Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: What do you know about the HCG diet?

Q. I've been trying to lose weight for a long time and nothing seems to work. What do you know about the HCG diet?

A. The HCG diet is a weight-loss plan that combines daily injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) with severe calorie restriction — only 500 calories per day. HCG is a hormone that's released in large quantities during pregnancy and can be extracted from the urine of pregnant women. It was first promoted as a weight-loss aid in the 1950s by British physician Dr. Albert T. Simeons, who claimed that the HCG regimen caused the body to preferentially burn stored fat, especially fat from the stomach, hips, and thighs. He also said that HCG dieters would lose more fat than muscle and would not be as hungry or irritable as you might expect. In 1954, Simeons reported that he had treated 500 patients and found that those who followed the HCG weight-loss plan for 40 days lost 20 to 30 pounds without feeling weak or excessively hungry.

Since then, the HCG diet has been studied in randomized trials that have included control groups receiving a placebo (saline) injection instead of HCG. In almost every case, researchers found that any weight loss was entirely due to the low-calorie diet. A meta-analysis (combined analysis) of 24 studies published in 1995 concluded that there is no scientific evidence that HCG causes weight loss, redistributes fat, reduces hunger, or creates a feeling of well-being.

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