If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ll know that I am very skeptical of get-skinny-quick methods and fat burning supplements. I always advocate for sustainable fat loss methods through a moderate caloric deficit because I think those will lead to long lasting, lifestyle changes with minimal harm to your metabolic or emotional health.
I’ve been seeing a lot of pins on oral HCG supplementation and the HCG diet, and I wanted to do more research before coming to any conclusions.
What is HCG?
HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is a peptide hormone made of amino acids. When a woman is pregnant, the placenta will produce an abundance of this hormone so that the corpus luteum (where the egg came from) will produce progesterone. This spike in progesterone signals to the body that there is a pregnancy, which inhibits menstruation from occuring. It has also been used in fertility treatments (causes ovulation in women, increases testosterone in men). Because it also increases testosterone production in men, athletes have injected HCG for performance enhancement.
Are HCG Drops Legal or Effective?
HCG requires a prescription in the United States, no matter what form it’s in. The FDA has actually prohibited the sale and marketing of these drops because they have been proven time and time again to be 1) ineffective and 2) not containing actual HCG. Furthermore, because HCG is a peptide molecule, your digestive enzymes in the gut and metabolic enzymes in the liver destroy the structure of the molecule, making it biologically useless. Proteins only work when they are in their properly folded states, not when they are denatured. HCG can only enter the bloodstream through injection.
What is the HCG Diet?
The HCG diet, in short, is a very low calorie (800 cals/day) diet that you do in addition to taking these HCG drops. Here’s what they are (taken from actual Pins on Pinterest):
History of the HCG Diet
Dr. Simeons, after observing pregnant women and overweight boys with pituitary problems being treated with HCG, concluded that HCG causes weight loss without muscle loss because it programs the hypothalamus to burn abnormal fat. In 1954, Simeons published a book entitled Pounds and Inches, designed to combat obesity. He recommended low-dose daily HCG injections (125 IU) in combination with a customized ultra-low-calorie (500 cal/day, high-protein, low-carbohydrate/fat) diet, which was supposed to result in a loss of adipose tissue without loss of lean tissue.
These findings were not replicated by any other researcher, which led the FDA to come out with this statement:
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 obesity or weight control. There is no substantial evidence that HCG 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-restrictive diets.— 1976 FDA-mandated disclaimer for HCG diet advertisements
Does the HCG Diet Work?
In a 1976 study, researchers conducted a double-blind clinical trial. They divided their participants into two groups: one group got HCG injections and stuck to a 500 cal diet, and the other group got placebo and also started on the 500 cal diet. There was no difference between the two groups for either measurement changes, weight loss, or hunger ratings. A meta-analysis, a study looking at all of the literature out there on the subject, found that there was no evidence that HCG was effective in the treatment of obesity or in reducing hunger.
The HCG diet is not safe because it drastically reduces your caloric intake well below the calories you need just to be alive. It’s incredibly taxing on your metabolism. You can mess up your electrolytes leading to heart rhythm problems, seizures, increased fluid retention, as well as other illnesses resulting from insufficient intake of essential vitamins and minerals.
Don’t waste your money, time, or effort in following such a drastic plan. These drops are ridiculously expensive, have been proven to be no more effective than a placebo, and the diet itself is asking for metabolic and mental trouble.
However, some of the lifestyle tips they recommend aren’t terrible:
Eating fiber rich foods will help you feel fuller longer. Drinking lots of water and fluids, spreading out meals, and using stevia are all good tips for weight loss in general. Increasing your activity and exercising (cardio or resistance training) will help you maintain muscle and shed fat.
But these are all tips that apply to any weight loss strategy, regardless of how steep the caloric deficit is, or whatever supplements you’re taking. There’s nothing new or unique about this diet, other than the dangerously low levels of calories.
Whenever something sounds too good to be true – like losing fat without exercise – be skeptical of the claims, see why they’re making those claims (like, are they getting money from the drop manufacturers), and look into the research to see what the deal really is.
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