Dropping Pounds: Should you try the HCG Diet?

The internet is buzzing about a controversial weight-loss plan called The hCG Diet. Is this hormone-based protocol a wonder formula, or a dangerous health risk? FOF investigates.

Ask a few different medical professionals about the hCG diet and you’ll get… well, a few different answers. We know, because we asked, and that’s exactly what happened. We know that’s not what you want to hear–after all, your FOFriend just lost, like, a gazillion pounds in 3 weeks and looks great . . . But wait, wasn’t there something you heard about the FDA banning hCG? And why do all those websites that sell hCG drops look so scammy?

We spoke to two doctors who specialize in weight loss–Dr. Caroline Cederquist, MD, who is against the use of hCG for weight loss entirely, and Dr. Benjamin Gonzalez, MD, who uses hCG in his practice and swears by it. We also spoke to two FOFs about their own experiences with hCG. The good news is: there are a few universal truths about hCG–even if opinions differ. Before you buy those drops or get those shots, listen up!

What the heck is hCG anyway?

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) is a protein hormone that female bodies produce in high amounts during pregnancy allowing the fetus to survive. The idea of using hCG in combination with a 500-calorie-a-day diet for weight loss was introduced in a medical journal called The Lancet in the 1954 by Dr. Albert T.W. Simeons. The dieter injects or ingests hCG three times a day and eats a strict 500 to 550 calorie diet. “The idea is that hCG acts as an appetite suppressant and allows the body to tap into and utilize the stored fat as a source of energy and nutrition,” writes Dr. Gonzalez in his own position paper on hCG. Interest in the protocol surged in the 50s after Dr. Simeons’ article was published. In the 1970s, Dr. Simeons died and “the interest in the protocol kind of died off too,” according to Dr. Gonzalez. “However, recently there’s been a resurgence.”

Over-the-counter hCG is illegal.
An abundance of products marketed as hCG are sold over the counter including drops, pellets and shots. The manufacturers of these products claim that when combined with an extremely restrictive, low-calorie diet hCG can “reset your metabolism” or shave off “20-30 pounds in 30-40 days.” In December 2011, the FDA issued a warning to consumers stating “there is no substantial evidence hCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from the recommended caloric restriction” and that the products “are potentially dangerous even if taken as directed.” Both the FTC and FDA issued a letter to 7 manufacturers of over-the-counter hCG warning the companies that “they are violating federal law by selling drugs that have not been approved, and by making unsupported claims for the substances,” according to a press release issued by the FDA. The 7 manufacturers the FDA chose to target weren’t the only ones in violation of the law. You still may see be able to find products marketed as hCG in stores and online, but according to the FDA there are “no HCG products sold online and in stores approved for weight loss.”

Illegal or not, some women swear by it.
“My whole life, I had never been unhappy with my weight,” says FOF Sherry Ittel from Plano, Texas. Then, recently, she hit menopause and accumulated just a bit of stubborn fat that she struggled to get rid of. A friend had success using over-the-counter hCG, so, a few months ago Sherry decided she would give it a try. She bought some drops on a site called hCGdiet.com for $80. After taking the drops three times daily, combined with a strict 500-550 calorie diet, she lost her goal weight of 10 pounds in about four weeks. “I remember e-mailing my friend and saying ‘celery is not a substitute for popcorn.’ I wanted popcorn so bad,” says Sherry. “I guess a couple times I was hungry, but it wasn’t that much of an issue.”

Another FOF, Barbara Langley, from Independence, Missouri, describes herself as “overweight.” She tried dozens of diets over her lifetime–but none of them gave her the results she wanted. Then, last March, she bought hCG drops off a website called myhcgsystem.com. The diet appealed to Barbara, because, although extreme, it only required a short time commitment. “I can do anything for 23 days,” she says. Barbara lost about 40 pounds in just over three weeks. In December, she got an e-mail from the manufacturer of her hCG drops. “It said something like, ‘if you want to go on this program, you better buy your drops because the FDA will not allow them to be sold after January 1st,’” says Barbara. “It really made me concerned, like ‘what’s in these things?’ But, they offered it for some ridiculous price so I bought two bottles.”

A sample day on the 500 calorie hCG diet for FOF Barbara Langley:

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FDA officials and many medical professionals specializing in weight loss such as Dr. Caroline Cederquist, MD, director of Cederquist Comprehensive Weight Control, say that what concerns them most about this diet is not the hCG itself, but the strict calorie limit it imposes. Manufacturers and supporters of hCG claim that the hormone helps you utilize the stored fat as a source of energy and nutrition, in effect making up for the calories your diet is lacking. Dr. Cederquist disagrees: “Anytime you lower your caloric intake, you are theoretically burning stored fat. But, if you don’t have enough protein in your diet, your body will not allow you to break down fat. It will start breaking down muscle tissue to meet your nutritional needs.” Dr Cederquist says that the muscle could be from your arms and legs, but even more worrisome, “it could be the protein in your heart.”  According to a press release issued by the FDA, “consumers on such restrictive diets are at increased risk for side effects that include gallstone formation, an imbalance of the electrolytes that keep the body’s muscles and nerves functioning properly, and an irregular heartbeat…A very low calorie diet should only be used under proper medical supervision.”

Doctor-administered hCG–is it safe?
Following a 500-calorie diet without guidance from a physician is almost universally frowned upon. But, the safety of using hCG under the supervision of a doctor has fueled the hottest debate yet–with everyone from Dr. Oz to Oprah forming and sharing opinions on the matter.

Dr. Benjamin Gonzalez, MD, says that five years ago, he believed hCG was “crap,” but now he prescribes it to select patients through his practice, Atlantis Medical Wellness Center in Silver Spring, MD. Dr. Gonzales says that after a family member asked him his advice on the diet, he ran trials on his office staff and “basically did a 180,” on his opinion of the drug. “It was eye-opening,” he says. “After treating hundreds of patients successfully, I’m a convert.”

Does Dr. Gonzalez worry about putting his patients on such a restrictive diet? “hCG is medication that helps your body change how it burns your own fat,” says Dr. Gonzales. “If you went on a 500- or 600-calorie-a-day diet without the hCG, it’s absolutely true [you’d be at risk for muscle breakdown], but what the hCG provides is protection from that along with an appetite suppressing type of feeling.” Sounds like a miracle! Could it be? Dr. Cederquist doesn’t think so. She references a study from the “70s or 80s” where one group of patients was restricted to 500 calories with hCG and other group of patients was restricted to 500 calories without it. “There was no significant difference between the two,” says Dr. Cedequist. Dr. Gonzalez agrees that studies on hCG have been published suggesting the effects of hCG are bogus, but calls them “small, not very good studies… No one is going to put a couple million dollars toward studies on something such as hCG that makes them pennies.”

Furthermore, Dr. Gonzalez is adamant about making a distinction between the hCG he prescribes in his office and that which is sold over the counter. “A lot of people will buy the hCG online and you don’t even know if it’s actually hCG or not, and it usually is not,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “I have patients come in here and say ‘I just want the hCG, can’t you just give me the hCG and I’ll do the rest?’ No way. It has to be done by a doctor or nurse who is experienced with the protocol.”  Dr. Gonzalez conducts careful screenings of his patients before prescribing them hCG and checks in with them frequently while they are using it. The whole protocol for 39 days including the initial screening, labs, the shots and weekly follow up appointments done under his supervision costs a patient approximately $900.

He prescribes the hCG “off-label” which means that it is not approved by the FDA for weight loss although it is approved for other uses, such as fertility issues. Prescribing drugs off-label is a fairly common medical practice (read more about off-label prescriptions), but controversial as well, depending on the drug and the problem it’s treating.

“We know it’s very safe since it has been studied for these other conditions,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “They haven’t approved hCG for weight loss but not one single death nor long term side effect has surfaced in the 50 years of use.”

The bottom line:
When it comes to doctor-administered hCG, buyer beware. Past studies on using the hCG hormone paired with a low-calorie diet for weight loss are too limited to be conclusive. There is a lot more research in this area that needs to be done. When it comes to over-the-counter hCG, stay away. These products have been deemed “potentially dangerous” and “illegal” by the FDA.

0 Responses to “Dropping Pounds: Should you try the HCG Diet?”

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  3. Dawn says:

    I have done the HCG diet 3 times since March 2011. I have lost a total of 62 lbs and went from a size 20 to a size 7! Since I can no longer get the HCG I did switch to the Dynamite 180. It is exactly the same load, protocol, maintenance as the HCG so again the pounds are falling off. I just started my 3 week maintenance and lost another 17 lbs and am now in a size 5 and preparing to wear a biniki for the first time in over 20 years. I am 44 years old and look better now than in my 30’s. Unfortunately people, you need to look in the mirror when you say that you “gained all the weight back”. I can guarantee it is because you are eating the way you did prior to starting the HCG or 180 diets. These are NOT DIETS…THEY ARE LIFE STYLE CHANGES. You cannot eat pie, cake, icecream, pizza, tacos, etc every day of the week and large quanitites and expect to stay the same weight you did when you ended the diet. You have to maintain some sort of control. I promise you that if you go back to the way you ate before, you will look like you did before. The only thing that made you gain the weigtht back….is YOU. Remember all the hard work you did and ask yourself “is this just a temporary fix or a life time fix?” Then maybe you will not gain back the weight you worked so hard to lose. Good luck to all of you and remember to be honest with yourselves. The HCG didnt gain the weight back…you did.

  4. Kristin Drohan says:

    Great investigative reporting.

  5. Pam says:

    I tried the hcg diet and it works but I believe it works because you eat 500 calories a day not because of the drops. I was hungry most of the 23 days I stayed on it and I promptly gained the 13 lbs back I had lost. I suggest trying the Dukan Diet…it is safer and easier.

  6. Ramona says:

    We used the HCG homepathetic from Dynamite Maarketing, called Dynamite 180. In 2 months 3 of us lost 104 pounds. We felt so good. Dynamite is a very reputable company who speciales in organic healthy products for animals and people. We followed their protocol and had their support throughout. I highly recommend it and I am a nurse. Check it out: http://www.dynamitemarketing.com\simonshalom

  7. Maria Comfort says:

    Two of my friends have had successful weight loss on the hCG diet. One took 40 days to lose 15 pounds, and the other took three weeks to lose 10 pounds. In both cases, they love the diet. For myself, I wonder if with only 500 calories a day how you cannot lose weight!

  8. FOF Editor says:

    Hi Ramona,

    Thanks for sharing. I just want to make a note though so that there is no confusion–ALL over-the-counter HCG products including the one you are recommending are now deemed illegal by the FDA.

  9. FOF Editor says:

    Hi Maria —

    I am curious — did they use the over-the-counter hCG (now deemed unsafe by the FDA)? Or did they do it with the guidance of a physician?

  10. FOF Editor says:

    Good point, Pam. There is ongoing debate whether or not the diet works because of the hCG or because of the restrictive calorie diet.

  11. Ramona says:

    Dynamite 180 was not deemed illegal. They have met all the guidelines and are legally able to produce and sell it. You need to check your facts. Thank you

  12. Maria Comfort says:

    In both cases they bought their hCG on line from a doctor and followed his diet. I do not know the name of the doctor.

  13. Joan Sims says:

    My sister in law convinced me to buy this and try it – I was sceptical – lost some weight but was starving – put it all back on when I stopped taking it and then was diagnosed with an irregular heart beat – coincidence ? I blame myself for buying something over the internet – is being thin worth dying for ?

  14. FOF Editor says:

    Hi Ramona,

    I see that this product is not labeled as hCG so that may be how they get around the FDA crackdown.

  15. casey04 says:

    I have been mentally preparing myself to begin this program. I am a little concerned about the 500 calories a day. And I sure don’t want to regain my weight. I have voiced my concerns. However, I trust and believe in Mike, who is in charge at Natures Garden here in town. I have supplements to take along with the drops. I have a menu to follow.
    I have a list of alternative snacks I can have.
    I showed him the FDA reports, etc. I will start on Saturday. thanks,

  16. Hooper says:

    Dynamite 180 DOES NOT contain any hormones. It is not HCG. 180 IS a combination of homeopathic and herbal ingredients and 180 works!!!

  17. JunieB says:

    I tried it twice! I bought over the counter drops from a reputable health store who also included B6 drops & a booklet with recipes etc. As I don’t eat meat it was hard to follow the menu pan (they did give alternatives for veggies like me) I lost about 3 pounds the first week but by the end of the 2nd week I was cheating as the diet was too restrictive.
    After reading about the wheat belly diet here on FOF I tried it & I am loving it! I lost 10 pounds in about 3 weeks & these are the 10 pounds I have been trying to lose since menopause ! I cheated a little & gained back about 3 pounds so I am back on it. I am not hungry & it didn’t cost me anything as I didn’t buy the book, just read about here & on the website!

  18. Theresa Cormier says:

    I am in the midst of a new weight loss regime. Being over 50 those pounds which i could get rid of by intense exercising and diet change is , alas, no more.

    This is just the boost onw would need to get over that hump. Along with the exercise this would have me back in my favorite white dress for spring in no time.

  19. laclay says:

    Scary. I think I would lose a lot on 500 calories a day without the drops. As soon as you stop using them the weight will likely come back if you don’t change your diet. I love to eat and cook-I’ll just keep my middle age spread!

  20. Maria Comfort says:

    I just received this answer from my friend who has lost weight. You can go to this website for more information: http://www.thinkhcgdietbook.com.

  21. Roxanne says:

    This product can still be purchased At GNC stores online.

  22. Roxanne says:

    I think losing 10 pds in 3 weeks and 15 in 40 days would be possible w/o using hgc! Weight Watchers seems like a much more realistic way to drop the pounds without limiting your calorie intake to 500 a day.

  23. Suzy Lucernoni says:

    I’ve done the hcg diet and it really worked. It takes the fat right off your stomach. I lost 25 pounds in 6 weeks and it was like watching the fat melt away. The down side to the diet is that you have to follow the rules and they are hard rules. If you cheat, you don’t lose any weight and you feel like a balloon. You have to be totally committed to the diet for it to work. It helps if you do it with a friend because you’ll need support.

  24. FOF Editor says:

    Thanks for sharing this link, Maria. However, all HCG sold online or in stores is now deemed illegal by the FDA. The only HCG that is legal is if you get a prescription from a doctor.

  25. FOF Editor says:

    That is true Roxanne. The FDA has deemed it illegal, but many manufacturers are still producing it and stores are still selling it!

  26. Maria Comfort says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with you. It should be by a doctor’s prescription. My daughter took injections from a doctor about twenty years ago, and it helped her. But then she went wholistic, is doing better.

  27. Maria Comfort says:

    Yes, I agree. I once went on 500 calories a day, and lost 20 pounds in one month. Had no other additives. Had an egg for breakfast, a hard boiled egg with a cup of boullion for lunch, and a piece of meat and salad for dinner. It worked.

  28. Barbara Langley says:

    I am the person mentioned in the article, which I think is well written and presents two sides. It is up to you to make the decision. Forgot to mention that it is basically, 2 fruit (apple, strawberries, orange) 2 protein (fish, chicken, beef, cottage cheese) 2 veggies (asparagus, spinach, lettuce, onion, chard, celery more) 2 Melba toast. After 23 days you go on maintenance, which is basically, no sugar and no starch, after about two weeks, you can slowly add this to your diet, and if you put on those pounds (more than 2 lbs) then declare an apple day and take them off. You can stay on the program longer than 23 days, but I could not do it. I wish you all success and think thin!

  29. Ben Gonzalez, MD says:

    Pam, were you prescribed the hCG by a physician and did you do the injections or did you do the drops or pills?

  30. Ben Gonzalez, MD says:

    Ramona, You are correct. However, Dynamite 180 is not the hCG medication. And there is no true homeopathic hCG. If you look at the official Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia or the Homeopathic Medicine Index there is no official homeopathic hCG listed. Many of these types of over the counter hCG and “homeopathic hCG” have other ingredients that enable weight loss or appetite suppression TEMPORARILY.” Long term weight loss is the issue.

  31. Ben Gonzalez, MD says:

    Yes, Very low calorie diet you will lose weight. However, they are in general unsafe and they are difficult to follow because of the starvation state that they tend to put people in. The idea behind the hCG medication is to avoid that state. This is why people tend to feel good while on the hCG and those people who are not on the actual hCG tend to feel badly. Again, these are general statements.

  32. Ben Gonzalez, MD says:

    Excellent point. DO NOT BUY ‘hcg.” It is not likely hCG and you will tend to go in a starvation state and lower your overall metabolism and gain the weight back if not more….

    • Joe says:

      I have used HCG drops that I got from a licensed physician in Florida, so far I have lost 20 pounds in two weeks. HCG works, many people are criticizing it because its one of few truly effective diets for weight loss. I tend to be the kind of person if I do not eat for a few hours, I become ravenously hungry. Under HCG I do not feel as strong an urge to eat, even the sight and smell of food does not make me want a to eat. I went to a restaurant today with two friends and all I had was a Diet Coke with lemon while my friends feasted, they could not believe that I did not want to eat. Normally this would not happen, so I am sure the HCG is having an affect on my body and my appetite, I am really using my excess body for nutrition during this diet.

  33. Ben Gonzalez, MD says:

    Make sure it is the actual hCG medication that is being prescribed to you and that you are being followed by a physician.

  34. Ben Gonzalez, MD says:

    It is not hCG medication. It is junk. I know those products very well. Look at the ingredients……..

  35. casey04 says:

    Appreciate your input…thanks for your time.

  36. Joan Sims says:

    So the 500 calorie diet is what possibly damaged my heart muscle ? Is this reversible ?
    I have seen a cardiologist but never thought to mention the diet.

  37. Ben Gonzalez, MD says:

    Those questions need to be answered in context with your EKG, labs, history and physical exam. Bring any medications/labels/bottles of hCG and supplements or appetite suppressants you are taking. In the 5 years I have prescribed hCG in this setting I have never seen one single long term negative side effect directly related to the hCG medication.

  38. Nursesing says:

    I would probably try just about anything to lose the 50 pounds extra that I carry. I just wonder if it can be done safely with hcg. I would be quite willing to try it, if it is safe.

  39. Pam says:

    I bought the drops at a local health store

  40. Ben Gonzalez, MD says:

    You were hungry and you gained the weight back because it was not actual hCG medication that was used. There was no hCG in the bottle. I bet the label may even actually say “there is no hormone in this product” or something to that effect. The protocol MUST include the actual medication for the appropriate effect on your physiology/metabolism to occur. Otherwise, you are just doing a very low calorie diet which only allows you to lose weight/muscle mass in a starvation state. You end up slowing your metabolism overall and may even gain more weight than you originally lost. Not good…..

  41. Ben Gonzalez, MD says:

    It is important to note that this is not a diet to follow on your own. This is a protocol that must be provided by a physician with experience in functional medicine and the protocol itself. It does work safely and can be very effective. It is NOT for everyone and should NEVER be bought over the internet. There is no such thing as hCG over the counter. It cannot be purchased at any store. Read the labels.

  42. VJ says:

    Just like with any other “diet” the weight will come back on when you return to normal eating. Losing and keeping weight off is a lifetime commitment of healthy eating and smaller portions.
    The key to losing and keeping off weight is to not go on a “diet.” It is using more calories than you consume. There are no quick weight loss secrets. Yes, some of these will cause the weight to come off, and sometimes very quickly… and then it comes right back on.
    We American’s have gotten so used to eating large quantities of food that we seem to think that is how we should be able to eat all the time.
    If you’ve ever wondered why most Japanese people are thin, there is a pretty good reason. They eat well but very small portions. I spent 12 days there a few years ago and was amazed at how little the portions were.
    My cousin was on a diet about a year ago. She had lost about 15 pounds (she needs to lose over 100) when she invited me out to breakfast. I had my normal special order of two scrambled eggs, cooked in olive oil (at least that is what I asked for!), salsa, fresh fruit, no bread and two glasses of water. She had gravy, fried eggs and biscuits. Oh, least I forget to mention, a diet coke!!! Another thing that is ruining our health! Diet drinks!!! OMG! A crime on the human race.
    It’s simple, really. We must change the way we feel about the foods we eat. 500 calories a day? Really? Instead of that, why not cut out the unhealthy foods you eat, add fresh vegetables, fresh fruits and eat smaller quantities. Is it harder than stopping by your local fast food drive through because you are too tired to even think about fixing a health dinner? Yeah. It is.
    I will get off my soap box now.

  43. VJ says:

    Me Again.
    I forgot to mention that it took me a year to lose 80 pounds. In the 6 months since, I have gained back 5 pounds. I attribute that to my return to a glass of red wine each evening with dinner.
    I NEVER drink a soda of any kind. The only drink I consume besides my wine is water. I NEVER eat fast food. Losing and keeping weight off is possible. I even have dessert on occasion. It’s called portion control.

  44. The Most Selfish Woman in America says:

    My suggestion is to stay as true to nature as possible. No added chemicals, no matter how “close to what the body naturally produces”. Messing with your hormones unnecessarily is dangerous. Our bodies have enough to deal with environmentally and from our food intake. This is where discipline comes in. Why spend the $900 when you can just restrict your calorie intake yourself and buy a great dress when you’ve reached your goal!

  45. Andrea says:

    These shots were offered in the “80’s by a “weight loss clinic”. You went in everyday for your shot. I lost a lot of weight very quickly. Looking back I was not even overweight at the time. Well, about 3 months after I stopped the shots, I ended up in the emergency room with gall bladder disease and had to have it removed=it was very very painful. Now I know why-beware!!!!!

  46. kalee123 says:

    Would love it. Need to drop 50llbs. Might seem a small amount to most, but it’s alot to me!

  47. kalee123 says:

    Where can i find a Dr who prescibs hCG in Philadelphia?


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