I’ve actually intended to write on this for some time. On 5/13, our Las Vegas Fox affiliate chose to do a piece that now makes it timely. In a very one-sided story about a Chiropractor running a weight loss center , Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) is touted as the next great breakthough in weight loss. It is anything but. HCG has a 54 year history of being the most overhyped and ineffective weight loss aid around.
In 1954, Albert Simeons, a British born physician, posited that HCG could be an effective adjunct to a 500 calorie diet for sustained weight loss. Since that time there have been a number of published studies that almost universally demonstrated that HCG does not enhance weight loss over just maintaining a 500 calorie diet. In 1995, the British Journal of Pharmacology conducted a meta-analysis that looked at both the academic rigor and outcomes of the studies that had been published. The conclusion those researchers reached supported the idea that HCG for weight loss is in all likelihood a crock.
There are numerous legitimate uses for HCG . Because HCG acts like Lutenizing Hormone (LH) which is produced by the pituitary , it stimulates the sex glands (testicles or ovaries) to produce their respective hormones. So, it stands to reason that the legitimate medical uses of HCG would involve conditions where stimulating these glands is desirable.
For instance, in males those might include conditions like undescended testicles , dwarfism and stimulating testosterone production in older men with low testosterone. The testosterone production effects are even part of weight lifting steroid lore with body builders using HCG to insulate their testicles from the adverse effects of steroids. All of this comes with liabilities, of course. Use of HCG in males can be associated with water retention and, worse yet, gynecomastia (enlargement of the breasts). Niether of these side effects really seem compatible with the usual goals of weight loss.
In females, the accepted uses of HCG tend to focus more on fertility . HCG is routinely used with drugs like Clomid to stimulate production of ova and increase the chances of becoming pregnant. For women who repeatedly miscarry, HCG is used to stabilize their hormones to help prevent miscarriage during the early part of pregnancy. Complications for women can be dire. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) can occur with the ovaries becoming significantly enlarged and causing abdominal swelling, discomfort and other abdominal symptoms. HCG can cause rupture of ovarian cysts and resultant pain from internal bleeding. HCG has been associated with formation of blood clots. And finally, because of the ovarian stimulation and production of ova, multiple pregnancies (twins or more) can occur when HCG is used.
The FDA has spoken on all of this and has for years required that HCG prescribing information carry in all caps the following warning:
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.
There is no shortage of diet clinics hyping the effectiveness of HCG for weight loss. Those same clinics promise absolute safety. I think it’s pretty clear that neither are true.