HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced during pregnancy to ensure healthy fetal development. Dr. Simeon’s program for weight management utilizes injections of pharmaceutical grade HCG and a 500 calorie a day diet consisting of two daily meals totaling 100 grams of lean meat, some leafy vegetables, fruit, and a piece of crispbread for 500 calories a day up to 40 days. He believed that HCG allowed people to reduce weight and avoid the hunger pains associated with starvation.
This diet first began in the 1930’s and crashed in the 1970’s following controlled trials that revealed weight loss was independent of HCG. Additional pressure came from the Food and Drug Administration citing misleading advertising and the use of an unapproved drug (HCG) for weight management at HCG clinics.
In 2007 Kevin Truedeau published a book titled, The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You to Know About, sparking a resurgence of this HCG weight loss phenomena. The Federal Trade Commission has charged Trudeau with misrepresentation, saying that the plan is easy to do, can be done at home and ultimately allows participants to eat whatever they want. This is not his first run-in with this committee, who ordered him in 2008 to pay more than $37 million for misrepresenting health products.
A Closer Look at HCG
Dr. Stuart Carne was the first to test HCG with two clinical trials. In the first trial he found that HCG injections were no different than placebo injections in achieving weight loss. In his second trial, some participants received placebo saline injections while the others received no injection; both groups followed his calorie restriction diet. Miraculously, those who received the injections of saline had an easier time following the diet, better energy, and significantly greater weight loss than those who did just the diet alone, proving that placebo can be a powerful tool.
From 1963 to 1995 at least eight uncontrolled and 16 controlled clinical trials followed those of Carne (references available upon request). Each reached a similar conclusion to that stated in the 1995 British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. “We conclude that there is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight-loss or fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being”. In one study people were allowed to have a higher caloric daily intake, and still the HCG proved of no benefit for weight loss. Claims for benefit of oral HCG are even weaker than those of injectable HCG. It seems that the only ones who benefitting from HCG are those who market and sell it.
Conventional medical use of HCG is primarily limited to fertility clinics for enhancing conception. When given to men per Dr. Simeon’s protocol, it produces a positive pregnancy test within a few days. Whether HCG use is safe or not, is another issue. The bottom line: we just don’t know, but if you have a strong family history of cancer, are at high risk, or have a past medical history of cancer; beware. Cancer cells produce HCG to protect themselves from the immune system. Taking HCG may well promote cancer growth in existing tumors. Potential side effects of HCG injections include: headache, fatigue, restlessness, swelling of the ankles/feet, mental/mood changes (e.g., depression, irritability), and possible allergic reactions including rash, itching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, trouble breathing and shortness of breath.
Calorie Restriction Diet (Rapid Weight Loss)
The World Health Organization states that less than 900 calories a day is considered starvation. Calorie restriction diets such as the Simeon diet, at 500 calories a day, are high risk ventures, resulting in rapid weight loss of more than 2-4 pounds a week.
Rapid weight loss, even with qualified medical supervision, can disrupt normal metabolism and increase the risk for gallstones, mineral and electrolyte imbalances, irregular heart rhythms, blood pressure irregularities, low blood sugar and eating disorders, all of which can be life threatening. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, muscle tissue degradation from rapid weight loss results in a slower metabolism, further confounding proper weight management attempts. Slower metabolism also occurs from hormonal alterations in response to starvation.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 95-98 percent of people who lose weight by dieting, regain it within five years, and a majority of these people gain even more weight than before. This is because of the metabolic confusion caused by starvation and a lack of addressing the underlying issues that originally lead to being overweight. Even surgical interventions such as lap bands carry no guarantee for weight control, as the underlying issues have not been addressed.
The HCG weight loss diet is an unwise and potentially dangerous method of weight management. A more moderate approach employing healthy diet and appropriate exercise, with the aid of a qualified and licensed health care provider if needed, is the only time tested method to reliably, safely and realistically achieve proper weight. With patience, determination and a willingness to change eating and exercise habits, for a maximum of one to two pounds of weight loss each week, you can safely avoid the metabolic chaos that occurs with rapid weight loss diets. For more healthy tips see my newsletter on Weight Solutions.
I hope you have enjoyed this month’s newsletter. As always, feedback is welcome.
Jon Dunn, ND