hCG Injections for Weight Loss: Do They Really Work?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
What if I told you that we've discovered the secret to weight loss—something so amazing, easy, and effective that it can help you drop several pounds a day, lose that stubborn belly fat for good, and finally "fix" your metabolism so that you'll never suffer from weight problems again? Sounds great, right?

All you have to do is never eat any brand name foods from big food companies, eliminate all artificial sweeteners, white sugar and flour (and a handful of other things), switch to a 100% organic diet, eat big salads at lunch and dinner, consume no more than 500 calories a day and inject yourself with a special "solution" each day while you do it. Your reaction to that should be "no thanks, I'll pass," but many others think it sounds like the weight-loss breakthrough they've been waiting for.

It's called the hCG diet. If you haven't heard of it, it's not your fault. Proponents of this diet claim that it's so effective that the government has worked hard to cover it up for years because it would solve obesity and health problems that would put pharmaceutical companies out of business.

That may seem plausible. I love a good conspiracy theory myself. But the deeper you dig, the more red flags you'll find about the hCG diet and its infamous injections.

I do my best to stay on top of current weight-loss trends, but I hadn't heard about this until Coach Jen and SparkPeople Dietitian Becky Hand, a licensed and registered dietitian with 20 years of experience, alerted me about it. They've received lots of questions about these hCG injections and the hCG diet. So with Becky's help and some research on my part (which wasn't easy because most websites you'll find when you search for hCG information are completely one-sided and trying to sell hCG to you), here's what you need to know.

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone produced during pregnancy. It is made by cells in the placenta and helps to maintain progesterone production throughout pregnancy, among other functions. One of the possible roles of hCG during pregnancy is breaking down stored abdominal fat so that it can be used as an energy source for the growing fetus, a process that slightly increases the mother’s metabolism. Because of this, some people have hypothesized that hCG could be used as a weight-loss aid.

In the 1950s, A British endocrinologist named Dr. Albert T. Simeons created a weight-loss plan that involved injecting people with the hCG hormone based on his theory that it will help break down fat stores, increase metabolism and promote weight loss and satiety on an extremely low-calorie diet. He even opened some hCG weight-loss clinics during the mid-century.

In more recent history (2007), Kevin Trudeau, a controversial businessman with no medical or nutrition credentials, wrote a book called The Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You to Know About that outlines a restrictive hCG diet and recommends the use of hCG injections for weight loss. This has led to a consumer resurgence and interest in hCG. However, it should be noted that Trudeau has made a living selling "natural cures" in books and infomercials and has lost several lawsuits brought on by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and has also been convicted of both fraud and larceny. In November 2007, just seven months after his Weight Loss Cure book was published, a court found Trudeau in contempt for making deceptive claims in his book and ultimately fined him $37 million. Some people view Trudeau as a crusader or hero for sharing these cover-ups with the public when no one else would. Others (myself included) view his background and run-ins with the FTC as big red flags. How can you trust someone with a history like this and no medical or nutrition education or experience? Updated 3/24/14: Trudeau was jailed November 12, 2013 when he was convicted by a federal jury of criminal contempt for lying in several infomercials about the contents of his hit book, “The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You to Know About,” which promoted hCG. In March 2014 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. More at ChicigoTribune.com.

Trudeau and other proponents of the hCG diet and hCG injections for weight loss continue to make a lot of big claims, but these are just claims—not facts. NONE of these claims is backed by reputable resources or any science.

According to SparkPeople's head dietitian Becky Hand, "Numerous double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies conducted between the 1970s and 1990s (see a list of selected sources below) have shown that hCG injections provide NO weight-loss advantage. In study after study, researchers compared two groups: a control group who followed the diet only and another group who followed the same diet AND received hCG injections. Time after time, the weight loss between the two groups was identical, demonstrating that hCG injections offer no weight-loss advantage over dieting alone." Or in layman's terms, "hCG injections have nothing to do with the weight loss. SAVE YOUR MONEY!" cautions Becky.

After all, if you're completely changing your diet and eating a third of the calories you should be eating to stay healthy, it's hard to know what's really causing weight loss: the diet, the injection or both. These studies show that the diet is responsible—that hCG injections aren't really doing anything to promote weight loss. On top of that, says Becky, who reviewed the published research on hCG says, "researchers observed NO statistically significant differences in body composition, waist-to-hip ratio, hunger level, spot reduction, or mood among the groups." This counters the very claims made by hCG promoters—that hCG burns belly fat and makes you able to withstand the extreme hunger you're likely to experience if you only eat 500 calories a day. Reputable research says otherwise.

Even if hCG injections do work, how do you know that what a supplement company is selling you is the real thing? Part of the risk of taking supplements—whether we're talking vitamins, herbal concoctions or hormones like hCG—is that supplements are not regulated. No one is overseeing these companies to ensure that what they say is in a bottle is really in there. No one is making sure that the pill or liquid or whatever it may be is free of contaminants or provides a safe or healthy dosage. Prescription drugs on the other hand are regulated for safety, ingredients and potency. But you'd be hard pressed to find a doctor who will administer hCG injections for you because the FDA has never approved hCG injections for weight-loss treatment in the U.S. In fact, since 1975, the FDA has required labeling and advertising of hCG to state:

"HCG has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity. There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or 'normal' distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restricted diets."

Beyond that, the diet alone is restrictive and dangerously low in calories. The reason SparkPeople (and other nutrition recommendations) have calorie floors (women should never eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day, for example) is because it is not possible to meet your body's needs for protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals when eating so little food. Certainly an extremely low-calorie diet will result in weight loss—for a while. But it'll likely slow your metabolism down and make you feel lethargic and pretty darn hungry.

One of the things I always tell people when they ask me about the latest diet pill or program is this: If it REALLY worked, everyone would know about it. Seriously—everyone really would. You'd constantly hear about it on the news, in magazines and newspapers, in statements from reputable organizations, from doctors—from everyone. Why? Because everyone really DOES want a safe and reliable cure for obesity. If that existed in the form of a pill or injection or special food combination, you better believe that no one would be able to truly "suppress" that information. Pharmaceutical companies have been searching for this very cure for years, as have university and medical researchers who aren't affiliated with pharmaceutical companies. If weight loss came in a pill, trust me—you'd know about it and you'd probably be taking it. "The use of hCG injections for weight loss remains a popular treatment," says Becky, "but it is just another dieting scam."

The next thing I want you to ask yourself is, "Who profits from telling you this?" If "who profits" is a bunch of supplement companies or weight-loss clinics or a controversial book author, well there you go. Medical organizations, health organizations, the government, nutrition professionals, even SparkPeople—none of us either "win" or "lose" by telling you that something is a scam. The people who have the "agenda" are the ones who are trying to profit off of consumers with high hopes for this secret cure.

Selected Sources:
Bosch B, Venter I, Stewart RI, Bertram SR. Feb. 1990. Human chorionic gonadotrophin and weight loss. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. South African Medical Journal. 77(4):185-9.

Greenway FL, Bray GA. Dec. 1977. Human chorionic gonadotropin in the treatment of obesity: A critical assessment of the simeons method. The Western Journal of Medicine. 127(6):461-3.

Miller R, Schneiderman LJ. Mar. 1977. A clinical study of the use of human chorionic gonadotrophin in weight reduction. Journal of Family Practice. 4(3):445-8.

Shetty KR, Kalkhoff RK. Feb. 1977. Human chorionic gonadotropin treatment of obesity. Archives of Internal Medicine. 137(2):151-5.

Stein MR, Julis RE, Peck CC, Hinshaw W, Sawicki JE, Deller JJ. Sept. 1976. Ineffectiveness of human chorionic gonadotropin in weight reduction: A double-blind study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 29(9):940-948.

Young RL, Fuchs RJ, Woltjen MJ. Nov. 1976. Chorionic gonadotropin in weight control: A double-blind crossover study. Journal of the American Medical Association. 236(22):2495-7.