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4 things you need to know about the hCG diet

Written by Taylor Newman, MS/DI student | Edited by Laurel Sanville, MS, RDN, LD and Sarah Stotz, PhD, RDN, LD
 
 

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The hCG diet, also known as Simeons’ diet = A very low calorie diet + hCG shots

What is the hCG diet?

The hCG diet started in the 1950’s by a British doctor named A.T.W. Simeons. It consisted of a 500-calorie diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat for 4-6 weeks. In addition, the diet included daily shots of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). hCG is a hormone released by pregnant women that, among other roles, helps blood carry nutrients from mom’s body to the baby’s body[1].

hCG can be extracted from a pregnant woman’s urine and used to treat infertility. Simeons claimed hCG could help with weight loss as well. He believed hCG helped pregnant women burn fat stores to release calories for their baby. Simeons thought hCG shots tricked a non-pregnant body into thinking it needs to break down these fat stores to supply a baby with calories. Without evidence, he also said hCG targets body fat in areas that are especially hard to lose weight from-- the hips, thighs, and stomach-- without causing hunger or weakness or irritability. Nowadays it’s even easier to get your hands on hCG. It now comes in mouth drops, pills and sprays, and can be found online or in certain stores[2].

Too good to be true, right? If you said yes, you’re correct. Here are 4 truths that bust some of the myths about the hCG diet.

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1. The diet is difficult to follow long-term.

It’s simple: very strict diets are hard to follow for long because they take a lot of time and effort. The hCG diet is no exception. To start, you have to follow a strict order of eating which they call “phases”[3]. You begin the diet with a phase of eating a lot for a short period of time. This is followed by a phase of eating a small amount for a longer period. There are some days when you use hCG shots and some you don’t. It gets even more complicated when you’re going through the phase where you restrict food:

 

  • You’re only allowed to eat a small amount of pre-approved foods
  • You’re not supposed to exercise much
  • You’re supposed to avoid using lotions due to the oils they contain.

 

Doesn’t sound like something you’d want to follow forever, right? While this diet is meant to be temporary it doesn’t help you make any realistic lifestyle changes to help you improve your health. Very low calorie diets produce better long-term results if they’re followed by lifestyle changes like nutrition education, behavior therapy, or increased physical activity[4]. Additionally, patients that follow a very low calorie diet generally regain 40% to 50% of the weight they lost weight within 1-2 years after the diet if they don’t make any other changes[5]. This shows that a temporary diet like the hCG diet isn’t enough to keep weight off in the long run.

As I’ll mention in #4 below, very low calorie diets should only be followed under medical supervision if they exceed 2 weeks. The ongoing cost of going to the doctor is another reason why this diet is hard to follow over time.  

 

2. HCG doesn’t help you lose weight-- eating a very low calorie diet does.

Supporters of the diet claim that hCG helps the body target fat stores while preventing feelings of hunger and irritability. Research says otherwise. Researchers looked at multiple studies of this diet to see if hCG really helps people the way the diet claimed it would.

After conducting well-designed studies [6],[7],[8] , researchers found the following:

 

  1. doctorThose who followed a very low calorie diet and used hCG shots lost just as much weight as those who only followed the diet.
  2. There is no reason to believe hCG itself causes weight loss, targets certain areas of the body, or prevents hunger and irritability.
  3. There was no significant difference in weight loss between dieters that used hCG shots and dieters that didn’t. Thissuggests that any success from the hCG diet is due to the very low calorie diet, not the hCG shots.

 

3. HCG has not been approved to treat obesity or help with weight loss by the FDA.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved hCG to treat female infertility and other medical problems, it has not approved hCG for weight loss[9]. This means that the hCG shots have not met certain safety standards. Some companies try to get around the FDA’s decision by selling hCG as a “homeopathic” drug, since the FDA does not evaluate homeopathic medicines. But there is a problem with this.

All the ingredients that can be legally included in a homeopathic drug are listed in a database called the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. hCG is not included in this list.  Therefore hCG cannot legally be sold as a homeopathic medication. It is illegal to sell over-the-counter hCG products marketed as weight loss aids that claim they can do things that haven’t been scientifically proven (like help people lose weight). Watch out for stores that try to sell you these products. The FDAadvises customers to throw out any homeopathic HCG products for weight loss. HCG should be provided by a doctor in a supervised setting, and for FDA-approved medical conditions.

 

4. Very low calorie diets can be dangerous.

Some diets are not as safe as others. First, very low calorie diets are meant for patients who are clinically obese. It is also meant for people under strict supervision by their doctor[10]. In the United States, patients are expected to discuss their medical history with their doctor and have a physical exam before they go on a very low calorie diet. This is to make sure it’s safe for them.

Even if you are approved for the diet and under a doctor’s supervision, you can still have problems. Since it is suggested that most people eat about 2000 calorie a day, only eating 500 calories a day can make it difficult to meet your nutritional needs. A very low calorie diet needs to provide you with all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber in the recommended amount. The hCG diet makes it extra hard to meet these needs since it only allows followers to eat certain foods, creating an unbalanced diet. Following a very low calorie diet or the hCG diet without a doctor’s supervision can result in problems ranging from mild to serious.

Possible side effects that can come from following a very low calorie diet[11]:

  • man with headacheDry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Dry skin
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Hair loss
  • Gallstone formation
  • Sudden death

Possible side effects that can come from using hCG [12]:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Elevated liver enzyme levels, which can mean liver cells are inflamed or damaged
  • Mildly low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Constipation

 

So, after hearing the evidence, is the hCG diet for you? We learned that hCG injections have not been shown to be effective for weight loss. It is difficult to safely follow a very low calorie diet and doctor’s visits can become costly. Please discuss your weight loss options with your doctor before starting any kind of strict diet.

 
 

Headache original photo source                                                                                                

[1] Cole, Laurence A. "Biological functions of hCG and hCG-related molecules." Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 8.1 (2010): 102.
[2] Office of the Commissioner, US Food and Drug Administration. “Consumer Updates - HCG Diet Products Are Illegal.” Sept. 2013. Website: www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm281333.htm.
[3] “Information To Help You Be Successful On The HCG Diet Plan.” HCG Diet Plan Help, HCG Diet Plan. Website: www.hcgdietplanhelp.com/.
[4] Saris, Wim HM. "Very‐low‐calorie diets and sustained weight loss." Obesity 9.S11 (2001).
[5] Tsai, Adam Gilden, and Thomas A. Wadden. "The evolution of very‐low‐calorie diets: an update and meta‐analysis." Obesity 14.8 (2006): 1283-1293.
[6] Lijesen, G. K., et al. "The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria‐based meta‐analysis." British journal of clinical pharmacology 40.3 (1995): 237-243.
[7] Rabe, T., et al. "Risk-benefit analysis of a hCG-500 kcal reducing diet (cura romana) in females." Geburtshilfe und Frauenheilkunde 47.5 (1987): 297-307.
[8] Goodbar, Nancy H., et al. "Effect of the human chorionic gonadotropin diet on patient outcomes." Annals of Pharmacotherapy 47.5 (2013): e23-e23.
[9] Office of the Commissioner, US Food and Drug Administration. “Consumer Updates - HCG Diet Products Are Illegal.” Sept. 2013. Website: www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm281333.htm
[10] Tsai, Adam Gilden, and Thomas A. Wadden. "The evolution of very‐low‐calorie diets: an update and meta‐analysis." Obesity 14.8 (2006): 1283-1293.
[11] Saris, Wim HM. "Very‐low‐calorie diets and sustained weight loss." Obesity9.S11 (2001).
[12] Goodbar, Nancy H., et al. "Effect of the human chorionic gonadotropin diet on patient outcomes." Annals of Pharmacotherapy 47.5 (2013): e23-e23.
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