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A prescription for starvation: The hCG Diet.

Posted Apr 29 2011 2:34pm

 The latest “it” diet has started to affect people I know to the point where I had to investigate thoroughly.  If you have not heard of it, I am thankful for that and glad you will learn it here first. If you have heard, pay attention. The diet requires a strict 500 calorie intake along with injections/sprays/or lozenges of the hCG hormone. Human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, is produced by the placenta during pregnancy and is derived from pregnant women’s urine. Its use first began more than 50 years ago in Rome when a Roman clinic began promoting its use as a diet aid. It has become increasingly popular lately, partly due to the 2007 book, The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You to Know About, written by Kevin Trudeau who has been previously charged with false claims of cancer cures and has been banned from infomercials selling any product, service, or program1- great and honest guy, I’m sure.
It has been approved for the treatment of infertility (women have actually become pregnant while on the diet due to this and it will increase male sperm counts) and is legal for doctors to prescribe  “off label.” This means, to get a prescription (THAT IS NOT FOR FERTILITY) of the injections, you must either go overseas since it is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for weight loss or you must find a doctor in the U.S. who will prescribe the drug for a use it is not approved for (since it is approved only as a fertility treatment).       Doctors can prescribe injection of the hormone this way and earn up to 1000$/month in revenue from consultation and injection fees to patients. In return, patients experience excessive weight losses and the feeling that the injections are aiding that loss since it claims to decrease hunger pains and weakness- though no research has proven this that I could find.
The problem:      Not only is the hCG hormone a waste of money in my opinion, but the starvation diet that is promoted and required by this diet, is an insult to your body and its function (Literally, your body will start eating itself since you are not eating enough food- and this includes breaking down your muscle tissue). Without supplements, getting the nutrients and vitamins your body needs cannot be done in 500 calories. Likewise, having enough energy to support your muscles, body function, and metabolism cannot be done on 500 calories- for any one. Going below 1000 calories is not even recommended for women since it is at that point of starvation their menses will stop as the body tries to reduce certain body functions and reserve energy for other things- like breathing.      The troubling thought to me is that it is not, nor ever will, become appropriate to recommend a diet resembling that of those who suffer from anorexia, yet that has not stopped doctors including plastic surgeons, gynecologists, and even orthodontists from feeling it necessary for their patients. Anorexia, a serious eating disorder that nutrition professionals, like myself, are trying to treat is being promoted by doctors of medicine and other medical professionals.     Weight loss is a positive change for many Americans today, though the way in which they lose is just as important to me as the results. The quick fix can grab some serious attention, but like any thing in life, hard work pays off in the long run. The diet is not recommended for the long-term (and for good reason, you’re starving yourself of nutrients and energy you need!) and includes no nutrition counseling or education on healthy living or eating. What does this “diet” teach about long-term weight maintenance? Those who have gained back their weight after returning to their normal lifestyle could answer this question with a definitive “nothing.”
500 calories a day.

The truth is in the research:
  Dating back to 1959, studies have shown no differences in those who follow the 500 calorie diet and either receive hCG injections or a placebo (for example, saline). Weight loss occurs either way and at the same rate. Out of 12 other studies on hCG, 11 reported it was ineffective in treating obesity2. Eating such little food each day is the reason for the excessive weight loss, not the hormone. This is not a diet, it is a prescription for starvation.

Warnings:   The Food and Drug Administration has reiterated a warning it first gave in the 1970s about this hormone. The FDA now requires a statement similar to this on the hormones packaging; “It has not been shown to increase weight loss, to cause a more attractive distribution of fat or to decrease hunger and discomfort from low-calorie diets.” Side effects are common with the diet which comes as no surprise since your body is going to experience a rapid change. Common side effects are constipation, hunger, and weakness3.
The physicians perspective:              A physician was quoted with charging $1,150 for their hCG program which included an examination, injection training (for self-injections), a month’s supply of the hormone and syringes, and blood work to monitor for complications. This same physician stated “physicians all around the country have seen people losing a tremendous amount of weight with this stuff, and you cannot afford to ignore that2.”  

     A healthy lifestyle is the still the safe way to have weight loss, though not the most appealing since it is not a quick fix. You won’t see losses as fast as the 500 calorie-a-day regimen but you will have energy and a better chance at keeping the weight off. Cutting back on portion sizes, eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low fat dairy is the healthy way to eat and when combined with exercise, is a healthy way to lose weight. Hope this information gets you before the shots do!
-Lacey D

References: 1.     FTC: Marketer Kevin Trudeau Violated Prior Court Order. FTC News Release. Sept 2007. Accessed April 29, 2011. Available at: 2.     HartocollisDiet Plan with Hormone has fans and skeptics. The New York Times. March 2011. 3.     Conis, Elena. NUTRITION LAB; HCG shots? Don’t bother; A diet’s ‘success’ comes from allowing only 500 calories a day, studies show, not hormone injections. Los Angeles Times [serial online]. November 2, 2009:E1. Available from: Los Angeles Times. Accessed April 29,2011. Document ID: 1891038791.

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