A diet that has been around since the 50’s seems to be making some sort of resurgence. A friend of mine was questioning the diet and its usefulness and asked me to do some looking into it. I obliged.
It’s known as the hCG diet or “Simeon’s method” (the doc who discovered hCG). Essentially it lowers the caloric intake of an individual to around 500 Calories/day for 3-6 weeks and includes injections of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) which is a hormone found in great abundance in pregnant women. It is the hormone that is measured in over the counter pregnancy tests.
Now for a bit of biology; hCG is a hormone that promotes the corpus luteum to keep pumping out progesterone during pregnancy. It is created by the embryo after conception and later fueled on by part of the placenta. Progesterone keeps the uterus lined with blood vessels to nourish the embryo and later fetus. This hormone was used by Dr. Simeon on boys who had Froelich’s syndrome which is a condition in which there is delayed puberty, small testes, and obesity. hCG in boys can reverse this condition as it stimulates testosterone production and the symptoms are reversed. Essentially it stimulates puberty and normal function.
The hCG diet claims some things that are typical of many weight loss schemes.Some of the claims are that people can lose 1-2 lbs/day which can translate into weight loss of 60lbs/month. Some say that you won’t be hungry on this diet. Others promote that you be able to keep the fat off once the injections were completed. Not to mention you’ll look like the pic above.
Now let’s do some reasoning with the claims. Some claim that you can lose 1-2 lbs/day on this diet. I don’t doubt that some will lose this much for a time. If you’re caloric intake is 500 Calories/day, your energy expenditure is going to be higher than you’re intake. That of course equals weight loss. If you Google the images of women who have lost on this diet you will no doubt see some pics of fat loss. However this likely won’t last. As energy expenditure goes down that significantly, so too does the metabolism. It’s in the body’s best interest to slow down metabolism.
Lets look at this another way. If you fill up your gas tank and go really fast but can make it to another gas station before you are running on fumes, you will continue to drive fast. If you fill the tank up ¼ of the way, you probably won’t make it very far doing 100 down the road. You slow down and you may not go on that long trip with only ¼ tank, especially with the next gas station 150 miles away.
When the metabolism starts to slow down, so does fat burning capacity. In fact the body will start to break down muscle if it’s not being used for energy and that is the exact opposite of what one is trying to accomplish.
Another claim is that you won’t be hungry during the diet or after by some sites. I call bull-crap! Cut your calories to around 500/day and tell me you’re not hungry, especially if you are active in anyway. If you can, then you must be a zen master who can control everything with your brain. In one study that was printed in 1969, two groups were randomly assigned to the 500 Cal/day diet and hCG injections or placebo injections. After 6 weeks both groups had lost weight, but there was no significant difference in between the two groups. They had both lost the same amount of weight. And guess what, they were both hungrier at the end than reported at the beginning. At that time the authors concluded the following, “With the now overwhelming body of evidence suggesting that HCG is no more effective than placebo in the treatment of obesity, it would seem that further efforts to perpetuate the Simeons method could only be financially motivated”.¹
That to me seems to really get at the crux of the situation. The drug companies make money off of extracting the hormone from pregnant women’s urine and then selling it to you at an outrageous price and the doc gets to charge for actually injecting it.
The claim the you will be better able to keep the weight off once the injections are completed was tested in 1976 with a crossover trial. Two groups on the same low calorie diet received either placebo or hCG for 6 weeks and then no injections for 6 weeks. Injections were resumed for 6 more weeks. If the participants received hCG during the first 6 weeks they received placebo and vice versa. The conclusion…”claims regarding the use of HCG are that it allows the patients to maintain the weight loss better than patients who have not received it and that a second course is as effective as the first. We found no evidence of better weight loss maintenance as a result of HCG, and a second course of therapy was less effective regardless of the injection received during the first course”.²
So keeping the weight off was not happening and a repeat cycle of injections didn’t do much either. This isn’t looking to good for hCG.
Another issue I see with this diet is that a hormone is being introduced into the body that doesn’t need to be there for the purpose of weight loss. Lets look at a few side effects of hCG:
- Ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS)
- Early puberty
- Prostate cancer
- Severe pelvic pain
- Swelling of the hands and legs
- Stomach pain and swelling
- Shortness of breath
- Weight gain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Breast tenderness and swelling
- Reduced penis size
I’m not going to say a whole lot more about this diet other than a meta-analysis that was published in 1995. They looked at 24 studies looking at weight loss, hunger issues, fat redistribution, and feelings of well being. In short, the authors concluded that hCG and the diet was inappropriate and not scientifically validated as a method of losing weight and/or keeping the weight off.³
Any method of weight loss that has “too good to be true” claims is too good to be true. Save that money and invest TIME into changing your lifestyle. I was talking to one of the docs I work with yesterday and said he can cut the dose of insulin in half on his patients when he has control of what goes into their mouths and what types of activities they do. I believe him. Unfortunately for the patients’ health, this doctor can’t make them change their lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, I think people should be able to choose their lifestyle. I would hope that people would learn more about their health because it really is something that affects everyone, just like death and taxes. Find something that is fun to do and go do it. Find good whole foods that are good and eat them. Enjoy the occasional treat and enjoy the company of good family and friends. Please do NOT however fall to the diet industry and give them your money. If you want to lose some weight there is a tried and true method; calorie reduction mixed with some calorie expenditure.
- Albrink MJ.Chrionic Gonadotropin and obesity? Am J Clin Nutr 1969; 22: 681-85
- Young RL, Fuchs RJ, Woltjen MJ 1976 Chorionic gonadotropin in weight control. A double-blind crossover study. JAMA 236:2495–2497
- Sabine Lijesen G.K et al. The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy:a criteria-based meta-analysis. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1995 September; 40(3): 237–243
Disclaimer: All info on this website is for education purposes only. Any dietary or lifestyle changes that readers want to make should be done with the guidance of a competent medical practitioner. The author assumes no responsibility nor liability for the use or dissemination of this information. Anyone who chooses to apply this information for their own personal use does so at their own risk.