A weight-loss method combining injections of hCG, a pregnancy hormone, and a 500-calorie diet is growing in popularity, according to the New York Times. Women are ‘streaming into doctors’ offices and weight-loss clinics all over the country for $1000 in consultations, a supply of hCG, and syringes. However, some of the claims of this method seems at least a bit dubious.
A doctor at a clinic in Rome first proclaimed hCG a dieting aid about 50 years ago. Here’s what the hCG dieting method looks like:
The regimen combines daily injections with a near-starvation diet, and patients, mostly women, are often enticed by promises that they can lose about a pound a day without feeling hungry. Perhaps even more seductively, they are frequently told that the hCG will prompt their bodies to carry away and metabolize fat that has been stored where they least want it — in their upper arms, bellies and thighs.
The use of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is derived from the urine of pregnant women, has ‘acquired an aura of respectability because the injections are available only by prescription.’ Doctors can legally prescribe hCG “off-label” for weight loss.
However, in January the Food and Drug Administration warned that “homeopathic” forms of hCG, like lozenges and sprays that are sold over the Internet and in some health food stores, are ‘fraudulent and illegal if they claim weight-loss powers.’ Since the mid-1970s, packaging for hCG must say that it has not been shown to increase weight loss, or to cause a more “attractive” distribution of fat, or to “decrease hunger and discomfort” from low-calorie diets
In light of the recent popularity of weight-loss treatments using the injectable form of hCG, the FDA has reiterated the above warning, especially after, the New York Times reports, learning about a patient who had a pulmonary embolism while on the hCG diet. Other risks of using hCG include, according to F.D.A. spokesman Christopher Kelly, ‘blood clots, depression, headaches and breast tenderness or enlargement.’
A 1995 Dutch study in The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology did not validate the hCG regimen as effective, but suggests why people might be drawn to use it. The 1995 study looked at whether the hCG diet really worked by analyzing 14 randomized clinical trials of the diet. But only two — one of which was co-written by an advocate of the diet — found that those on the hCG diet experienced its propronents’ claims, greater weight, feeling less hunger and having an improved body shape, in comparison with people on the same 500-calorie diet who received a placebo, like saline injections.
As the New York Times reports, it was the routines of the program (‘the ritual of the daily injection’) and the fact that people saw immediate results that helped them to stay on the diet; some doctors have said it is ‘theoretically plausible that hCG would create a more toned body, because it can induce the production of male hormones and increase muscle mass.’ That is, the hCG regimen can produce seemingly instant results in the form of a weight loss and a (again, seemingly) ‘more toned body,’ and these can be enough to spur someone on the regimen to keep at it, and to lose more weight.
Though, one still has to wonder how one could not lose weight from being on a 500-calorie a day diet.
As Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard medical school who researches weight-loss supplements, notes in the New York Times:
the use of hCG as a diet tool was “manipulating people to give them the sense that they’re receiving something that’s powerful and potent and effective, and in fact they’re receiving something that’s nothing better than a placebo.”
In The Truth About hCG for Weight Loss, Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RN, says ‘Not only will you waste your money on hCG, but there are also potential consequences — from side effects of the product and self-injections to nutritional deficiencies’ — it’s virtually impossible for anyone to meet their nutritional needs on 500 calories a day.
Let the buyer, and certainly the dieter, beware.
Photo by puuikibeach.