The hCG diet is ‘clearly unhealthy’

Story by Barbara Quinn
(The Monterey County Herald (MCT))
Mon, Mar 5, 2012
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One of my favorite spoofs on unproven nutrition products is an ad that states, “I lost $200 on bogus weight loss pills. Ask me how!”

How do we know what to believe when it comes to weight loss methods? Listen to trusted experts ... those who don’t always jump at the chance to sell you something.

Dr. Mark Vierra is a respected bariatric physician (a doctor with a special interest in weight loss) in our community. He was recently asked to comment on one weight-loss regimen making the rounds — the hCG diet.

“Twenty years ago,” Vierra begins, “patients used to report a diet history to me that included injections of the urine from pregnant mares. What a bizarre diet, I remember thinking. What I didn’t know at the time was that they were describing the hCG diet.”

In humans, hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin) is a hormone produced by the placenta when a woman becomes pregnant, Dr. Vierra explains. hCG stimulates the production of progesterone — another hormone that maintains the lining of the uterus during pregnancy. In fact, it is hCG that is measured in most pregnancy tests. hCG has been used in some fertility treatments to induce ovulation. It is also produced by some rare and dangerous forms of cancer.

So how did this hormone become a weight loss product?

“The hCG diet was first proposed by Dr. ATW Simeons in the 1950s,” says Vierra. “He claimed that hCG could cause redistribution of fat and allow weight loss without hunger. He recommended a series of injections of the hormone in conjunction with a 500-calorie-a-day diet which was high in protein and low in carbohydrates.”

“The problem,” says Vierra, is that it has clearly been shown that hCG has no effect on weight or fat distribution. Indeed, the US Food and Drug Administration has concluded that over-the-counter HCG products marketed as weight-loss aids are not only unproven ... they are illegal.

“Many hCG products are marketed to be taken in connection with a very low calorie diet (500 calories day),” Vierra adds. “It’s the decrease in calories that accounts for any weight loss. There are currently no FDA-approved HCG products designed to help you lose weight.”

Still, people who stick with the hCG diet lose weight. How?

“Because a diet that calls for 500 calories per day and provides inadequate protein causes rapid breakdown of muscle rather than fat,” says Vierra. “Starvation causes rapid weight loss, as does cancer, HIV, and other major infections or illness. Weight loss in this fashion is clearly unhealthy, causes rapid slowing of your metabolism, and is unhealthy in both the short- and long-term.”

Bottom line?

“No responsible scientist or physician has concluded that the hormone, hCG, can help you lose weight,” says Vierra. He cites the position of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians: “1. The Simeons method for weight loss is not recommended. 2. The Simeons diet is not recommended. 3. The use of hCG for weight loss is not recommended.”

“HCG can be helpful if you want to get pregnant,” Vierra concludes. “But not if you want to lose weight in a healthy way.”

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