The hormone Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, commonly known as HCG, is produced only in pregnancy and extracted from urine or created by genetic modification via recombinant DNA.
The pituitary gland produces a comparable substance known as Luteinizing Hormone or LH in both sexes; HCG’s similarities allow it to be used clinically in fertility treatments for its effects on ovulation, progesterone and testosterone production.
An HCG component may also be found in performance enhancing supplements and it appears on illegal drug lists for some competitive sports.
The use of HCG for weight loss is a somewhat controversial subject.
The original protocol was developed in the 1950’s by Albert Simeons, a British endocrinologist, to utilize the hormone in conjunction with a VLCD (very low calorie diet) of approximately 500 calories per day.
He argued that humans, though omnivorous, are physiologically equipped to eat small portions frequently. The modern approach of “filling up” with regularly scheduled meals means taking in more than what is immediately required for sustenance, so that the body responds by storing the surplus.
Dr. Simeons also differentiated three distinct types of fat in the human body – “structural” fat that cushions and protects organs and bones, fuel “reserve” fat normally distributed throughout the body, and “abnormal” fat that collects in areas such as the stomach, hips, thighs and upper arms. Unfortunately, he claims that this “abnormal” fat is the last resource the body will access when it requires additional nourishment.
His theory was that obesity is a metabolic disorder and can be treated as such, with HCG injections programming the hypothalamus to access the abnormal fat reserves rather than burning lean (muscle) tissue. Other effects attributed to HCG include appetite suppression and a generalized feeling of well-being.
The HCG diet can be followed for 40 days and resumed after 6 weeks of normal eating.
It focuses on lean meats, fish and vegetables in measured portions. No carbs are allowed beyond the occasional breadstick or Melba toast. Dairy, alcohol and sugar are also forbidden.
When you consider that nutritionists and diet experts do not recommend consuming less than 1200 calories a day when reducing, the 500 calorie restriction here is perhaps explanation enough for the dramatic results participants claim to achieve.
Choosing to try the diet remains a subjective decision since there is, to date, an unfortunate lack of clinical evidence to support HCG’s role in either weight loss or appetite suppression, with a corresponding absence of concrete information on long term impact or potential side effects.
It should be noted that the FDA considers HCG diet products both fraudulent and illegal, while both the Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition denounce them as unsafe and ineffective.