The “I Want To Inject a Pregnancy Hormone” Diet
“I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems to me that they are wonderful things for other people to go on.” —Jean Kerr
Lose a pound a day! New weight-loss phenomenon burns fat while you sleep! Eat your way to weight loss! The new mustard diet works miracles! Eat 30,000 calories a day and lose weight!
We have all heard the maniacal rantings of the carnival barker—advertisers lulling you into a gullible stupor like the Siren’s call of ancient mythology. Nowhere is the P.T. Barnum quote, “There is a sucker born every minute,” more applicable than in the billion-dollar business of weight loss.
Quick, easy weight loss has become the holy grail of aspiring snake oil salesmen ever since Americans lost the battle of the stomach bulge. With almost two-thirds of adults overweight and an alarming 30 percent of kids busting out of their designer jeans, it is no wonder that the diet de jour is the darling of Madison Avenue.
The most recent promise of no fault, no effort and no cares weight loss is the hCG diet. A scrutiny of this latest craze serves as a template for assessing what’s generally bogus about all quick-fix diets.
So with expectations and intentions of making some of you really mad (especially those who are selling the myth), let me detail why this and other fad diets are neither effective long term nor predictable in their results and, more importantly, how some of these diets can actually hurt you.
hCG stands for human chorionic gonadotrophin, a hormone produced predominately during pregnancy. In fact, it is the hormone that is measured to determine if that little strip turns color in most over-the-counter pregnancy tests.
In the 1950s a physician, Dr. A.T.W. Simeons, made the claim that hCG could simultaneously suppress the appetite and help the body burn more fat. Wow! If you were designing a perfect drug for weight loss that is exactly what it would be (maybe making you 10 years younger would help also).
The only drawback was that it wasn’t true.
He used hCG injections and placed his subjects on a 500-calorie-a-day diet. Indeed they lost weight, but Jabba the Hutt would lose weight on 500 calories a day.
How They Say It Works
The promoters of the diet state that the hCG allows subjects to eat this starvation diet and feel minimal hunger pains while promoting fat burning. Unfortunately I found 16 other published, valid studies that showed it was no more effective than a placebo at accomplishing these wondrous effects, and I could have read many more as the negative scientific evidence surrounding this diet is both voluminous and consistent.
The Food and Drug Administration said it best way back in 1975 when it stated: “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.”
Now I realize some of you folks may feel the the FDA is ganging up on and suppressing a miracle drug, but as recently as 2009 the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, an international group of doctors who specialize in weight loss, issued the following statement:
“Numerous clinical trials have shown hCG to be ineffectual in producing weight loss. The diet used in the Simeons method provides a lower protein intake than is advisable in view of current knowledge and practice. There are few medical literature reports favorable to the Simeons method; the overwhelming majority of medical reports are critical of it. Physicians employing either the hCG or the diet recommended by Simeons may expose themselves to criticism from other physicians, from insurers or from government bodies.”
Not exactly a glowing recommendation!
What makes the hCG diet especially egregious is the distortion surrounding how the hCG is administered. The use of injectable hCG requires a prescription and physician supervision, yet a quick Google search reveals hCG supposedly available over-the-counter in drops, troches, pills, sublingual tablets, liquids, sprays, pellets and even a homeopathic concoction. I was especially taken aback by the variety of homeopathic mixtures, as homeopathy is based on providing such a dilute solution of a substance to the point of there being virtually none of the active ingredient present. Nothing like a special weight loss product that contains none of the “special” ingredient!
A rational person can look at the science behind any medical treatment and assess its effectiveness. Therefore, a rational person can only conclude from the abundance of scientific evidence that the hCG diet is one of a long line of ineffective, misleading and potentially harmful approaches to weight management. Let’s face it everyone, the only thing that works long term is taking less in and burning more off.
Dr. Eaker is an Augusta Ob/GYN and author. He and his wife, Susan, have two teenage daughters.