The HCG Diet: Fact vs. Fiction

By Pieter Cohen, MD, Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School

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What about the hCG injections – doesn’t that make the diet more effective?

No. Promoters of the hCG diet claim that when people are injected with hCG hormone they don’t feel hungry even though they’re not eating. The idea of using hCG injections to curb appetite was introduced over 50 years ago and has been carefully studied in over a dozen well-done trials. Every single well-done trial showed that the hCG injections were no better than injecting a salt-water placebo. In other words, people injected with hCG lost the same amount of weight as people injected with a salt-water placebo.

If hCG injections don’t make you lose more weight, do they make the diet safer?

Unfortunately, the injections don’t make starving yourself any safer and, in fact, might make it more dangerous. Since the use of hCG has been shown to be no better than salt-water injections for weight loss, it is not used by mainstream physicians for weight loss. Therefore the safety of injecting a pregnancy hormone into women (and men!) when they are eating so few calories has never been studied. Although hCG injections could have long-term health effects, the truth is we just don’t know.

People on the hCG diet say they don’t feel hungry. If it doesn’t work, how can that be?

It turns out that when it comes to hunger, humans are very suggestible. Probably earlier this week you weren’t at all hungry until someone starting talking about a favorite food or you lost your appetite at the sight of unappealing food. When we want to believe that a shot, whether it’s of saltwater or hormones, will make our hunger go away, our hunger sometimes does go away.

Does it really matter if it’s the medicine or the power of suggestion? If the shot helps with dieting, isn’t it worth a try?

The extreme calorie restriction is known to cause serious health problems and the safety of hCG injections in this setting is completely unknown.

Pieter Cohen, MD

Article written by Pieter Cohen, MD
Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School