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The hCG diet is a protocol that combines extreme caloric restriction with injections of human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone associated with pregnancy.  The diet has been around for over 50 years and is currently promoted by many companies, mainly online.  However, despite its enduring popularity, it has been proven by numerous well-executed studies, over the course of decades, to be not only ineffective as a long-term weight loss solution, but also dangerous.

The hCG diet prescribes an intake of just 500 calories per day, along with injections or, more commonly these days, drops that contain hCG.  While it’s true that one will most definitely lose a ton of weight due to extremely low energy consumption, there are a number of significant risks involved in the practice.

Possibly the most serious complication is cardiac dysrhythmia.  Heart-related disturbances have been noted following very low calorie diets since the 1970s.  The risk of developing gallstones is also raised.  In one study, 11% of subjects following a very low calorie diet developed gallstones.  That is a very high percentage.  Hyperuricemia (high uric acid levels in the blood) and gout are also a well-established risk when following a very low calorie diet.

One of the major problems with an extremely low calorie diet such as the hCG protocol is that they are generally unsupervised and provide almost no room for error.  Consumption of only 500 calories per day would make it almost impossible for most people to maintain proper levels of essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients required for good health.  Another common problem seen with these highly restrictive diets is the development of electrolyte imbalances.  In fact, this issue may be at least partly to blame for the cardiac irregularities associated with very low calorie diets.

Besides major medical crises, deficits in essential nutrients can lead to a number of other problems.  Hair loss, dry skin, and weak nails are just some of the symptoms likely to occur with an extremely limited diet.  Antioxidant and other phytonutrient intakes will also be severely restricted.  After all, food contains the compounds we need for health.  How can one expect to maintain their body when consuming almost no food?

There’s also the claim that the hCG injections make the diet safer.  Since the birth of the hCG diet in the 1950s, over twelve well-designed and properly executed studies have evaluated the effect of hCG supplementation in combination with an extremely low caloric intake.  Without exception, they found that hCG was of no more use than an injection of saline.  It did nothing to make the diet safer nor did it accelerate weight loss.  That’s a pretty solid body of evidence.

While the studies in question used high-concentration hCG injections, most supplements on the market today contain relatively miniscule amounts of the hormone.  When 50 years worth of research shows that even high doses of hCG do nothing to aid weight loss, why would anyone believe that low-concentration snake oil will do any better?  Truly a scam, if there ever was one.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the FDA has come out and unequivocally stated that that “homeopathic” hCG supplements are fraudulent and are being sold illegally.  While the FDA is often slow to react and sometimes wishy-washy when it comes to controversial issues, they spoke plainly on this one.  If the FDA is willing to put its neck on the line to say something is completely bogus, it’s a pretty sure bet that it is.

Even before its recent statement aimed at low-dose, “homeopathic” hCG products, the FDA has long held a strong stance against the use of prescription hCG injections for the purpose of weight loss.  All hCG products have been required since the mid-1970s to carry a warning statement informing the buyer that hCG is not approved by the FDA for the treatment of obesity or weight control and that there is no evidence indicating that it will increase weight loss, decrease hunger or discomfort while on a very low-calorie diet, or cause a more “normal” or attractive distribution of fat.

The hCG diet has been around for over 50 years.  In reality, it is simply a very low calorie diet that companies have timelessly associated with an expensive snake oil.  Decades of excellent research have proven that hCG does nothing to increase the safety or efficacy of a very low calorie diet.

In addition, the use of such an extreme diet, with or without hCG supplementation, has been shown to be a very risky proposition.  Restricting calories under about 1200-1500 per day is rife with problems, from external problems with hair and skin to the potentially deadly malfunctions of multiple internal organs.

Finally, very low calorie protocols like the hCG diet have also been proven to be poor long-term solutions for weight control.  Subjects almost always regain the lost weight, often with a higher proportion of fat to muscle.

The hCG diet is a money-making scheme that has successfully bilked thousands, if not millions, of honest consumers out of millions of dollars.  It’s a diet based on fundamentally flawed science that uses unregulated, illegal, and useless dietary supplements.  Don’t fall prey to this decades-old lie.  Take responsibility for your life and make the right changes to lose weight in a healthy manner.

casandra
5/2/2014

I feel that any diet abused is unhealthy, however my husband and I were successful and very happy with the results. Our palates changed and we are now eating healthier with low sugar, low fat and virtually no bread in our diet This diet is not a scam. The homeopathic version of the drug is a scam however we tried the raw version of it. My husband lost nearly 200 pounds it has been off for over 2-years. He feels better and I think its all about perspective. What works for some people will not work for others. This diet is great. I was NOT hungry and I work hard to not put white sugars and flours back in my daily routine. Its hard and I fall off the wagon many times but my lifestyle of eating is not the same. I crave vegetables and fruits! Now we are juicing which is great too in modesty, but not going overboard.

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Kate
7/15/2014

I was in hcg diet for 2 years off and on and I did lose ... But I developed high levels of Uric acid and got multiple kidney stones and gout ...don't do this diet!!!!!

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    Rob Bent is the founder and lead nutrition counselor at Nutrition Perfected.  He is a multi-sport athlete and works constantly to maximize sports performance through scientifically-guided nutritional optimization.

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