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hCG for Weight Loss

The hCG diet is a weight loss program that combines two elements:

Supporters of the diet make bold claims about its alleged benefits. But research has shown that many of these claims are false.

Supporters of the diet say it leads to:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Controlled hunger

People who back the diet also say it has the ability to target fat in certain parts of the body, including the:

  • Stomach
  • Hips
  • Thighs
  • Upper arms

Advocates say that it does not cause weakness or loss of energy.

In its original form, the low-calorie diet was combined with almost daily injections of hCG. Later, it was marketed in other forms, such as:

  • Drops
  • Pellets
  • Sprays

The retail sale of hCG for weight loss is now illegal. But the ban has not stopped some companies and web sites from offering it for sale.

Is the hCG Diet Effective?

Research shows that hCG, a protein-based hormone produced during pregnancy, does not aid in weight loss.

Instead, any weight loss that does occur while on the hCG diet is due to the plan's limit of only 500 calories a day. A healthy diet contains at least three times that number of calories for women and four times that number for men.

The method by which people take hCG plays an important role in how the body absorbs it. When taken by mouth -- in pill or drop form -- the hormone breaks down as food, which makes it "inactive." That means it has no effect whatsoever.

Also, hCG supplements sold online may or may not actually contain hCG. Dietary supplements like hCG do not get the same level of government oversight as prescription drugs. So people can't be certain that they will get what they think they are paying for.

What Are the Risks of the hCG Diet?

There are health risks to both parts of the hCG diet -- the extreme calorie restrictions and the hCG itself.

The FDA has received reports that link injections of hCG for dieting purposes with serious, life-threatening health problems. These reported problems include:

  • Pulmonary embolisms
  • Depression
  • Heart attack
  • Death

For women, additional risks from injected hCG include:

Additional risks for men include:

  • Breast enlargement
  • Decreased sperm production
  • Infertility

Other risks for both men and women include breast tenderness and blood clots.

The 500-calorie-a-day restriction that is the other half of the hCG diet is also associated with serious health risks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women take in 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day. Men should take in 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.

It is possible to eat significantly less and still maintain a diet that offers a healthy supply of vitamins, minerals, and protein. But doing so without the guidance of a health care provider can be risky.

According to the FDA, very low-calorie diets such as the hCG diet increase the chances of:

  • Gallstone formation
  • Potentially dangerous electrolyte imbalances
  • Heart arrhythmias

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on December 02, 2012

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