The hCG Diet: Characteristics and Possible Risks

The FDA lists this weight loss method as dangerous and fraudulent. However, its followers defend it. We'll tell you more about its risks.
The hCG Diet: Characteristics and Possible Risks
Maria Patricia Pinero Corredor

Written and verified by the nutritionist Maria Patricia Pinero Corredor.

Last update: 15 December, 2022

The hCG diet is a rather controversial method of weight loss. It has proponents who claim it’s effective, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it dangerous, illegal, and fraudulent.

But what really is the hCG diet? Why is it said to aid in weight loss? Well, hCG refers to the hormone “human gonadotropin,” whose levels are elevated in early pregnancy. It’s also used in fertility treatments.

However, a few years ago, Dr. Albert Simeons proposed its use as a weight loss modality. Specifically, the plan suggests consuming only 500 calories a day plus an injection of the hormone. Of course, doing such a thing involves several serious risks. Here are all the details.

What is the hCG diet based on?

The hCG diet consists of an extreme caloric restriction – only 500 calories a day – and the injection of the hCG hormone (human choriogonadotropin). This hormone is released by pregnant women to support the healthy growth of the uterus and the development of the fetus.

As a weight loss method, its use became popular in the 1950s. According to its proponents, the hCG injection could decrease the feeling of hunger and support weight loss. It was even claimed to contribute to fat redistribution in the thighs, hips, and stomach.

Despite this, there are no studies to support its safety and efficacy. On the contrary, most research claims that the effectiveness of this diet lies in the low-calorie intake and has nothing to do with the use of the hormone.

In most evaluations, a placebo was given to one group of dieters and the hormone to another group. They found that weight reduction was similar between the two groups. In addition, they showed that hCG does not take away hunger.

hCG diet
The hCG hormone increases during the period of pregnancy. There are no studies showing that it calms appetite or helps with weight loss.

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What does the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved hCG as a prescription drug to treat female infertility and hypogonadism in men. However, it disapproves of its use as a weight-loss product.

According to the FDA, manufacturers promote these products by claiming that they “change abnormal eating patterns” or “restore metabolism.” In fact, it’s claimed that it can aid in the loss of 10 to 15 kilos in 30 to 40 days.

Despite this, the FDA warns of its dangers, and they explain that “any weight loss is due to extreme caloric restriction, not hCG. In certain doses, it even puts a person’s health at risk.”

For this reason, in 2016 they sent seven warning letters to companies that marketed these products. They consider their commercialization as violating the law and only admit it when the doctor suggests them as part of a hormonal treatment.

How do people follow an hCG diet?

To distribute 500 calories a day is not an easy thing. Therefore, it must be a very low-fat diet. It’s usually divided into three phases:

  1. Loading phase: During the first 2 days, foods abundant in fat and calories are consumed. In addition, hCG use is started.
  2. Weight loss phase: From weeks 3 to 6, 500 calories are eaten along with the hCG. Only lunch and dinner are allowed.
  3. Maintenance phase: This is the time to exclude hCG; in addition, food intake is gradually increased, but without sugar and starch, for 3 weeks.

The promoters of this diet recommend only 3 weeks in the intermediate phase for those seeking minimal weight loss. However, if more significant weight loss is desired, it should be followed for six weeks. In fact, some people repeat all phases until they reach the expected weight.

Each meal should contain at least a serving of lean protein, a piece of bread, a vegetable, and a serving of fruit. Butter, sugar, and oils should be avoided. At the same time, the person should drink plenty of liquids, especially water.

Does the hCG diet really help people to lose weight?

In general, when a low-calorie diet is followed, the body uses its energy reserves to be able to fulfill its functions. In this way, it starts to decrease the accumulated fat.

To understand it better, it’s worth remembering how metabolism works. All food and beverages become energy through calories. When taken in excess, the body fails to use it and tends to accumulate.

Accordingly, it’s logical to think that the hCG diet does help to reduce weight significantly. For an average adult, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an intake of 2000 to 2500 calories per day.

The risks of the hCG diet

Beware! Although this diet model may allow you to lose weight, the truth is that it poses several serious health risks. Today, it’s a type of diet discouraged by professionals. Let’s take a look at all of the possible health risks.

1. A deterioration of the nutritional status of minerals

In a study reported in the Latin American Archives of Nutrition, a group of obese women was divided into two. One followed a 1000-calorie diet, and the other, a 1300-calorie diet.

At 12 weeks, the nutritional value of iron, zinc, copper, and calcium was evaluated. Then, it was discovered that hypocaloric diets deteriorate the nutritional value of micronutrients.

As a consequence, disorders such as anemia, hair loss, altered bone calcification, and dental changes may appear.

2. Electrolyte imbalance

Electrolytes are found in the blood. They’re positively and negatively charged ions. They have important functions in the body, such as nerve reactions and muscle functions. An inadequate diet and a lack of vitamins can lead to their imbalance. Its symptoms include the following:

3. An irregular heartbeat

A heartbeat that’s too slow or too fast can be caused by dietary problems. This is because the heart is always working and needs energy continuously.

In fact, it’s known that a deficient supply of energy produces structural and functional alterations in the heart in the long term. It usually appears in patients with anorexia nervosa, who also have a caloric insufficiency in their diet.

hCG diet and irregular heartrate
Far from causing benefits, the hCG diet leads to several potential health risks. One of them is an irregular heartbeat.

4. Various other side effects

Science has shown that hCG can cause side effects such as the following:

  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Edema or fluid accumulation
  • The formation of blood clots
  • Enlarged breasts in men

Calorie restriction can also lead to loss of muscle mass, adverse effects on mental and physical health, malnutrition, increased risk of kidney stones, and complications in diabetics and people with kidney disorders.

The hCG diet isn’t safe

Overall, it’s important to remember that the FDA has not approved hCG as a weight loss adjuvant. Moreover, there is no evidence to support the alleged benefits of this diet.

On the contrary, there are warnings of possible side effects due to the use of the hormone and the caloric restriction proposed by this regimen. Thus, if it’s a question of losing weight, it’s best to seek professional guidance from a doctor and a nutritionist.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.