Diet-to-Go Blog
  1. HCG: A Diet Dream or Just Another Scam?

    Human chorionic gonadotropin or HCG is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body during pregnancy. In a pregnant woman, HCG signals the hypothalamus to mobilize fat stores, which helps the body bring nutrients into the placenta, fueling the fetus with the energy it needs to grow.

    So how did a pregnancy hormone become synonymous with weight loss?

    History of HCG and Weight Loss

    Using HCG as part of a weight loss regimen was first discovered by the British endocrinologist, Dr. A. T. W. Simeons. Dr. Simeons was studying pregnant women in India who were on a calorie-deficient diet, and overweight boys with pituitary problems. He treated both groups with low-dose HCG. He believed he found that both lost fat rather than lean muscle tissue. This observation led Dr. Simeons to theorize that to protect the developing fetus, the HCG hormone causes the hypothalamus to use the body's fat deposits as opposed to lean muscle tissue for fuel. Further, because he saw the same results in the boys, he hypothesized that it doesn't matter if you are pregnant or not, the key fat loss impetus is the presence of HCG.

    Expanding on this theory, Simeons later recommended using low-dose daily HCG injections in combination with a customized very low-calorie diet (only 500 cal/day) to lose weight. Dr. Simeons claimed that this would result in the loss of fat tissue without loss of lean tissue. There has never been any trusted third-party research supporting Dr. Simeons' theories. After Simeons' death, the hype of this diet started to spread. There has been considerable controversy about it ever since.

    The Diet

    There are several ways to "do the HCG diet." And to be clear, this is definitely a short-term diet, not a positive lifestyle change. HCG users can only be on the diet for a specific amount of time, primarily because you are only allowed to eat a very restrictive 500 calories a day. Further, according to one of the many HCG support sites: after 42 doses, the effectiveness diminishes "due to the body's ability to develop temporary immunity to the HCGThis is assuming that the HCG treatment had any 'effectiveness' to begin with. Also, the list of permitted food is very specific and there are no substitutions, which makes it hard if you're a vegetarian or have other food restrictions. It's not a healthy lifestyle change; it's a short-term crash diet.

    Injections vs. Drops

    When Dr. Simeons first devised this diet he used only HCG injections and tested his hypothesis only using the injectable form of HCG. However not everyone can easily inject themselves with a needle once let alone several times a day for days on end. Hence the rise of the HCG drops.

    HCG drops are easy to take: simply drip a few drops under your tongue and you're done. The drops are absorbed through the skin under the tongue. However, being absorbed through the skin isn't as effective as injecting straight into the bloodstream and so you'll need to use more to get the same result. So despite the added convenience of not having to inject yourself with a needle, HCG drops are more expensive. And because the drops aren't closely regulated and do not need to prescribed by a doctor (as opposed to HCG injections), chances are they are nothing more than an expensive placebo with absolutely no proof they work. Although to be fair, there is no scientific evidence supporting the fact that HCG injections are effective as a weight loss strategy either.

    Scientific Conclusion

    Five hundred calories is incredibly restrictive; this is not enough calories to support normal brain function. Most nutritionists recommend at least 1200 calories a day. Not getting enough calories forces your body to use its stores of glycogen, protein (muscle tissue) and some fat, which lowers your resting metabolism. Further, severe calorie restriction causes irritability and lightheadedness. Not to mention the inevitable binging that will occur once you stop restricting calories.

    According to the FDA, "HCG has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity." In fact the FDA has said outright that HCG weight loss products are fraudulent.

    Other trusted research has shown that: "Data from most randomized controlled trials show that HCG is no better than placebo in achieving weight loss or reducing hunger." And that "There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or 'normal' distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restricted diets."

    Overall Conclusion

    The old adage holds true: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Permanent weight loss is a long-term commitment. It means making healthy choices about the food you eat and physical activity you incorporate into your life. It means making small changes that you can live with and being patient as you move toward your goal in a realistic timeframe. As much as we want it to be true, weight loss and a healthy lifestyle doesn't come in a bottle, needle or even as drops. It comes from hard work and a commitment to eating healthy and exercising.

    Author: Sue Ridgeway

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