The HCG Diet: Hormones and weight loss

This article is part of our Stupid Diet Series, therefore we do not recommend this diet.

Tinkering with hormones to promote weight loss is nothing new – it’s been well known for decades that hormones in both the male and female body have a lot to do with how the body treats adipose deposits (fat) and how well the metabolism functions.

HCG, or Human chorionic gonadotropin, is a protein that is produced by a developing human fetus, and was identified by British endocrinologist A.T.W. Simeons as having something to do with the mobilization and elimination of extra fat deposits in pregnant women, and also in overweight teenage boys to whom the hormone was given as a supplement.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The Idea

HCG is meant to be used as a diet supplement in conjunction with Simeons’ ultra-low-calorie weight loss diet (under 500 calories per day). His theory was that the body manufactures this hormone naturally in order to rid the body of extra fat while a woman is pregnant.

He also showed that, when exposed to hCG the body was more disposed towards losing fat than lean muscle when presented with a low-calorie diet. He argued that hCG must have an effect on the hypothalamus, causing it to prompt the body to burn off fat rather than use muscle reserves for energy.

What’s In It

HCG is, basically, a hormone produced by pregnant women that helps to stimulate the production of another important pregnancy hormone called progesterone.  The hCG diet involves taking this hormone as a supplement while eating a high protein, ultra-low calorie diet.

Unfortunately, HCG has some rather nasty side effects, and is in remarkably dubious standing with the American Medical Association as a health supplement.  It has been linked to both breast and testicular cancer, as well as many other types of cancer.  However, it is not clear whether or not the presence of this hormone in the body is a cause or an effect of the growth of cancerous tumours.  There is currently insufficient research to directly link hCG to cancer.

There is also little evidence to suggest that hCG is effective at promoting weight loss in any way.

Who’s On It

The only marginally famous person who has used and promoted this diet is controversial author Kevin Trudeau, who became famous for promoting alternative health practices and products.

HCG has swung in and out of vogue as a weight loss supplement, but due to recent findings by the American Food and Drug Association and the American Medical Association, the drug is no longer available or protected as a homeopathic substance.  If you did not get it from a doctor for purposes other than weight loss, it is classed as an illegal substance.

Because of this there are currently few practitioners who recommend it as a weight loss supplement.

Why You Might Want to Avoid It

Cancer, in a word.  Cancer in your breasts.  Cancer in your testicles.  Cancer in both your breasts and your testicles, if one report is to be believed.  While there has been no evidence to directly finger hCG as a cause of cancer, it’s pretty much around any time anybody finds cancer in any of the bits that are involved in human reproduction.  We might not be able to point to the fire, but we can sure see a lot of smoke.

Meta-analysis (meaning studies about studies) of the studies that promoted hCG as a weight loss product have almost all been discredited as having faulty methodologies or being based on shaky premises.

The bottom line is: If you want kids, you probably want to avoid the hCG diet.

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