HCG Diet

02. April 2011

HCG Diet

As a broadcast journalist for nearly 35 years, I got to cover a broad range of stories. But nothing was as fascinating as reporting news about health, fitness and well-being. It was my regular “beat” for nearly three decades in San Diego.

It was great! Everyday was an opportunity to learn something amazing… from medical breakthroughs and new technologies… to nutrition tips and exercise techniques… from mental health to dental health.

But the news that got the most “buzz” from viewers was the latest in weight loss. Every new book or fad, from “The Grapefruit Diet” to the uber-hyped exercise guru, Richard Simmons… it seems everyone’s looking for a new way to lose weight. Fact is, whether it’s Atkins, South Beach or Weight Watchers, the key to weight loss has never changed. Eat less. Move more. It’s that simple.

But while weight loss books and other fads are usually no more than a waste of money… others can be downright dangerous. Diet pills and supplements packed with caffeine and other stimulants can cause a wide range of side affects. The popular weight loss drug combo PhenFen was pulled from the market in the 90’s following reports of serious heart problems and even death.

But another former diet fad is making a potentially dangerous comeback. The hCG diet is back and many dieters are reporting weight loss of up to 30 pounds in a month! But at what cost?

The popular diet fad from the 70’s combines daily injections of “human chorionic gonadotropin” with extreme calorie restriction. And its return has many weight-loss experts worried. Yale University’s Dr. David Katz calls the diet, “appalling.” He says, “it takes irresponsible diets to new heights.”

hCG is a hormone produced by the developing embryo and then by the placenta during pregnancy to help nourish the womb. Because calories are re-routed from the mother to the baby during pregnancy, hCG diet promoters say injecting the hormone will help curb appetite and allow dieters to get through a day on the energy equivalent of a turkey sandwich.

“A 500-calorie-a-day diet is just plain dangerous,” says Dr. Katz. “It can cause the body to literally scavenge from itself… even from critical places, like the heart.”

I know many people are desperate to lose weight, but hormone shots and extreme calorie restriction are not the answer! The danger of very low-calorie diets has been well documented since their rise in popularity in the 70’s. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition described 17 people… all of whom were initially obese and had significant and rapid weight loss who died suddenly of ventricular arrhythmia after an average five months of dieting.

The lowest recommended caloric intake per day is 1,200 for women and 1,500 for men. Most reputable diet plans follow those guidelines. Taking in fewer calories should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.

I’m told some milder versions of the hCG diet allow dieters to consume 800 calories per day and use hormone creams or drops instead of injections. But as Dr. Katz so succinctly put it, “It’s all variations on the same nonsense.” Dr. Katz and other weight loss experts call the hCG injections nothing more than an expensive placebo effect.

Don’t be sucked in by wild claims of dramatic weight loss. The pounds don’t pile on that fast. Be realistic in your weight loss expectations. Adopt a healthy lifestyle (not a diet!) and you’ll drop the weight for good. It’s not worth risking your health over a 40-year-old failed fad.

By the way, I’m thinking about writing a new weight-loss book. I think I’ll call it “Move More. Eat Less.” What do you think?

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.