So the summer is closing up on us and people start to fantasize about the perfect beach body (yeah, this year as well). How do I know? Because all the spam on my twitter is driving me nuts. A lot of it is advertisement for fat loss products, some more popular than others. One commonly advertised substance is hCG. Now I’ve heard of this substance before (not at least while reading obstetrics and gynecology in med school). I decided to look at the claims made for the substance and take a look if there is any scientific backing on the supposed effects of the hCG diet.
hCG (or human chorionic gonadotrophin) is a hormone produced during the early part of pregnancy and stimulates the production of progesterone and estrogens and is crucial for the development of the placenta. It is the hormone measured in pregnancy tests and is the biochemical indication of a successful pregnancy.
hCG injections are derived from female urine and are used in medicine to treat conditions such as infertility due to anovulation, medically assisted reproduction and to treat delayed puberty in boys. But the question is why people would inject something derived from urine for fat loss purposes.
More than 50 years ago, Dr. Albert T. Simeons, a British endocrinologist published a study, claiming that HCG injections would enable dieters to subsist comfortably on a 500-calorie-a-day diet.
The setup was as follows: a 500-calorie-a-day diet (high protein, low fat/carbs) in combination with daily hCG intramuscular injections that was claimed to:
a. Enhance fat mobilization
b. Suppress appetite
c. Redistribute fat from the waist, hips and thighs
d. Increase overall well-being.
Except for the insanely low caloric intake and brutally painful, DAILY injections of the substance, this sounds awesome. And the anecdotal data proves that people following the hCG diet really do lose a lot of weight. Awesome.
But is it because of the hCG injections? Hell no.
Why the HCG-diet works
The hCG diet will make you lose weight for sure. But the question is if a 500 calorie-a-day diet without the painful injections or possible adverse effects would have the same effect? There has been quite a few randomized studies done on the topic and the conclusion is that none of the effects are enhanced with injections of hCG as compared to the 500 calorie diet by itself.
One large meta analysis from 1995 looked at the results from 24 different studies on the effects of the hCG diet. The results are summarized in the picture below.
If you are not a geeky science-lover let me break down the results for you:
a. The hCG injections do not lead to greater weight loss than the diet alone
b. The hCG injections do not lead to fat distribution
c. The hCG injections do not lead to less hunger
d. The hCG injections do not lead to increased well-being
One often cited study showed potential effect on elderly men with androgen deficiency so if you are not in this group (and I know you aren’t) please save yourself from injecting derivate of female urine into your muscles.
Potential side effects
Apart from being a useless supplement for fat loss here are some other reported potential adverse effects of the product: arterial and venous thromboembolism, ectopic pregnancies, increased risk for multiple pregnancies, premature epiphyseal closure (stalled growth) in younger men, gynecomastia , testicular shrinkage, abdominal pain, diarrhea, water retention and hypertension just to namedrop a few.
A 500 calorie diet will lead to substantial weight loss in just about any individual. It’s stupid and not sustainable for longer periods of time for the vast majority of people but still. The effects of the hCG diet can be attributed to the low calorie intake solely and the addition to hCG injections will not lead to enhanced effects on fat loss, subjective hunger, fat distribution or what have you.
Before starting any pharmacological therapy you always have to consider the potential wanted effects of usage of a substance to the potential risks. In this case we have all the potential side effects above on one side of the scale and a useless product for weight loss on the other.
The choice is yours to make.
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