Weight loss – the highly debated topic with a gazillion diet plans. One of the diet plans is HCG, and it was quite the rage at its launch. HCG means human chorionic gonadotropin, which is a hormone produced by women when they are pregnant. You must be thinking how odd is it to name a diet on some hormone that is related to pregnancy, right? Well, most of the people didn’t even bother to find out what HCG diet actually is before blindly following it just because it worked. People followed it without finding out what disasters it can entail. It was just a matter of time before government interfered and deemed all the HCG products illegal in the whole USA.
What is HCG Diet?
The origin of this diet dates back to 1954 by Dr. Albert Simeons. When it first came out, it was all the rage because it claimed to make you lose 1-2 pounds every day, and when any diet plan promises such extreme results, you should already be alarmed. Being a person who has deep knowledge about everything that he/she is consuming helps a lot in keeping your body healthy in the long run. It also claimed that people following this diet would not even starve, so that’s another statement that lured people into following the HCG diet plan. The hormone, known as HCG as we have already discussed, is produced in pregnant women, it has also been used by gynecologists to treat fertility issues in men as well as women, and it is the hormone that determines pregnancy in home pregnancy test kits (1, 2). You might not be aware of the fact that this hormone’s high level in the blood has been associated with different forms of cancer, like placental, ovarian, and testicular cancer (3).
HCG Diet Phases
This diet contains 2 main components, which help you to lose weight very quickly, but might also have extreme effects on your overall health. The first phase is very low, to be precise, a 500 calorie diet that makes sure you use up the fat reserves in your body for daily tasks. The second HCG diet phase 2 includes the HCG hormone, which needs to be administered via injections, known as HCG diet injections in the market, directly into your blood stream. This is the point where an inquisitive person will start to have doubts because injecting a hormone in your body does not sound like a very appealing idea. There were some doctors who suggested the HCG diet plan. While it was not a plan considered healthy enough, the reason for the promotion might be because they were probably being paid by the HCG products’ companies to praise the products only to drive in more and more sales. We tend to take action on suggestions by doctors without a shadow of doubt, but it is always preferable if you research about any treatment plan that might seem either too good to be true, too intrusive for you. Any shady practice like this should be your first red signal towards any new diet that you come across. You have to know that if it sounds wrong, it probably is wrong, because a diet that suggests injecting hormones in your bloodstream sounds wrong in every sense.
History Of HCG Diet
In 1954, Dr. Simeons suggested HCG for weight loss because of an accidental discovery that he made while testing HCG for infertility treatment. He found that HCG was successful in increasing the testosterone count in men, but with that, it also reduced the abnormal belly fat in the men who were given HCG on a regular basis. He then published a paper “Pounds and Inches, a New Approach to Obesity,” which stated how HCG could be helpful in reducing extra body fat. But, it was seen that the diet didn’t gain much popularity even after his paper, and the idea faded away by 1970s (4). This happened because no scientific explanation was available on this diet’s working or any information related to its safety. There were still products in the market, which claimed quicker weight loss and contained HCG.
In 1995, a meta-analysis by Federal Drug Administration found out that there was no correlation between HCG and weight loss, and it does not affect fat redistribution, change hunger patterns, or does anything positive apart from increasing the testosterone levels (5).
Later in 2007, when the diet started gaining popularity again, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) took actions on illegal products containing HCG and threatened the companies selling these products for legal actions if they continued to do so. Brad Pace, team leader and regulatory counsel at FDA’s Health Fraud and Consumer Outreach Branch said “You cannot sell products claiming to contain HCG as an OTC drug product. It’s illegal, and if these companies don’t heed our warnings, they could face enforcement actions, legal penalties, or criminal prosecution (6).”
While FDA does not check any homeopathic drug for its safety and effectiveness, it sure does set standards for products that can be marketed and sold legally to the people. The products that meet the standards can be legally prescribed by the doctors and sold in the market, but they can only contain the active ingredients mentioned in The Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. And HCG is not on this list so that automatically makes it illegal to be sold in the market (7).
Understanding HCG Hormone
HCG is a hormone that is produced in pregnant women in high quantities in the first trimester of pregnancy. It is a protein-based hormone that is the first indicator that a woman is pregnant, which is recorded in a home pregnancy test kit. The role of HCG in a pregnant woman is very crucial, especially in the first thee months of her pregnancy because it helps in maintaining the level of two most important pregnancy hormones known as progesterone and estrogen. These hormones are required in abundance because they promote the growth and development of the embryo and fetus (8).
To Treat Infertility
When it comes to treating infertility by administering HCG for both men and women, the results of a study performed on 87 men were really impressive. It was found that continuous administration for at least 9 months, which can go up to 18 months, can help in increasing the testosterone count in men to a level where the process of spermatogenesis can be started. There were some complications raised with prostate-specific antigen because of HCG, but after a break from the hormone, it never returned. After this glitch, lower levels of the hormone were administered just to be sure (11).
In women, doses of HCG were administered to observe the effect on infertility issues related to hypogonadotropic amenorrhea, and it was seen that the pregnancy rates in the group increased from 21.4 ampoules to 47.7 ampoules, which is a very significant growth. This makes HCG a very important remedy for infertility, but it can not be used in infertility caused due to normogonadotropic amenorrhea, which is another condition that can cause infertility (12).
For Reducing Weight
When this diet plan came into existence, people were very happy with its results. They claimed to reduce 1-2 pounds daily without any hassle. But what they didn’t notice was that the reduction in weight was because of the restriction in diet, and it had nothing to do with HCG hormone that was administered through injections or drops.
Homeopathic HCG is a prescription drug and can only be sold to someone who has a prescription from a registered medical practitioner and should only be used for what it is supposed to be used, in the doses recommended by the doctor (13).
Off-the-label use of HCG has been done illegally for weight loss and to fight obesity but no scientific evidence is present to suggest the same. You will find a lot of different theories by different people as to how HCG can help in weight reduction, but it will probably not be backed up by any scientific evidence (14).
This was tested by a group of scientists by conducting a study to find out the effect of HCG on weight loss in people with a restricted 500 calories diet. It was observed that the results were same in both the groups with and without the administration of HCG. Weight loss occurred in both the groups at the same rate because of the diet restriction, and no difference was noticed in hunger, mood, and body measurements (15, 16).
These studies were enough to conclude that HCG is not an effective method for weight loss and only starvation phase of HCG diet program was significant in weight loss.
FDA’s Take On HCG
There are various products in the market, which contain HCG and claim quick weight loss. They are marketed as over-the-counter homeopathic medicines, and the label says that the diet for the whole day should not be more that 500 calories. The actual weight loss happens because of the low-calorie diet, and HCG doesn’t help at all in this. This type of weight loss is not even considered healthy because you are getting fewer nutrients as opposed to your daily requirements (17).
The FDA has been making the citizens aware of the so-called “homeopathic” products containing HCG, which are mostly sold in the form of injection liquids but are also found in the form of HCG diet drops, pellets, sprays, etc. in different retail and online stores selling products related to health and fitness (18).
They are not just making the people aware, but FDA and FTC (Federal Trade Commission) have issued 7 letters to the companies producing, selling, or marketing these products on the grounds that these products contain an illegal ingredient (HCG,) which is mentioned as “homeopathic” in their products but is nowhere included in The Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS.) This means that FDA hasn’t approved them and they make claims that have no scientific explanation (19).
How Safe is HCG Diet?
Not just FDA experts, every doctor, nutritionist, and dietitian will tell you to avoid a diet plan that promotes starvation. It is not just unhealthy, but it can be disastrous for your body. When you deprive your body of the important nutrients, which are necessary for day-to-day activities, your muscle mass takes a big hit. When your fat reserves are not utilized for the metabolic activities, your muscles have to join in to provide the energy, which decreases the muscle mass (20).
This might also allow the body to use up fewer calories because it may think that you are starving. This will, therefore, make you feel tired and fatigued in the middle of the day, which you don’t want when you are at work as it will hinder your performance (21).
There have been other reported side effects of HCG diet because the balance of electrolytes in the body is disturbed, which can lead to gallstone formation, improper functioning of the muscles and nerves, and a disturbed heart rate. Shirley Blakely, a nutritionist at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has even deemed such low-calorie diets as potentially fatal in some cases (22).
A woman of 64 years of age reported swelling in her leg and shortness of breath after 2 weeks of using HCG diet drops. An ultrasound was enough to find out left leg DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis.) The amount of HCG this woman was taking on a daily basis was 20 drops per day, which is a pretty high amount. The doctors did not find out the exact reason as to why it happened, but they also stated that the ‘probable cause’ of DVT was the HCG drops she used to administer every day. There may not be enough evidence to connect DVT or any other disease directly to HCG, but there have been cases like this where probable cause was only the HCG, because there was no other change made in the recent past in the person’s lifestyle (23).
Nutritionists have suggested that a healthier way to lose weight is by reducing 500 calories in your daily diet, which will make it around 1300-1500 calories a day. This will help you reduce 1 pound in one week on behalf of the 3500 calories you didn’t consume that week. Slow and steady wins the race, and this is true in the case of weight loss, as a very low-calorie diet will not provide enough vitamins and minerals to your body (24).
A low-calorie diet can be healthy but only if you give your body enough calories for metabolic activities, especially protein to cope up with any muscle loss, and do some weight training in the process. Weight training will exercise your muscles, which will make it easier for your body to use up fat instead of muscle mass for metabolism, and the protein diet combined with weight training will help you regain any muscle mass lost in the process (25, 26, 27).
What is The HCG Diet Plan?
So now that you know all the risks associated with this diet plan, you must be wondering what it actually is, right? Well, it is actually just a very low-calorie diet with HCG hormone injections/drops. It has 3 main steps, which are mentioned below:
- Loading Phase: This is the phase where you have to start the HCG consumption and make changes to your diet by including more and more high-fat components in it. This phase goes on for 2 days before you actually move on to the very low-calorie phase.
- Weight Loss Phase: It is this phase where you will cut down drastically on the calories and start to lose weight. The amount of calories allowed in each day are 500 over a maximum of 2 meals per day, which is ¼th of a usual balanced diet, and you would continue taking the HCG as suggested. It is recommended that you have a little of all the 4 main types of food items, including lean meat, vegetables, fruits, and bread, to give you all the nutrients in small quantities. This phase will go on for 5-6 weeks, or even less, if you achieve your target early, but it is recommended that you don’t extend this phase for more that 5-6 weeks (just like this diet is not recommended, at all.)
- Maintenance Phase: In this phase, you have to stop taking HCG because you have lost all the weight you wanted, and gradually increase your food intake, but steer clear of the food items that can increase your weight again like fat, sugars, simple carbohydrates, etc. You can go back to your normal balanced diet of 1200-2000 calories after 3 weeks of recovery.
HCG Diet Foods
Food items that you will be not allowed to eat in the whole regime of HCG diet are given below:
- Oil (fried food)
- Simple Carbohydrates (pasta, pizza, or basically anything with refined flour)
- Cakes, donuts, pastries, etc
- Fast food
Food items that you are encouraged to eat in the HCG diet plan:
- More and more water
- Lean Meat
- Some complex carbohydrates (whole grain and multi-grain products)
Also Read : 3 Day Military Diet Plan
If you scour the internet, you will find a lot of websites suggesting all sorts of advice related to the HCG diet recipes, menu, the best HCG diet drops, injections, and various other products, but all these suggestions are given either by the internet pundits who really do not have any proof to support their argument, or by some doctors who get paid to market the HCG products by the companies that produce them. It is just a marketing strategy to sell a product for weight loss, which actually has not been proven to help at all.
The first red signal is that you are consuming a hormone as a homeopathic ingredient that might harm your body, and ‘might’ is written because there is no evidence that it does harm your body, but there is no evidence that it doesn’t, either. The second red signal is that you are being asked to starve yourself by eating no more than 500 calories in an entire day, which means you become weaker because of the lack of nutrients available to your body. This much should be enough to make anyone realize how unnecessary this diet is when there are other diets available with proven results and are totally safe, e.g. military diet, egg fast diet, etc.
All the other diets might or might not ask you to exercise, but remember, the harder it is to lose that extra weight on your body, the healthier it is going to be and the better you will feel about yourself. If you lose weight easily, you may gain it back because the methods you used might not be proper and they only reduce your weight because of starvation, or you simply didn’t appreciate your weight loss much because you felt you didn’t work hard for it.
Whatever is the case, the best way to lose weight is not to reduce a lot of calories but to reduce the amount of unhealthy food items you eat. So, reduce the total calorie count by no more that 500 calories in a day, and exercise for 40-50 minutes 5 days in a week. This will show results slower than the designated weight loss diets but is the right way to lose weight by avoiding to put your body through an awfully rigorous, potentially dangerous, and extreme diet.