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The Straight Dope on HCG for Weight Loss

Paul Bolger, MD

By Paul Bolger, MD, Medical Aesthetics and Wellness Center of the Quad Cities

Human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, is considered very controversial for weight loss. The over-the-counter products have been banned and some believe that it is sold by weight loss clinics because it is “big business.” Many patients gain all of their weight back after doing an HCG diet. So what does it do, and why do patients lose weight on it?

Where did the HCG diet originate?
The HCG diet was developed based on studies in the 1950s by Dr. Simeons. He did an experiment on patients with Froehlich’s syndrome, a disease of the endocrine system that mostly affects boys and causes obesity. He “found that as long as such patients were given small daily doses of HCG they could comfortably go about their usual occupations on a diet of only 500 calories daily and lose an average of about 1 pound per day. It was also perfectly evident that only abnormal fat was being consumed, as there were no signs of any depletion of normal fat. Their skin remained fresh and turgid, and gradually their figures became entirely normal. The daily administration of HCG appeared to have no side effects other than beneficial ones.” He then experimented on “normal” obese patients and found similar results. He gave various theories of how it worked but none were evidence based. Most weight loss clinics use Dr. Simeon’s protocols.

What is HCG?
HCG is a hormone released by the placenta in pregnant females in very large quantities. It is a natural, protein hormone that helps both men and women produce hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormones. The pregnant female can produce tens to hundreds of thousands of units per day whereas the amount dosed in the HCG diet varies ranges from 100–400 units a day.

What does HCG do?
It is theorized that the way that HCG, by stimulating various hormones in very low levels, helps the body sustain lean body mass while dieting. Normally, a very low-calorie diet will produce weight loss; however, there will be a loss of muscle and lean tissues. The HCG appears to help counteract that. People on the HCG diet also anecdotally report a loss of appetite. This helps them stick to what would normally be a very difficult very low calorie diet (VLCD).

What is a VLCD?
VLCD’s are an accepted yet also controversial form of weight loss and have been studied in the medical literature as a safe way to lose weight. Some consider it extreme as it involves reducing a patient’s caloric intake dramatically. It is important when this diet is prescribed that a patient be given information on how to maintain proper nutrition during this period so they do not have electrolyte imbalances or other illnesses during these periods. Part of what leads to the controversy with HCG diets is that patients who are put on HCG diets are not guided on what to eat or how to eat. They are simply told to reduce their calories and sent on their way. This can lead to metabolic imbalances, food cravings, noncompliance, and can also be dangerous. VLCD’s should not be attempted without medical supervision.

The Modern HCG Diet

In the last 10 years, a doctor named Sherri Emma (www.dremma.com) began doing extensive research with HCG and began questioning many of Dr. Simeons’ methods. For example, on the Simeons diet, you have to binge eat for several days before you start the diet. Her studies showed that was not necessary. Her studies also showed that you could use HCG while menstruating. The Simeons diet also restricts various foods from your diet and you cannot wear deodorant or use lotions.

In 2010, she devoted her medical practice entirely to weight loss and developed her own HCG diet. With her diet, the HCG dosing is not uniform for everyone; it is customized based on your weight, your sex, and your menstrual status. The dosing changes from week to week and instead of being sent home with a vial and a set of needles, the patient is sent home with pre-drawn needles with the specific doses already prepared to eliminate errors.

Why Do Some Patients Gain Their Weight Back?

Weight loss is a long-term commitment. Weight loss clinics who prescribe the HCG diet and do not follow their patients after are setting up their patients for failure. The HCG diet is no different from bariatric surgery, liposuction, or any other form of rapid weight loss. If the patient does not make long-term modifications to their lifestyle, of course they will gain their weight back. At our clinic we encourage the patient to stay with us for several months after the HCG diet so we can help them modify their eating habits, learn to control cravings, and maintain what they have achieved or better yet, continue to lose.

The HCG Controversy
HCG diets are poorly understood and will continue to be controversial. As long as practice is based on protocols developed in the 1950s and that all the studies are performed on the same protocols, it will be difficult to substantiate the claim that they work. It is not that the 1950s protocols do not work, because they do for many patients and have for many years. However, there has been progress since then in the dosing and in the rest of the protocols. Because of this, unlike most things in medicine, there is little standardization in practice. Also with the variability with short and long-term follow up, some patients fail, some succeed, and some gain the weight back. Much of this is related to patient compliance as well. Why there isn’t so much controversy about the success and failures of commercially available weight loss programs, I will never understand. They are also “big business” yet have just as many variables to their success.

Are you struggling with your weight and want more information on the HCG diet? Contact Dr. Bolger at 563-355-4813 to schedule an appointment, or visit his website, weightlossquadcities.com, so you can get your weight under control. Medical Aesthetics and Wellness Center of the Quad Cities is located at 5510 Utica Ridge Rd, Ste 300, Davenport, IA, and specialize in weight loss, non-surgical body contouring, dermal fillers, and BOTOX.


Photo Credit: Andrea Chu/Thinkstock

Healthy Cells Magazine® reminds you that this information is not a substitute for medical attention, and to please see your health care professional for medical advice and treatment.