HCG injections and diet for weight loss discredited long ago

I’ve just completed a three week road trip, speaking dozens of times to doctor and student groups in Michigan and Oklahoma. A question that came up several times was what I thought about HCG injections and the “HCG diet” for weight loss. I promised the doctors I’d do a blog on the topic, so, here it is.

According to a report in Quack Watch, “Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) is a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women. More than 50 years ago, Dr. Albert T. Simeons, a British-born physician, contended that HCG injections would enable dieters to subsist comfortably on a 500-calorie-a-day diet.

He claimed that HCG would mobilize stored fat; suppress appetite; and redistribute fat from the waist, hips, and thighs.

However, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. Furthermore, a 500-calorie (semi-starvation) diet is likely to result in loss of protein from vital organs, and HCG can cause other adverse effects.”

Quack Watch goes on to say “At one time, HCG was the most widespread obesity medication administered in the United States. Some doctors liked it because it assured them of a steady clientele. Patients had to come in once a week for an injection.”

The LA Times reports about this fad by saying, “A long-ago discredited fad diet has been getting increased attention lately, thanks to Web chatter and the claims of a bestselling author. The so-called HCG diet’s recent popularity is a bit surprising — and not just because research suggests it doesn’t work.” The Times goes on to report:

Other currently popular diets call for cutting back on fat and sugar, consuming whole grains and lean meats, and even indulging in red wine. The HCG diet, in contrast, calls for eating just 500 calories a day while taking daily injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).

According to the hype, HCG suppresses the appetite and prevents dieters from feeling weak or woozy on the low-calorie diet. But as with any fad diet, consumers should be wary of such claims, says Kelly Brownell, professor of psychology, epidemiology and public health at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

Over a number of years, when researchers rigorously compared the diet’s key ingredient — HCG injections — to a placebo, or dummy injection, they failed to produce evidence that the hormone was anything special.

In 1959, researchers in Israel reported that they had placed 45 patients on Simeons’ diet, giving half the patients HCG injections and the other half saline injections. The two groups both lost weight at the same rate — and all 45 participants complained of being constipated, hungry or weak.

In the early 1960s, researchers at UC San Francisco and at a U.S. Army Hospital in Fort Carson, Colo., came up with the same results. All three studies were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

As a result of these, and other studies (citations below), in 1976, the FTC ordered a number of organizations and their officers to stop claiming that their HCG-based programs were safe, effective, and/or approved by the FDA for weight-control. Although the order did not stop the clinics from using HCG, it required that patients who contract for the treatment be informed in writing that:

THESE WEIGHT REDUCTION TREATMENTS INCLUDE THE INJECTION OF HCG, A DRUG WHICH HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED BY THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION AS SAFE AND EFFECTIVE IN THE TREATMENT OF OBSITY OR WEIGHT CONTROL. THERE IS NO SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE THAT HCG INCEASES 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-RESTRICTIVE DIETS.

Since 1975, the FDA has required labeling and advertising of HCG to state:

HCG has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity. 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.

In the decades that have followed, researchers continued to study the diet and to show that the hormone added little to the low-calorie regimen.

In 1995, Dutch researchers reviewed the results of the 24 studies that had been conducted on the HCG diet. Just 12 of them were well-designed, the scientists found; of those, 11 reported that HCG was ineffective in treating obesity. The Dutch team published its results in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Despite these decades of negative study findings, the HCG diet was given new life by bestselling author Kevin Trudeau’s 2007 book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.” Giving credit to Simeons, Trudeau recommended a multi-phase approach to weight loss, including a phase of daily HCG injections.

Trudeau has previously been targeted by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly promoting unproven cancer cures, pain relievers and other products, and in 2004 was banned by the commission from appearing in infomercials selling products or services to the public. He said in a recent Chicago Tribune story that he wrote his latest book simply as a public service.

Regardless, the HCG diet continues to draw followers, with more and more online companies promising to supply the injections.

The shots can come at a significant cost: Online prices range from $30 to more than $600 for a month’s supply. And they have side effects. Simeons noted that his female patients often became pregnant while on the shots, and today, in fact, HCG is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a fertility treatment.

Brownell says that any trendy diet should give consumers pause. “Research has not found fad diets to be safe, effective and permanent,” he says. “Consumers should be highly skeptical as the default.”

Citations:

1. Simeons ATW. The action of chorionic gonadotrophin in the obese. Lancet 2:946-947, 1954.

2. Asher WL, Harper HW. Effect of human chorionic gonadotrophin on weight loss, hunger and feeling of well-being. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 26:211–218, 1973.

3. Bosch B and others. Human chorionic gonadotrophin and weight loss. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. South African Medical Journal 77:185–189, 1990.

4. Carne S. The action of chorionic gonadotrophin in the obese. Lancet 2:1282–1284, 1961.

5. Craig LS and others. Chorionic gonadotrophin in the treatment of obese women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 12:230–234, 1963.

6. Frank BW. The use of chorionic gonadotrophin hormone in the treatment of obesity. A double-blind study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 14:133–136, 1964.

7. Greenway FL, Bray GA. Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity: a critical assessment of the Simeons method. West Journal of Medicine 127:461–463, 1977.

8. Shetty KR, Kalkhoff RK. Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) treatment of obesity. Archives of Internal Medicine 137:151-155, 1977.

9. Lebon P. Treatment of overweight patients with chorionic gonadotrophin: follow-up study. Journal of the American Geriatric Society 14:116–125, 1966.

10. Lijesen GK and others. The effect of human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 49:237–243, 1995.

11. Miller R, Schneiderman LJ. A clinical study of the use of human chorionic gonadotrophin in weight reduction. Journal of Family Practice 4:445–448, 1977.

12. Stein MR and others. Ineffectiveness of human chorionic gonadotrophin in weight reduction: a double-blind study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 29:940–948, 1976.

13. Young RL and others. Chorionic gonadotrophin in weight control. A double-blind crossover study. JAMA 236:2495–2497, 1976.

6 thoughts on “HCG injections and diet for weight loss discredited long ago

  • It will be interesting to see if, as more people become aware of the data mentioned above, whether they continue to pour their money into this or not.

  • Dr J

    Since you cite credible sites like “quack watch” and the LA times, it must be true. Look at the empirical evidence and scrutinize the scientific data together. Look harder and you can find studies on positive effects of HCG for weight loss
    HCG is not a fertility treatment at the dose of 75iu as done on the diet. Check your endo text. Most likely the patient’s HPA axis is being better regulated and is indirectly healthier and more fertile, not that you are stimulating ovulation

  • Did you actually read my entire post? Did you not see the scientific citations? All of the studies I have found demonstrate that the HCG Diet is not effective. I’d be happy to review any studies that you could suggest.

  • Linda Kamp

    What are the LONG TERM effects for HCG users? I have several close friends who have chose this path for weight loss and I am more than concerned for them about a 500 caloric diet. Thank YOU for exposing the truths about HCG with the info to support your position!

  • Linda,

    According to the Doctors of Pharmacology (PharmD) who write the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database HCG is “POSSIBLY SAFE … when used appropriately, SHORT-TERM.”

    They also write, “Some clinical research shows that the HCG diet can be safely used under close medical supervision. However, because it utilizes the prescription drug human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) and a very low-calorie diet, it should only be used under the supervision and monitoring of a health professional.”

    However HCG in PREGNANCY is “LIKELY UNSAFE … when used by injection. Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which is a component of the HCG diet, is teratogenic.” In other words, it can cause cancer. “It has been linked to a high rate of congenital abnormalities in animal models. Pregnant women should not use the HCG diet.”

    In addition, the PharmD’s say, the HCG diet is “LIKELY INEFFECTIVE (for) weight loss. The HCG diets combines a very low-calorie diet with administration of the drug human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). Very low-calorie diets of 500-800 calories daily have been shown to cause short-term weight loss; however, the LONG-TERM safety and effectiveness of these diets is unknown.”

    “Most clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of adding HCG to a very low-calorie diet, as with the HCF diet, are of very poor methodological quality. The highest quality studies consistently show that the HCG diet does NOT significantly reduce weight or cause fat redistribution compared to using a very low-calorie diet alone.

    Hope this helps.

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