Since its inception, the hCG diet has persisted as one of the most extreme weight-loss diets available to consumers. Between hormone injections and a restriction to just 500 calories a day, the diet offers rapid short-term weight loss.
However, no matter how enticing that sounds, you should not try this diet. As explained by the FDA, many of the products associated with this diet are outright illegal, and the substance itself is not approved for any over-the-counter sale. This has been the case since late 2011 when the sale of “homeopathic” hCG products was first declared fraudulent and illegal.
Prescription hCG remains legal but is not typically available for dieting programs.
What Is hCG?
hCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, a substance naturally produced by the body during pregnancy and some forms of cancer. There is no evidence that hCG causes cancer, but it does have a variety of other effects on the body. Most notably, hCG has an extremely negative charge that helps to repel immune cells – something required for safe pregnancy but not desirable in most other circumstances.
While hCG is not available for over-the-counter treatments, it is used by doctors for some fertility treatments. In the ovaries, it's known to induce ovulation, while in the testes it encourages the production of testosterone.
Collection of hCG is moderately difficult. The most common source is women who are currently pregnant. Since hCG works its way into the bloodstream and other parts of the body, it's excreted in urine. Yes, this does mean that peeing in a cup is a viable method of collecting a therapeutic substance.
Outside of medicinal use, people sometimes use hCG with performance-enhancing drugs. Many of those drugs cause negative-feedback loops that discourage the body's production of testosterone. By adding hCG to the mix, it's possible to stimulate (or even increase) testosterone production and minimize the adverse side-effects.
However, extended or high-dose use of hCG can inhibit the production of other natural hormones, making this a bad product to use over an extended period. Most sports ban use of hCG.
To be clear, we're not saying that hCG is terrible. It's a naturally-produced substance and plays a vital role in some of the body's activities. That said, it's certainly not a miracle chemical, and it's not considered safe for use outside of a doctor's specific recommendations.
A Brief History Of The hCG Diet
The hCG diet got its start with a 1954 book published by British doctor Albert Simeons. Simeons was in India before the book's publication, and while there, he noticed a series of cases involving pregnant women on calorie-deficient diets and overweight boys with pituitary issues. Both were treated with low doses of hCG, and Simeons noticed that they lost fat instead of muscle.
From there, he began recommending a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat. Combined with a low-dose of hCG (125 IU), the idea was to help get rid of fat in overweight patients without risking the loss of muscle from the lowered caloric intake. The typical duration of the diet is six to eight weeks.
Unfortunately, despite Simeons' good intentions, other doctors were unable to replicate his results. Eventually, the FDA began to require disclaimers on products advertised for the hCG diet, and eventually, it was banned outright due to the high risks and lack of evidence proving it worked.
In modern times, the government and medical associations agree that the hCG diet is not appropriate for treating weight loss, and indeed, doesn't seem to be any better than dietary restrictions alone.
Why Do People Still Support This Diet?
People support special diets for a variety of reasons. Some people prefer products that tout themselves as homeopathic, and others want a short-term, high-intensity program that can produce results.
Let's be clear, here: In the short-term, severe caloric restrictions do help you lose weight. It doesn't work in the long-term (the human body's ‘starvation mode' tries to prevent weight loss when it feels it's not getting enough nutrition), but limited fasting does have some effects.
How Do hCG Supplements Work?
In many cases, hCG supplements work poorly. The only truly effective way for hCG to work is direct injection into the bloodstream. This is because the digestive enzymes in the mouth and stomach tend to render the chemical ineffective – thus, any “pills” are unlikely to work.
Furthermore, many of the products used for the hCG diet are diluted the point of near-uselessness.
What Claims Do Supporters Make?
Supporters of the hCG diet make claims with suggestions like “resetting your metabolism” and “fixing abnormal eating patterns.” The suggestion is that by getting back to a “normal” pattern of eating, you can stop overeating and begin to lose weight rapidly. Many suggest you can lose between 20 and 30 pounds in 30-40 days.
Again, while that may seem attractive at first, it's important to remember this is an unhealthy speed at which to lose weight. Aside from the high chance of triggering your body's defenses against starvation, losing weight at that speed could result in significant nutritional deficiencies and the development of other medical problems.
This is one of the many reasons why the hCG diet is not considered valid – and why many of the products supporting it are outright banned. If you see something on the shelf offering hCG, it's probably illegal.
What About The Updated Form Of The hCG Diet?
In recent years, some people have suggested an alternative to the 500-calorie version of the hCG diet. This plan recommends limiting your food to 1500 calories a day while still taking hormone injections. This is clearly safer than the more restrictive version, but it's still not recommended. There are two reasons for that.
First, as we mentioned above, there's no firm evidence that taking hCG is better than limiting your calories. If it does have an effect, it's probably negligible – and it doesn't help that so many products claiming to contain hCG have so little that they're functionally useless.
Second, the FDA still hasn't approved any over-the-counter uses of hCG. Even if you want to do this diet, you're not going to get very far if you can't find hCG to inject yourself with. Pills and other oral methods, as we mentioned earlier, aren't enough.
What Are The Other Problems With This Diet?
There are several distinct problems with this diet – aside from the lack of medical support.
Is There Any Way To Mitigate The Worst Effects Of This Diet?
A steady regimen of nutritional supplements could – in theory – compensate for some of the nutrition you'd typically get from food. However, given the drastic effects of this diet, you'd need frequent blood work to monitor where you're at, and that prevents this from being a viable alternative.
Is There Any Situation Where The hCG Diet Is Appropriate?
No. The hCG diet has too many negative consequences – and not enough benefits – to be recommended for anyone. If you want to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time, talk to your doctor and ask them for recommendations that are appropriate for your lifestyle.
While a few studies support this diet, the vast majority of these are funded by proponents of the diet. If they want to sell something, of course they'll try to produce studies claiming their plan (or at least some part of it) works.
Your health is too important to risk on a diet that's been around for decades but has consistently failed to produce meaningful results. Even if you need to lose a lot of weight, there are better options available.