Take a “natural” hormone that the body produces during pregnancy – and lose a massive amount of weight? This promise has made the hCG diet, named after the hormone, a never-ending hype. Proponents of the hCG diet claim that hCG changes the metabolism in such a way that you can lose up to half a kilo a day on an extremely low-calorie diet without feeling hungry or weak.

Anyone who has ever dieted knows that there are useful methods for losing weight, for example a balanced diet and exercise. But there are also more radical methods. These include various diet products that promise quick weight loss but contain potentially dangerous ingredients or recommend practices that are harmful to health. One example is slimming products containing HCG, which are marketed with the recommendation to follow a particularly strict diet.

HCG is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy. Weight loss products containing hCG are usually marketed in conjunction with a very low calorie diet, where calorie intake is limited to 500 calories per day. Many of these popular hCG products advertise a “change in metabolism”, a “change in abnormal eating habits” and weight loss of 10 to 20 kilograms in 30 to 40 days.

The hCG diet is marketed with incredible claims, but these are not supported by the known scientific data. Any weight loss is due to strict calorie restriction, and not due to hCG. There is no solid evidence that hCH increases weight loss, improves fat distribution or reduces hunger on calorie-restricted diets.

On the hCG diet, you are only allowed to eat 500 calories a day for 8 weeks. The hormone hCG is administered either by injection or in the form of drops, pellets or sprays. None of these are approved by the EMA for weight loss. The injections themselves are legal as long as they are administered by a doctor. However, they are only approved to treat fertility problems. The hCG products advertised for weight loss, however, are not. In the USA, the authorities have even sent warning letters to companies selling such products.

Those on an hCG diet will not eat much during this time. The target is 500 calories a day. The diet allows two meals a day, lunch and dinner. Each meal should contain a source of protein, vegetables, bread and fruit. Grilled or fried veal, beef, chicken breast, fresh white fish, lobster, crab or shrimp are allowed as long as no visible fat is eaten. Salmon, eel, tuna, herring, dried or pickled fish are not allowed.

The following vegetables are allowed: spinach, chard, chicory, beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, fennel, onions, radishes, cucumbers, asparagus and cabbage. For bread, standard toast can be used, although some guides also recommend various baking mixes specifically for the hCG diet. The fruit can be, for example, an orange, an apple, a handful of strawberries or half a grapefruit. Water, coffee and tea are allowed in unlimited quantities. Milk: maximum one tablespoon per day. Sugar substitutes are allowed, but no sugar. Butter and oil are also taboo.

Living on just 500 calories a day, as the hCG diet suggests, is not only unhealthy, but dangerous. People on such restrictive diets are at increased risk of side effects such as the formation of gallstones, an imbalance of electrolytes that keep the body’s muscles and nerves working, and an irregular heartbeat. Such restrictive diets can be dangerous and even fatal.

Since hCG stimulates the so-called corpus luteum in the ovary to release the pregnancy hormone progesterone, it is used to treat infertility in women under certain conditions. There are also indications that hCG could be used to treat men suffering from low testosterone levels. Corresponding products are available on prescription in pharmacies. However, anyone who wants to buy hCG to lose weight with it will hardly find a doctor who will prescribe it for this purpose because the side effects of the hCG diet are simply too great compared to the unproven benefits.

Source: The hCG diet: top or flop? (in German only)