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HCG: Diet Dilemma

HCG has been grabbing the attention of dieters around the world with promises of dropping pounds quickly. But with the promises also come a lot of questions about whether it’s effective and safe.

HCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin and is produced by pregnant women. It’s supposed to release fat from your body so you can use it as fuel, meaning you need fewer calories and lose less muscle mass.

Huntsville resident Kylie Smith is a big fan of HCG. She had tried a number of other products, many making her shaky and uncomfortable. She thought she’d give HCG a try after her friend had luck on the diet. Kylie got her HCG through a diet practitioner. She took drops three times a day and was only allowed a 500 calorie diet from a very specific menu. But she says she was never hungry. “I felt great! I felt it was more like a cleanse.” Kylie adds, “I woke up in the morning before my alarm; I wasn’t tired.” Kylie lost 40 pounds in a year.

But not everyone is sold on the benefits of HCG. Todd Foreman is a Bariatric Surgeon in the Huntsville area. He says, “As a surgeon who doesn’t prescribe it, I don’t believe there’s any evidence that it works well.” Foreman goes on to say, “I think that most of the HCG that’s on the market is not really the hormone that is known as HCG.” Foreman says it’s a homeopathic mix of herbs and other supplements, which is sold as HCG.

The FDA agrees. HCG is FDA approved to treat infertility, but not as a weight loss supplement. Just last December, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission issued seven letters to companies marketing over-the-counter HCG products labeled as homeopathic for weight loss. The letters warn the companies they’re violating federal law by selling drugs that have not been approved and are making unsupported claims.

Dr. Zach LaBoube has a franchise that uses HCG to help patients lose weight and says there’s a big difference between the prescription and homeopathic HCG.

LaBoube explains, “The prescription HCG is compounded at pharmacies across the country. It’s a bioidentical hormone which means it’s an exact replica of the real HCG that’s produced by a pregnant woman.”

LaBoube says the homeopathic version is much weaker. He says it’s a combination of small concentrations of the HCG hormone and then, generally, a combination of B vitamins and other things that spark the metabolism a bit. He says, “They’re two completely different products.”

You can go to your local Walmart and find homeopathic HCG on the shelves. You can also find it all over the internet, but you don’t always know what’s in it.

There are also warnings about eating a 500 calorie a day diet.

Foreman explains, “It can have effects on the heart, can have effects on the kidneys, causing kidney damage, significant muscle wasting.” He goes on to say that if people lose a lot of their muscle mass, down the road it will make it harder to maintain weight loss. “As they put weight back on, it’s more likely to be put back on as body fat.”

There are also warnings from the FDA of gallstones, an imbalance of electrolytes, and an irregular heartbeat on a 500 calorie a day diet.

But according to Dr. LaBoube, who puts his patients on more of an 800-1000 calorie a day diet, his patients are doing just fine and losing 20-30 pounds in a month.

“Very few side effects. Really none at all.” LaBoube adds, “If you look at it this way, the placenta of a pregnant woman produces over a million units a day of HCG. The amount that we’re prescribing is anywhere from 100 to 200 units per day. So it’s just a small, small fraction of what a pregnant woman produces on a daily basis.”

And what about that weight? Won’t it come back plus a few friends? Dr. LaBoube says it’s about changing your lifestyle after you’ve lost the weight. “If you lose weight on a diet and you go back to eating 3000 calories a day of junk food, you’re obviously going to put the weight back on.”

Kylie agrees. She has her own warning not to try the diet without someone who can coach you on what to eat. “Go to a clinic, go to a diet practitioner, go to somebody that has the knowledge. Don’t go to Walmart. It’s not the real stuff.”

Without strong research showing HCG is effective, many doctors are still warning patients against either form of HCG.

Dr. Foreman says, “I think HCG for most patients is not going to be a wise use of their money. I think it’s going to make the person selling it some money, but it’s not going to be very effective for the person who’s buying it.”