The New York Times slogan “All the news that’s fit to print” was put to the challenge today with a front page story on the ”HCG diet”. This weight loss protocol, created by Dr. A.T.W. Simeons in 1954, is a 500 calorie per day diet eating only specific foods and 2 injections of the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) daily for 28 days. The addition of the HCG injections was not to increase weight loss, but to assuage the hunger feelings and increase fat loss in specific areas to improve body composition. Initial studies were mixed. Subsequent studies were uniformly negative for HCG improving body composition or helping with the hunger feelings during the diet.
This article also gave the HCG diet plan mixed reviews. Some patients raved that it worked well, while there was much skepticism in the medical community. I had recently done research on the diet as several of my patients wanted to try it. I read of studies done in the 1970’s and 80’s reported in JAMA, Archives of Int. Med. and Am. Journal of Clin. Nutr. all showing that in double blinded studies there was equal weight loss, no change in hunger feelings and no change in body composition in obese women on a 500 calorie per day diet with or without HCG injections. Consensus of opinion was that HCG did not add anything to the reduced calorie diet and did add risks. There have been reports of pulmonary emboli, liver failure and ovarian cysts requiring surgery in patients using HCG in this way. The HCG diet also does nothing to optimize a person’s health. Patients learn nothing about healthy eating, they don’t include exercise in their weight loss plan, and will quickly put weight back on.
While it is true that as integrative, holistic physicians we are more open- minded and inclusive in our thinking, we do need to be aware and concerned about unproven and potentially dangerous therapies being promoted by some alternative practitioners. The HCG diet is one of those therapies that our patients will now be asking about. Each of us needs to be aware of the risks and the negligible if any benefits of the HCG diet before we offer it to patients.