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Health Care News & Updates          

August 19, 2011

Thinking about the hCG diet? Think again!

I've had some folks ask me what I think about the hCG diet. Here's my answer in a largish sort of nutshell.

The hCG diet seems to be all the rage now. HCG, or Human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone that is produced mainly during pregnancy. During the hCG diet a person takes hCG hormone (typically extracted from the urine of pregnant women) while adhering to an extremely low calorie diet. The hCG is supposed to convince the body use fat for fuel during the calorie restriction, while helping the dieter to not feel hungry or deprived.

As you might expect from anyone eating a mere 500 calories per day, folks on the hCG diet do lose weight. And it is quite possible, although unproven, that the hCG does help them to do it through the mechanisms mentioned above. Unfortunately, the negative aspects of this type of weight loss are rarely considered. Somehow folks have a hard time looking at anything past "will it make me lose weight". But wait a minute, isn't this exactly how we've been yo-yo dieting our way through the past 30 years while getting more and more obese? We do extreme diets, we lose weight, we finish the diet, we gain the weight back plus a little extra, then we lose it again and gain it back plus a little extra. See a pattern there?

I've got a few more issues with the hCG diet:

1. HCG is nothing new, but it's being touted as the new big secret to weight loss through really big promotional schemes (red flag!). HCG has been used since the 50's for weight loss. If it were really a miracle drug, don’t you think we'd have figured that out before now?

2. HCG is a HORMONE! Playing with one hormone disrupts the balance of all of your hormones. Our hormones all work together in concert, playing off each other, responding to one another, ideally keeping a delicate balance. And when I talk about hormones I don't just mean the sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, but insulin, cortisol, thyroid hormone and several other 'less famous' hormones as well. How much sense does it make to add in a daily dose of a hormone (and one that only pregnant women need) and potentially set off the balance of all your other hormones?

3. Whether or not the hCG is effective for weight loss, we can be pretty darn sure that the severe calorie restriction is responsible for most of the weight lost on this diet. A 500-calorie-a-day diet is just plain not smart. It's merely a way to get temporary weight loss at the expense of long-term health.

Unfortunately, we're a society that wants fast and easy results. One of these days though, and hopefully soon, we're going to realize that being at a healthy weight comes hand in hand with being a healthy person. This is not a goal achieved via drastic calorie restriction, eating nothing but grapefruits, or taking pills made from the latest exotic fruit from the Amazon jungle. It comes through good, healthy food, sleep and exercise.

If you just want to be skinnier for a period of time and you don't care about your long-term health or weight, then do the hCG diet. Otherwise, a more healthy, balanced approach is definitely in order.

Posted by: Susan Barendregt, MNT

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