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Today I received an email about a Fox news reporter that claimed to have tried the HCG diet and lost 25 pounds. I am familiar with the diet. Several of my friends have tried the HCG diet and lost weight.  Interestingly, most of them gained it all back within the year. And since I have worked in the area of weight loss for the past 20 years, people ask me about all kinds of fad diets that come and go.

HCG is human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced during pregnancy. It is used to treat fertility problems. The diet involves taking the hormone through liquid drops and eating 500-800 calories a day. Mayo Clinic’s registered dietitian, Jennifer Nelson, reported on the safety of the HCG diet. She notes that this diet has not been proven effective for weight loss and is illegal to sell over the counter. In addition, low calorie diets like this one can cause medical complications–e.,g., gallstone formation, irregular heartbeat, electrolyte imbalance, deterioration of muscle mass, to name a few. The hormone should be avoided by pregnant women because of possible birth defects.

So there are risks involved that you must consider.

Most people who restrict their daily calories to 500-800 calories a day will lose weight. That is a ridiculously low calorie count, very similar to the liquid diet fads of the 1990s. The problem is that even though you lose weight on very low calorie diets, you can’t sustain that type of eating and weight gain usually results.

And what about the science behind this popular fad? Here is a quote from a meta review of  24 studies published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (1995):

“We conclude that there is no scientific evidence that HCG causes weight loss, a redistribution of fat, staves off hunger or induces a feeling of well being. Therefore, the use of HCG should be regarded as an inappropriate therapy for weight reduction, particularly because HCG is obtained from the urine of pregnant women who donate their urine idealistically in the belief that it will be used to treat an entirely different condition, namely infertility.”

Other double-blind clinically controlled studies (e.g., University of Stellenbosch in South Africa) have shown the diet to be ineffective as well. But there is controversy as to the effectiveness of this approach.

So bottom line, you will drop weight on any diet with very low calories, there are medical risks involved, and most likely, you will gain the weight back because you can’t sustain the low calorie diet. Because of possible side effects, you should always check in with your physician when going on any type of weight loss program.

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