There is always another “fad” diet out there- and the HCG diet hopefully died when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued letters to companies warning them that selling “homeopathic” HCG weight-loss drugs was not FDA approved and that there was no evidence of the claims, thus violating FTC rules.
HCG is a hormone that is produced by the human placenta during pregnancy. Clinically HCG is used as a fertility treatment, and can lead to increase in progesterone and testosterone, which have consequences of their own including deep vein thrombosis (a clot in the veins of the lower extremity) leading to pulmonary embolism and even death. This is not a benign hormone, and should only be used under the strict supervision of a physician – who knows what they are doing, not a naturopath or homeopath, or chiropractor. HCG is also elevated in some cancers, and we follow HCG levels to determine how effective our cancer therapies work with some tumors. This is also the hormone most use to determine if a person is pregnant.
This fad diet started in the 1950’s when Albert Simeons, a physician working in India, noted that pregnant women on a low-calorie diet lost fat rather than muscle and the fetus was protected. He hypothesized that the HCG reprogrammed the brain to lose fat rather than muscle, thus protecting the body against loss of muscle. Simeons went on to become an entrepreneur founding weight loss clinics, manufacturing centers, and having widespread use of his product. There was no evidence for HCG working and the diet died in 1976 after an article in JAMA showing that there was no difference between patients who received HCG and those who received a placebo. In 1976 the FTC ordered the Simeon Weight Foundation and HCG Weight Clinic Foundation to stop claiming the HCG was safe and effective, and the FTC 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
HCG was reborn in 2007 with the book, “The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You to Know About,” by Kevin Trudeau (if you watch infomercials you have seen him – the infomercial guy). Shortly after the FTC charged Trudeau with violating a court order and misrepresenting the contents of the book on his infomercials. He was ordered to pay 37 million dollars for violating their order.
Still, that started a new industry with companies manufacturing products that could be sold out of major drugs stores, injections given in drive-by diet centers, and lots of people touting this as the cure to obesity. The manufacturers decided if they would slap the “homeopathic” label on it, they could get by with selling this over-the-counter and make even more money off consumers. The FDA stopped this nonsense- not only because this is a potentially dangerous hormone, often given without strict medical supervision, but because the very low calorie diet that goes with it should be done under the supervision of a physician also.
The reason we won’t see the HCG end is because physicians can still prescribe injections of HCG – even though this is not a diet that will work. There are still unfortunates who think getting an injection of this hormone will work- and as PT Barnum once said “there is a fool born every minute.”
The HCG proponents are filled with confirmation bias. They lose weight, so they assume it is the HCG that suppresses appetite – although there is no evidence it does. They then will cite articles in non-peer reviewed journal such as Dr. David Bryman, an osteopath from Scottsdale, who published a non-randomized study with a higher protein low calorie diet- showing the HCG had more weight loss (The Bariatrician – 2010 Vol 25, page 11) . The problems with this study are several: first there is no randomization, second there is no control, third there is no blinding, and fourth there is a clear bias. To put this in perspective- this study has less validity to it than a noted expert opining. This study does not rise to acceptable levels of Evidence based medicine. Sadly, the HCG proponents, including health care professionals, do not understand the value of the evidence based medicine that clearly demonstrated no efficacy of HCG in any study in a peer reviewed journal.
The action of chorionic gonadotrophin in the obese. Simeons ATW. Lancet 2:946-947, 1954.
Chorionic gonadotropin in weight control. A double-blind crossover study. Young, Fuchs, and Woltjen. JAMA. 1976 Nov 29;236(22):2495-7.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.