The hCG diet is a weight-loss plan that combines calorie restriction with the use of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). The hCG diet was developed in the 1950s by Albert T. W. Simeons, an English endocrinologist. Participants are typically instructed to reduce their caloric intake to 500 calories per day.
A human hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy, hCG is said to promote weight loss by suppressing appetite, revving up metabolism and reducing body fat. Although the diet traditionally involves the use of hCG administered by injection, some participants get the hormone by taking dietary supplements.
Despite the many marketing claims for the diet, scientific research shows that it is ineffective for weight loss.
The ClaimsIn pregnant women, hCG helps provide the fetus with the calories it needs to grow and develop. In order to deliver those calories to the fetus, hCG triggers the release of fat from parts of the body that typically pack excess fat (such as the abdomen). Proponents of the diet claim that hCG can have a similarly fat-reducing effect on individuals looking to lose weight. Specifically, the hormone is said to stimulate fat loss in so-called "problem areas" like the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, hips and undersides of the arms.
Proponents also claim that the hCG diet can lead to overall weight loss. Some marketers suggest that diet participants can expect to lose up to two pounds per day.
The Science Behind the hCG DietThere is no evidence that the hCG diet can help you lose weight (beyond the weight loss resulting from calorie restriction), according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What's more, the FDA warns that the hCG diet has not been found to decrease appetite or redistribute body fat.
In a report in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, scientists analyzed the available research on the effectiveness of the hCG diet in treating obesity. Reviewing 24 clinical trials, the report's authors found that the diet did not promote weight loss, reduce hunger, trim body fat or fight obesity.
Dangers?Although hCG is approved by the FDA to treat infertility in women, hCG is not FDA-approved for weight loss. The FDA warns that using hCG as part of the diet may trigger a number of adverse reactions (including headache, irritability, restlessness, depression and fatigue).
There are many safety concerns associated with severe calorie restriction, a key component of the hCG diet. For instance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) warns that following a very low-calorie diet may increase your risk of gallstones. Furthermore, some medical experts caution that severe calorie restriction can keep you from meeting your nutritional needs.
Should You Use the hCG Diet for Weight Loss?Due to the safety concerns and lack of science behind the hCG diet, this program cannot be recommended for weight loss. If you're looking to lose weight, the NIH recommends following a weight-management plan that pairs healthy eating with regular exercise. Keeping a food diary, getting eight hours of sleep each night and keeping your stress in check may also help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
If you're considering the hCG diet for losing weight, it's crucial to consult your doctor before starting.
Lijesen GK, Theeuwen I, Assendelft WJ, Van Der Wal G. "The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis." Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1995 Sep;40(3):237-43.
National Institutes of Health. "Weight-Control Information Network – Dieting and Gallstones". NIH Publication No. 02-3677. August 2008.
National Institutes of Health. "Weight-Control Information Network - Weight Loss for Life". NIH Publication No. 04–3700. January 2009.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "CHORIONIC GONADOTROPIN FOR INJECTION, USP." FDA 45792G/Revised: April 2011.