The HCG diet: Effective but controversial



Posted on November 2, 2009 at 11:29 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 8:41 PM

For years, Judy Carey has hidden behind the camera lens.

When she found herself in front of the lens, she would ultimately end up Photoshopping her pictures to disguise her size, she said. But, Carey isn't the woman in those snapshots anymore after dropping from a size 14 to a six.

"I've lost 43 pounds total and feel great," she said.

Carey did it by rubbing a little cream on her wrists daily. The secret ingredient in the cream is called HCG.

"HCG is human chorionic gonadotropin," explained Dr. Robert True, a Colleyville gynecologist "It's the pregnancy hormone."

HCG is used in fertility treatments. It is also found naturally in the bodies of pregnant women.

True said the hormone, which helps ensure a developing baby gets enough calories in the womb, can also work wonders on the waistlines of women who are not pregnant.

It works on men, too.

The HCG diet is the brainchild of British endocrinologist A.T.W. Simeons. Simeons studied two groups of people, including pregnant women in India on severely low calorie diets and obese boys with pituitary problems.

Both groups were treated with HCG. Simeons discovered both groups lost fat.

He reasoned that?HCG could do the same for otherwise healthy people who want to lose weight.

In the?HCG plan, dieters are restricted to 500 calories a day of very limited and specific foods. They also take?HCG by injection or in compounded cream form.

"Your body says, 'Wow, they're not feeding me; I need to feed this baby,' because [your body] thinks you're pregnant because you've got that?HCG going into your body," True said. "And, if it thinks you're pregnant, it's going to force your body to pull the nutrients from the stored areas of fat in your body. It's going to force that to happen."

True said fat calories coursing through the bloodstream make people feel like they've just eaten.

"And with calories in your bloodstream, your appetite center says, 'Look, I've got all this food around here. I don't need to stimulate your appetite,'" he said. "So, your appetite goes down and you feel great."

Believers say the?HCG and calorie restriction together set the body up for extreme weight loss. That loss can range from one to two pounds per day, according to advertisements.?A one-month prescription for the drug typically costs about $150.

Recently, the Internet has been filled with unregulated?HCG products at bargain basement prices. But, many doctors caution about buying the products through the Internet because many may contain little or no actual HCG.

Several reputable medical studies,?including one in the Journal of the American Medical Association, warn against the controversial diet and have called it "ineffective" and "worthless."

Judy Carey went from a size 14 to a size six.

HCG is also not FDA approved for weight loss. Doctors must prescribe it off label for that use.

Many physicians also warn that any near starvation plan can be risky. Dieters can suffer dangerous vitamin deficiencies or electrolyte imbalances, causing life threatening health problems.

True insists that his patients come in twice monthly for blood tests and follow-up examinations, which can mean hundreds of dollars in additional costs over the course of the diet.

For Karen Weaver, losing 13 pounds in 20 days without feeling tired or hungry was worth it. Weaver said she has tried various diets over the years.

"It is the easiest diet," she said. "I never thought when he told me that I would be eating 500 calories a day that I could do it."

It wasn't as easy for Carey.

"Some of the other friends I had were never hungry," Carey said. "But, I was a little bit hungry. So, it was a little hard staying on track."

According to the plan, the body builds up a tolerance to HCG, so dieters must take a break every six weeks or so.

Carey lost 28 pounds during the first 40-day diet period. The next time around, she dropped another 15, but quit when she reached her goal weight. She has kept the weight off for several months.

"I've lost 43 total and?I feel really good about myself," she said.? "My confidence is up and I'm really happy because I'm off my blood pressure medication."

Now, Carey said she no longer dreads stepping out from behind the lens and getting in front of it.