The hCG Diet May Help You Lose Weight, But at What Cost?


Is the hCG diet a healthy and effective way to drop pounds? Or is it a gimmicky, unhealthy and even unsafe regimen that doesn’t help its followers achieve long-term weight loss?

Many experts think poorly of the hCG diet – which combines an extremely low daily calorie intake with ingestion of the hormone hCG – as an effective way to lose weight. “The hCG diet is almost the quintessential fad diet,” says Mike Israetel, chief sports scientist for Renaissance Periodization, which provides online dieting and training templates and coaching. There are no clinical studies suggesting using hCG helps with weight loss.

There are two key components of the hCG diet: One is limiting your intake to 500 to 800 calories a day. The eating regimen emphasizes protein from lean meats, fish and poultry, and calls for low amounts of carbohydrates or milk and modest amounts of vegetables and fruits. The other component is injecting (or getting an injection of) hCG, typically into your thigh, or taking it as an oral drop – either in spray form as a pellet or tablet.

How the hCG Diet Works

The typical hCG diet was outlined in 1954 in the book “Pounds and Inches: A New Approach to Obesity,” by A.T.W. Simeons, who created the diet. Many dietitians promote the importance of eating a healthy breakfast, but under the regimen Simeons developed, there’s no solid food before lunch. If a dieter has breakfast, it typically consists of a cup of black coffee or tea of any size, with no sugar, though calorie-free sweeteners are allowed. If you drink milk, you can have one tablespoon every 24 hours.

In conjunction with the paltry food regimen, the hCG diet calls for daily injections of the hormone; typically, a dieter would inject himself or herself, usually in the thigh. Or, a person on the hCG diet could ingest the hormone by swallowing drops or pills, or take it in spray form.

What You Can Eat on the hCG Diet

Most of the day’s calories come from lunch and dinner, primarily from protein sources. Under the plan, you’d consume 3.5 ounces of lean, fat-free protein at each meal. Recommended protein sources include white fish, lobster, crab, shrimp, extra lean beef, buffalo, scallops, chicken and egg whites, according to Fattier choices, such as salmon, tuna, herring and dried or pickled fish, are off-limits. Dieters also need to remove the visible fat from protein sources before boiling or grilling them. It’s OK to substitute an egg or a serving of low-fat cottage cheese for meat on occasion.

One low-calorie vegetable is allowed as part of both lunch and dinner. Recommended veggies include celery, spinach, fennel, cauliflower, chard, onions, beet greens, cucumbers, green salad, mixed greens, cabbage, red radishes, shallots, asparagus, tomatoes and broccoli, according to You can have one fruit at lunch and at dinner. HCG-approved fruit includes grapefruits, oranges, apples, lemons, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

As for carbohydrates, people on the hCG diet can have one piece of Melba toast or one breadstick at dinner. Both are allowed because they don’t have fat, sodium or cholesterol and are low in calories. Seasonings such as salt, pepper, sweet basil, parsley and mustard powder are acceptable. Oil (even healthy cooking oils), butter and any type of dressing are not allowed under the diet.

One thing the hCG diet has in common with many other eating regimens is that it doesn’t recommend eating foods with added sugars. Among the food items not allowed under the hCG diet are cookies and chocolates. The plan also doesn’t allow for carbohydrate-rich foods such as muffins, pasta and bagels, with or without cream cheese.

hCG Shots, Oral Drops, Pellets and Sprays

In conjunction with a low calorie count, the hCG diet also calls for daily drops or injections of the pregnancy hormone hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. This hormone is found in the urine of pregnant women; during the first trimester, it helps with the secretion of progesterone. The hormone is made by cells formed in the placenta, which nourishes the egg after it’s been fertilized and becomes attached to the uterine wall, says Dr. David Friedman, a clinical nutritionist and board-certified alternative medical practitioner based in Wilmington, North Carolina. He’s the author of “Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction.” It also supposedly suppresses one’s appetite.

Proponents of the diet say hCG boosts weight loss by “blasting” fat. But introducing more of hCG or any other hormone into your body than what it naturally produces can have serious health repercussions, Israetel says. Though the FDA doesn’t approve of the sale of over-the-counter hCG products for weight loss or any other purpose, all forms of the hormone are available for purchase online. For example, one website offers a four-week hCG injection kit for between $225 and $259 and a six to eight week package for $340 to $399. The website claims you don’t need a prescription from your primary care doctor, but will get one from the medical staff that each company selling the kits employs. Through another website you can order six bottles of hCG drops for $239. The recommended dosage of hCG is 10 drops three times a day or 15 drops twice a day, the website says.

FDA Says hCG Diet Products Are Illegal

In an online consumer update published in November 2011, the Food and Drug Administration said that over-the-counter hCG diet products are illegal and advised consumers not to use them.

The FDA update said consumers should steer clear of “homeopathic” over-the-counter hCG oral drops, pellets and sprays. (HCG injections are available by prescription.) “These products are marketed with incredible claims, and people think that if they’re losing weight, hCG must be working,” Elizabeth Miller, who at the time was acting director of the FDA’s Division of Non-Prescription Drugs and Health Fraud, said in the statement. “But the data simply does not support this; any [weight] loss is from the severe calorie restriction. Not from the hCG.” HCG is not approved for OTC sale for any purpose, the consumer update says. The FDA advises consumers who have purchased a homeopathic hCG product for weight loss to stop using it, throw it out and stop following the diet’s instructions.

In November 2011, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to seven hCG marketers, advising them that their products were mislabeled under the FDA Act. The letters warned the marketers that it’s unlawful under the FDA Act to make weight-loss claims that aren’t supported by reliable scientific evidence.

Consumers can report harmful effects online to the FDA’s MedWatch program or by calling 1-800-332-1088. Dieters can also report ill effects from the regimen to their health care professional.

Despite the FDA warnings, Dr. Nancy Rahnama, a board-certified internist and bariatric physician in Beverly Hills, California, says she still sees patients who use hCG products. “We discuss the risks associated with the hormone and advise them to stop the medication,” she says. “Anyone who has considered or been prescribed hCG as a form of weight loss should discuss the risks with his or her primary care physician.”

hCG Weight Loss

Though eating such a small amount of calories will likely lead to weight loss, many experts consider the diet plan unhealthy, unsustainable in the long run and unproven. “Two thumbs down,” says Lise Gloede, a registered dietitian based in Arlington, Virginia. “The hCG diet is considered very low calorie, and while you will likely lose weight, it will likely lower your metabolism and throw off the needed skill of listening to your hunger/satiety cues, which are very helpful in long-term weight management.”

Again, there’s no evidence injections, oral drops, tablets or sprays of hCG help promote weight loss, says Michael J. Ormsbee, associate professor in the department of nutrition, food and exercise sciences at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. “This diet has been studied, and there’s really no data to uphold any benefit of hCG,” he says. Ormsbee notes that in 2013, the FTC sued an Arizona man who marketed hCG diet products. The FTC alleged Kevin Wright and his companies falsely claimed the products caused consumers to lose substantial amounts of weight.

In December 2014, the FTC announced the cased ended with a settlement in which the defendants agreed to pay $1 million to the FTC to settle the case. Without admitting to the allegations, the defendant also stopped selling hCG products and he and his companies were banned from making similar weight loss claims in the future. Wright was one of the seven marketers the FDA sent warning letters to in 2011.

hCG Diet Dangers

Gloede’s heard of instances in which some people on the hCG diet have passed out or fainted because they were eating an insufficient number of calories, Gloede says. One of the main criticisms of the hCG diet is that it cuts calories too aggressively.

Depending on a person’s age, sex, height, weight and level of physical activity, the federal government recommends from 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day for adult men. That’s half to about one-quarter of the amount of calories the high end of the hCG diet calls for. “In my opinion, eating just 500 [to 800] calories a day is dangerous. It deprives the body of vital vitamins, minerals and protein,” Friedman says. Eating a restrictive diet can cause gallstone formation, an imbalance of the electrolytes that keep the body’s muscles and hands functioning properly, and an irregular heartbeat, he says. And side effects of hCG include headaches, depression, swelling in the feet and hands, female breasts in men and blood clots.

By boosting testosterone production, the hCG hormone can induce muscle mass preservation and muscle building in men who are deficient in that hormone, Rahnama says. That can increase the risks of clotting.
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