselves, and results are very skewed. Current evidence suggests that following extremely low calorie diets alone will produce weight loss, and this includes fat in the stomach and hips. Studies around the world have suggested that HCG hormone supplementation doesn't change rate of weight loss.
Besides the numerous studies suggesting that HCG suppements are #notworthit, here are multiple other risks, like this patient case study that found irreversible blood clots in deep veins (typically in the legs), deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and pulmonary embolisms (blood clots that travel to the lungs) after just two weeks on the diet.
Extremely low calorie diets cycling on and off have also been associated with gallstone formation, per the Mayo Clinic website, the risks of gallstones being higher in men.
Another worry? You lose energy along with losing weight. The weight comes back once you stop the diet, but your energy level doesn't. Read this woman's account of her experience with the diet.
Perhaps your biggest concern: it could be deadly. Aside from severe calorie restriction, malnutrition, and a gradual loss of muscle and organ tissue leading to atrophy (as in hospitalized patients suffering with anorexia), the HCG diet increases risks of growth of benign and cancerous tumors, and development without warning or symptoms of thick blood clots in larger veins that can eventually travel to the lungs.
The FDA and the Federal Trade Commission contend that advertising the HCG diet and its products for weight loss is fraudulent advertising, because there is no proof that HCG independent of a low-calorie diet produces weight loss, and more risks associated with taking the hormone than there are benefits.
I write this article in remembrance of a good friend, Denise, whom after taking the HCG supplements under a doctor's care, gradually declined. She had an abdominal tumor that gradually grew to 8lbs and flourished with the extra encouragement from HCG. She suffered from complications associated with a pulmonary embolism as well as other health factors that when combined became lethal. Her life was celebrated on April 27th 2018, and will continue to be celebrated every day after. She was 50 years old.