What is HCG? HCG or human chorionic gonadotropin is a protein-based hormone that supports the normal development of an egg in a woman’s ovary, and stimulates the release of the egg during ovulation. HCG is used to cause ovulation and to treat infertility in women, and to increase sperm count in men. HCG is also used in young boys when their testicles have not dropped down into the scrotum normally. This can be caused by a pituitary gland disorder.

HCG for Weight Loss… More recently, HCG has been in the news as a weight loss “aid.” Ads claim it “targets the fat” and “reduces cravings.” However, HCG providers prescribe a 500-calorie diet, too. A very-low-calorie-diet (defined as 800 cal/day or lower) alone would result in significant weight loss. However, there are risks associated with a VLCD, and medical monitoring is suggested as a standard of medical care. The American Society of Bariatric Physicians Position Statement on the use of VLCDs is an informative resource. http://www.asbp.org

Why do people claim they are not hungry? The decrease in hunger emphasized in HCG ads is likely attributed to the dietary emphasis on higher protein intake and/or carbohydrate restriction resulting in ketosis. These dietary regimens are associated with diminished hunger sensation. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18175736

What about HCG drops? HCG is sold as drops to be absorbed “under the tongue” or sublingually. There is a “ceiling” with regard to the size of a molecule that can be absorbed orally, and that is approximately 1500 daltons, a measure for molecular weight. HCG’s molecular weight is approximately 30,000 daltons—about six times larger than insulin, which, by the way, has to be injected. Neither insulin nor HCG can be absorbed orally.

What about homeopathic or chiroHCG sold by chiropractors? Homeopathy is based the belief that disease symptoms can be cured by small doses of substances which produce similar symptoms in healthy people. All HCG drop formulations are inert, or having no pharmacological action, due to high molecular weight. Moreover, it is the specific shape and structure of a molecule on which the hormone’s action depends. In other words, it has to fit like a “key into a lock” or nothing happens. Therefore, it would be impossible to “take a small dose” or “a segment” of a hormone and expect to cause any kind of biological action.

What if I swallow HCG? Even IF drop formulations actually contained HCG, the protein molecule would pass into the stomach where it would be broken down into small peptides and amino acids by gastric acid—just like your dinner portion of chicken—again, no potential for biological action!

What about HCG injections? HCG can be given by injection by a licensed physician under “off-label” use. However, doing so is not risk free. This medicine can increase chances of a multiple pregnancy. Some women using this medicine have developed a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), especially after the first treatment cycle. You should NOT use this medicine if you are at risk for a hormone-related cancer such as tumor of the breast, ovary, uterus, prostate, hypothalamus, or pituitary gland.

What is the FDA’s stance on HCG? Since 1975, the FDA has considered the use of HCG for weight loss to be fraudulent and requires labels for HCG to state: HCG HAS NO KNOWN EFFECT ON FAT MOBILIZATION, APPETITE OR SENSE OF HUNGER, OR BODY FAT DISTRIBUTION. HCG HAS NOT BEEN DEMONSTRATED TO BE EFFECTIVE ADJUNCTIVE THERAPY IN THE TREATMENT OF OBESITY. THERE IS NO SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE THAT IT INCREASES WEIGHT LOSS BEYOND THAT RESULTING FROM CALORIC RESTRICTION, THAT IT CAUSES A MORE ATTRACTIVE OR “NORMAL” DISTRIBUTION OF FAT, OR THAT IT DECREASES THE HUNGER AND DISCOMFORT ASSOCIATED WITH CALORIE-RESTRICTED DIETS.

Has the Federal Trade Commission taken action? In 1976, the FTC ordered the Simeon Management Corporation, Simeon Weight Clinics Foundation, Bariatrics Management Corporation, C.M. Norcal, Inc., and HCG Weight Clinics Foundation and their officers to stop claiming that their HCG-based programs were safe, effective, and/or approved by the FDA for weight-control. Although the order did not stop the clinics from using HCG, it required that patients who contract for the treatment be informed in writing that: THESE WEIGHT REDUCTION TREATMENTS INCLUDE THE INJECTION OF HCG, A DRUG WHICH HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED BY THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION AS SAFE AND EFFECTIVE IN THE TREATMENT OF OBESITY OR WEIGHT CONTROL. THERE IS NO SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE THAT HCG INCREASES WEIGHT LOSS BEYOND THAT RESULTING FROM CALORIC RESTRICTION, THAT IT CAUSES A MORE ATTRACTIVE OR “NORMAL” DISTRIBUTION OF FAT, OR THAT IT DECREASES THE HUNGER AND DISCOMFORT ASSOCIATED WITH CALORIE-RESTRICTIVE DIETS.

What is the opinion of physicians trained in obesity management? In 2009, the American Society of Bariatric Physicians issued a position statement which stated:

Numerous clinical trials have shown HCG to be ineffectual in producing weight loss. HCG injections can induce a slight increase in muscle mass in androgen-deficient males. The diet used in the Simeons method provides a lower protein intake than is advisable in view of current knowledge and practice. There are few medical literature reports favorable to the Simeons method; the overwhelming majority of medical reports are critical of it. Physicians employing either the HCG or the diet recommended by Simeons may expose themselves to criticism from other physicians, from insurers, or from government bodies.

What have the studies on HCG revealed? A meta-analysis of eight controlled and 16 uncontrolled trials that measured the effect of HCG in the treatment of obesity shows no benefit to using HCG. It was concluded that there is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight-loss of fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being.

Lijesen GK et al. The effect of human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 49:237–243, 1995.