What is the HCG diet?
The HCG Diet, which is also known as the Simeons Method or the Cura Romana, was first promoted as a weight loss strategy by a physician named Albert T Simeons in the 1950s.
This bizarre, hugely restrictive and dangerous diet has made a comeback, partly due to the recent availability of HCG in sublingual form which has removed the need to inject the substance, and partly due to the followers of 'Health Gurus' like Kevin Trudeau. Interestingly, Trudeau is currently incarcerated on fraud charges related to his publication of a 2004 book entitled 'The Weight-Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You to Know About', in which the HCG diet was heavily promoted.
Simeons' book outlining the HCG diet was republished in 2010, and the diet is still, bizarrely, attracting attention today.
What is HCG?
HCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin. HCG is a hormone best known for its role in pregnancy. This protein hormone is secreted by the placenta, where it stimulates the production of progesterone, a hormone which encourages growth of blood vessels and tissue to nourish a growing foetus. It is the presence of HCG that is detected in pregnancy tests, and HCG is thought to be responsible for the symptoms of morning sickness.
HCG is a close analogue of Luteinising Hormone (LH), a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland which encourages the production of the steroidal sex hormones - testosterone in males, and oestrogen in females. HCG for medical use is extracted from the urine of pregnant horses, or produced by recombinant microbes, and may be prescribed by a doctor to stimulate male puberty or to treat female infertility.
This hormone is sometimes abused by steroid users in an attempt to kickstart testosterone production at the completion of a cycle.
HCG Diet Plan
The HCG injections form one component of this diet plan. HCG is claimed to suppress the appetite, encourage the loss of fat from 'hard to shift' areas like the abdomen, hips, and thighs, and prevent the wasting of muscle mass during fat loss, which it may do by inducing the body to produce excess steroid hormones.
The second component of the HCG diet is an extremely restrictive 500kcal/day eating plan, an energy intake that represents a quarter of the average intake recommended for weight maintenance in a healthy adult, and half of what most weight loss diets recommend.
Obviously, this severe restriction on energy intake is guaranteed to cause weight loss.
Thrown into the mix are a series of bizarre rituals. Simeons' original protocol restricted the dieter to a single vegetable per meal, prohibited the use of many personal hygeine products, including lotions and deodorant, and prohibited exercise (1).
HCG Diet Reviews
This diet has been heavily criticised by the scientific community. A meta analysis of studies on HCG-related weight reduction was published in 1987, and reported that controlled, double-blind studies of found HCG to have no effect on amount of weight lost, the parts of the body that the weight was lost from, appetite, or mood, refuting the claims of Dr Simeons and his latter day followers. Studies were found that supported the protocol, but these were shown to be anecdotal or poorly designed (2).
Additionally, there have been scientific case reports of adverse effects attributable to the use of HCG to lose weight. These include two cases of deep vein thrombosis and a case of Wilson's Disease, a disorder of copper metabolism that caused liver, kidney, and gall bladder damage in the dieting patient (3,4). The HCG diet is denounced by physicians and health-governing bodies because the caloric intake is considered too low to provide adequate nutrition to maintain health, because of the potential danger in the non-therapeutic use of HCG, and because this diet does nothing to address the underlying causes of obesity, or to facilitate the healthy lifestyle changes that are needed to maintain weight loss (5).
HCG Diet Injections
HCG is not legal for the purposes of weight loss, so as with anabolic steroids, accessing this hormone can carry a lot of risk. Illegal drugs are often prepared in non-sterile conditions, and you have no guarantees of dosage or purity. A recent study showed that almost half of all anabolic steroids purchased on the black market contained a substance different to that claimed by the seller (6). Complications such as infection, nerve damage, and even gangrene have been reported by users of illegal injectables, and users run the risk of legal prosecution.
Many proponents of the diet now recommend sublingual HCG drops in place on injections. While this avoids many of the problems associated with injecting, this is still of questionable legality. There are no clinical trials on the efficacy of this mode of delivery, but considerable doubts have been raised about the ability of a relatively large protein based hormone such as HCG to diffuse into the bloodstream.
Other proponents of the diet have substituted HCG for homeopathic preparations of HCG, or dilute solutions of 'HCG amino acids'. Homeopathic intervention has been repeatedly disproven by science, and it is widely known that amino acids are the building blocks of protein – all protein – and do not possess the properties of any particular protein until they are assembled. These types of preparation have been declared fraudulent by the US FDA and their sale is illegal in that country (8).
HCG Diet Side Effects and Dangers
The HCG diet has significant potential side effects on top of the aforementioned cases of blood clotting and copper metabolism dysfunction (3,4), and the complications of injection.
The severe calorie restriction is likely to cause agitation, dizziness and severe food cravings in the short term, and if followed long term, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, metabolic and hormonal dysfunction, and organ failure are potential concerns. Use of HCG may cause nausea and vomiting, changes to fertility (infertiliy and hyperfertility), and excess production of steroid hormones, which can lead to symptoms such as acne, mood changes, masculinisation in women, feminisation and gynecomastia in men, water retention, and cardiovascular disease. Long term use of HCG is thought to have the potential to desensitise the body to the effects of luteinising hormone, meaning the body may become unable to process its own signals to release sex hormones (5, 7).
HCG Diet Australia
Due to the unacceptable health risks, no reputable doctor is going to recommend the HCG diet in Australia. As this is he only way to legally obtain HCG, the HCG diet is essentially illegal in this country.
Ther good news for people looking for something to help their weight loss is that there are a number of potent supplements on the market that are totally legal, safe to use, and free of dangerous side effects. Fat burners are designed to work alongside a healthy diet to suppress appetite, fire up the metabolism, and help you burn through more fat, faster. Products like EHP Labs Oxyshred and MuscleTech Hydroxycut Hardcore Elite are bestsellers, while people looking for the most intense product on the market should take a look at our list of Strongest Fat Burners 2015.
Your health is the most important thing you have – don't jeopardise it for short term results.
(1) Simeons ATW (2010). Pounds & Inches: A New Approach To Obesity. Popular Publishing. Honolulu USA.
(2) Rabe T, Richter S, Kiesel L, Runnebaum B. [Risk-benefit analysis of a hCG-500 kcal reducing diet (cura romana) in females]. Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 1987 May;47(5):297-307.
(3) Goodbar NH, Foushee JA, Eagerton DH, Haynes KB, Johnson AA. Effect of the human chorionic gonadotropin diet on patient outcomes. Ann Pharmacother. 2013 May;47(5):e23.
(4) Wadera S, Magid MS, McOmber M, Carpentieri D, Miloh T. Atypical presentation of Wilson disease. Semin Liver Dis. 2011 Aug;31(3):319-26.
(5) Robb-Nicholson C. By the way, doctor. I've been trying to lose weight for a long time and nothing seems to work. What do you know about the HCG diet? Harv Womens Health Watch. 2010 May;17(9):8.
(6) da Justa Neves DB, Marcheti RG, Caldas ED. Incidence of anabolic steroid counterfeiting in Brazil. Forensic Sci Int 2013; 228(1-3): e81-3
(7) National Drug Strategy (2006). Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin. Australian Government, March 8, 2006. http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/content/fs-hcg. Accessed February 4 2014.(8) Nanci Hellmich (2011). HCG Weight-Loss Products are Fraudulent, FDA Says. USA Today. January 23, 2011. Online. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/yourlife/fitness/weight-loss-challenge/2011-01-24-hcgdiet24_ST_N.htm. Accessed February 4 2015.