Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) And Weight Loss: Fact Or Fiction?

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Over the past few years, we’ve seen a flurry of renewed interest in human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) for weight loss.

Even Dr. Oz has offered his (qualified) support for the program.

Not surprising, really.

I suspect this had something to do with Kevin Trudeau’s book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About,”  which promoted a period of daily hCG injections for weight loss. The book received huge exposure and was a top seller in just about every market.

Anything Mr. Trudeau “recommends” should be approached with a great deal of skepticism. This guy is a con man with a long track record of fleecing the public of its hard earned cash.

He’s been fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for making false and unsubstantiated claims (apparently, he claimed his coral calcium supplement could cure cancer) and banned from making further infomercials (click here for info!).

He is now being targeted by the FTC for his “weight loss” book — for violating the previous court order that banned him for making infomercials for any other product other than books. This would be allowed provided he would not misrepresent the content of the books. The FTC claims his diet — which is advertised as “easy and simple” is anything but. Click here to read the FTC press release!

Some people believe Mr. Trudeau is the victim of some sort of conspiracy orchestrated at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry. Those folks should check out any of the over 400 customer complaints posted at Infomercialscams.com.

If he truly were the victim he claims to be, it seems unlikely he would insist on perpetuating the deceptive billing practices his customers accuse him of (most complaints are related to his “Natural Cures” publication, but I’m sure you’ll see similar ones related to his new book soon).

Before discussing human chorionic gonadotropin’s “place” in any weight loss strategy, let’s discuss what it is…

Human chorionic gonadotropin is a hormone produced during pregnancy. The hormone is present in the urine, and it’s the presence of hCG that home pregnancy kits are “checking” for when such a test is performed. In a nutshell, if hCG is present, you’re pregnant, if it’s not… you’re not.

Because it can also be created by some kinds of cancer, hCG can serve as an important tumor marker as well.

When human chorionic gonadotropin is prescribed in a medical scenario, it is either as a fertility medication (can be for both men or women), or to restore testosterone production in men.

But what about hCG’s role in weight loss?

In 1954, Dr. Albert T. Simeons, a British-physician claimed hCG injections would allow dieters to manage easily on a 500 calorie per day diet.

He claimed that hCG could suppress appetite, burn stored fat as well as redistribute fat from the hips, thighs and waist. Unfortunately, he had no clinical evidence to validate any of these claims.

But that’s not to say that hCG’s role in weight loss hasn’t been studied. It has. Quite extensively.

And guess what?

Not a single study indicates hCG has any benefit for weight loss (see JAMA 236:2495–2497, 1976, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 29:940–948, 1976, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 12:230–234, 1963, S Afr Med J. 1990 Feb 17;77(4):185-9, West Journal of Medicine 127:461–463, 1977, Archives of Internal Medicine 137:151-155, 1977).

Well, that’s not entirely true.

One study, the Asher-Harper study (performed in 1973), found that the combination of the 500 calorie per day diet and hCG injections offered a significant benefit to dieters, offering increased weight loss and a decrease in hunger.

It is this study that many of the advocates of the hCG protocol regularly cite when promoting this diet.

What they don’t do however, is cite this study (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 29, 940-948), which was designed to…

“… retest the hypothesis of the efficacy of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) on weight reduction in obese women in a clinic setting. We sought to duplicate the Asher-Harper study (1973) which had found that the combination of 500 cal diet and HCG had a statistically significant benefit…”

In other words, these researchers attempted to duplicate the results of the Asher-Harper study. The result of their findings?

“HCG does not appear to enhance the effectiveness of a rigidly imposed regimen for weight reduction.”

A more recent study echoed this conclusion. “The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis” (see Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1995 Sep;40(3):237-43) concluded…

“… that there is no scientific evidence that hCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight-loss of fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being.”

This seems to be the general consensus for hCG’s role in weight loss—taking it simply makes no difference. Some go further—like Dr. Stephen Barret of Diet Scam Watch, who calls hCG “worthless as a weight loss aid.”

It’s important to note, however, that hCG is administered under the supervision of a physician (hCG is considered a drug and requires a prescription) along with a Very Low Calorie Diet (a diet providing 800 or less calories per day—also known as a “VLCD”). It is often accompanied by intensive one-to-one support.

This is often referred to as the “hCG protocol.”

We received a lot of angry comments from people (over at Real-Customer-Comments.com) who had used the hCG protocol to what they felt was a positive effect (these led to some interesting blog posts, viewable here, and here!). They felt we were “bashing” hCG, neglecting to recognize its role in weight loss.

Not so.

When hCG was tested, it was compared to a placebo which included the Very Low Calorie Diet. And yes, VLCDs work. You will lose weight on one.

Guidance and support can also be very helpful for weight loss; that’s why programs like Weight Watchers have regular meetings and weigh ins. Frankly, if you have to be accountable to someone for your successes and failures, you tend to be a little more serious about making an effort.

But what the clinical data shows is that when you compare the results of people on a medically-supervised VLCD and those on a VLCD and hCG, there is no perceptible difference—in weight loss, in perceived hunger, in anything (while this may come as a surprise to many people, VLCDs themselves have appetite-suppressing effects).

In other words, it is the low calorie diet, possibly in conjunction with the regular support and guidance, that is responsible for the weight loss.

Not the hCG shots.

And that’s not the only problem…

In the old days, hCG was difficult to obtain, and prohibitively expensive. Now, hCG clinics are popping up all over the place. It is becoming relatively easy to obtain.

In fact, it’s very likely desperate individuals will have no qualms about turning to their credit cards to finance the protocol, figuring it is worth any price if it works.

But the hCG protocol is not a “quick fix” solution for weight loss. Even physicians who actively prescribe the protocol (like Dr. Ben Gonzalez, with whom our scientific and technical advisor Elissa had an interesting and spirited discussion here!) are quick to point this out.

Nonetheless, it is in danger of becoming so, especially as more and more people see the amount of money that can be made from exploiting a desperate segment of the population.

If you’re reading this review because you are considering the hCG protocol, we would strongly recommend doing some research on the better “conventional diets, especially if you have less than 50 pounds to lose (the top online diet programs are reviewed here, and we have an entire section dedicated to diets here!).

It’s very likely there is a practical solution our there that does meet your needs—perhaps you just haven’t come across it yet?

In the end, keeping the weight off requires significant lifestyle changes. This is why we prefer these programs… we feel they are far better solutions for long-term fat loss, health, and well-being.

Given what we know about the hCG protocol to date, there is no valid reason to recommend experimenting with it.

Related articles: hCG Diet Drops For Weight Loss

HCG Summary
 
  • Most people will lose weight on the protocol.
  • Protocol offers support and reinforcement.
 
  • Results due to VLCD – there is no proof that HCG is better than placebo.
  • Quality of clinics (and clinicians) vary.
  • Like other “quick fix” programs, prospects for long-term maintenance are murky.
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Comments

  1. Elissa says

    There are a couple of points that I would add to this, that – I believe – make the HCG protocol a more attractive prospect than a VLCD.

    1. The HCG program is “medicalized” – this is strong stuff, from the perspective of the placebo effect. Going into a clinic, seeing a clinician, getting an injection – these are incredibly reinforcing. As noted in this summary:

    “Patient expectations are important in determining the placebo effect. Treatments that are perceived as being more powerful tend to have a stronger placebo effect than those that are perceived to be less so. Thus, placebo injections have more effect than oral placebos, capsules are perceived as being stronger than tablets, bright-coloured placebos are more effective than light-coloured ones larger placebos have more effect than smaller ones, and two placebos have more effect than one. Also, the status of the treating professional is directly related to the placebo effect.”

    2. The daily nature of the injections means that patients are in regular contact with clinicians – thus, they’re given a lot of positive human reinforcement and approval. Human contact and support is vital for the success of many weight loss efforts, yet so many people go it alone. Via the HCG protocol, people are placed in a one-on-one, supportive environment, with professionals who are invested in their success. This is quite different than the usual distant/disinterested doctor-patient relationship. And it’s one that can be quite conducive to good results, as patients are motivated to meet the clinician’s expectations.

    Thus, I’m somewhat sympathetic, and can understand why certain people get defensive about our “attacks” on HCG. They feel they’ve been helped, and indeed they have. That doesn’t make it any less of a lie (or “unproven therapy” if you prefer), which is why we’re telling it like it is.

  2. Pat Clark says

    This is the second time I have used the HCG injections. You loose inches very quickly – it seem that you quickly loose body fat in the place you carry the most fat. I don’t think anything is a miracle answer – but it’s a quick jump start and if you follow the metabolic program, they don’t tell you the HCG stops appetite. You buy a pil called Phentratrim that almost makes it difficult to eat – your not hungry at all. I lost 20 poinds and gained it back in 4 months because I didn’t follow the maintenance program! once you stop taking HCG and the appetite pill it seems like your body wants to add weight because it thinks you were starving yourself. If I Follow the mainentance program and continue taking Phentratrim – I think I will get used to eating less and maybe keep the weight off. We’ll See. Good luck to everybody trying sooo hard to loose weight.

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