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The HCG Diet — Is It Dangerous?

The short answer is, yes.

The HCG diet is an unproven weight loss plan that can lead to dangerous side effects including irregular heartbeat, gall stones, blood clots, constipation, muscle cramps and more.

Depending on who you listen to, the HCG diet is either a miracle, or a dangerous fraud.

Although the HCG Diet promises weight loss of 30 pounds in 30 days, Pieter Cohen, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, describes the HCG Diet as, “reckless, irresponsible and completely irrational.”

HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone produced during pregnancy. It has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help treat fertility issues but has not been approved as a dietary supplement.

An HCG diet pairs HCG injections, pills, pellets and sprays with a seriously reduced caloric intake of 500 calories a day — about a quarter of the recommended caloric intake for a healthy person. HCG proponents claim the hormone acts as an appetite suppressant reducing the uncomfortable side effects of such a low calorie diet. Get more information about the HCG diet side effects.

The HCG diet isn’t new. A British physician wrote about it in 1954. In 2007, Kevin Trudeau brought it back into the mainstream when he produced an HCG diet infomercial. In 2008, Trudeau was fined $37 million by the Federal Trade Commission for making false and misleading claims to consumers. These false and misleading claims downplay the dangers of the HCG Diet and overstate its benefits.

HCG diet dangers

On average, adults should normally consume 2,000 to 2,800 calories a day, and even diets prescribed by physicians rarely drop much below 1000 calories a day. Dropping to 500 calories a day will result in weight loss regardless of whether the individual takes HCG or not. Unfortunately, this vastly reduced caloric intake has a dramatic impact on health.

A 500 calorie diet can lead to HCG diet dangers such as gallstones, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, constipation, pulmonary embolism, diarrhea and dizziness. At 500 calories a day, your body goes into “starvation mode,” slowing down your metabolism and forcing muscle loss, and water weight loss rather than fat loss.

Adding HCG to a low calorie diet increases physical risk. The HCG hormone is extracted from the urine of pregnant women. Many pharmacies that make HCG products do not test the urine for infectious disease such as hepatitis and HIV. Therefore, anyone taking HCG products is at greater risk of exposure to these diseases.

Dr. Michael Kaplan, founder and chief medical officer for The Center for Medical Weight Loss (CMWL), and Mayo Clinic nutritionists agree that the HCG diet, which is unproven and dangerous, is not worth the risk of HCG diet dangers such as irregular heartbeat and infectious disease. Learn more about the HCG safety for weight loss.

FDA warning label required on all HCG products

While HCG diet dangers may not deter all dieters, individuals considering the HCG diet should know that it hasn’t been proven to work. Due to the low calorie diet, dieters may lose weight, but there’s no evidence that HCG has any impact on weight loss.

In fact, the FDA requires all HCG products to carry the following label:

“HCG has not been demonstrated to be an 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.”

A better program for weight loss without the risks

Physician monitored weight loss programs are more likely to result in healthy, long-term weight loss. In May 2012, the American Journal of Medicine published research showing that obese people enrolled in a physician-led weight loss program lose an average of 28-pounds a month. The data was collected from charts of patients at The Center for Medical Weight Loss; the largest network of non-surgical medical weight loss physicians in the US.

The study also showed that 95.3% of patients weighed less than they did at the start one year later, which is significant since most with weight loss plans, individuals tend to regain all their weight, and more.

According to Dr. Kaplan, “Individuals wishing to improve their health and quality of life by losing weight an keeping it off, are much better off working with physician led weight loss programs than pursing an unproven, dangerous weight loss plan such as the HCG diet. The risks certainly do not outweigh the benefits.”

The Center for Medical Weight Loss has over 450 locations in the US. To find out if there is a Center near you, enter your zip code in the space provided.