An Inside Look At The HCG Diet: Experts Weigh In

We're about to enter the height of the weight-gaining season. Many will include dropping pounds in their New Year's Resolution, and as we Americans know, when it comes to losing weight, patience is not our virtue. So, when I heard about the hCG Diet. I was curious. It's wildly popular in Texoma. Both women and men are taking the hCG hormone to lose weight, while eating just 500 calories a day. But, is it really safe to drop your caloric intake so dramatically? Is it safe to take a hormone like that? We've constantly been told, there's no quick fix and it is all about how much you consume. So we went to the experts on this one and their opinions vary widely.
"The diet itself is a 500 calorie diet which sounds really scary, but it's not," said Dr. Lynn Jennings, a M.D. with Champions Clinic in Wichita Falls. It's 500 calories plus hCG (human chorionic gonadotripin). That's the hormone that's produced during pregnancy. It's given either by injection, nasal spray or lingual drops for 23 or 40 days, depending on how much weight you want to lose.

Dr. Jennings has been practicing medicine for 25 years. Not only does she recommend the diet, she's done it. She lost 22 pounds and has kept off 20 for more than a year. "It's amazing. It really is. It's really cool."

But, not everyone agrees with the science behind the diet. Jena Brown, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian says, "It's crazy! The hormone is only produced in a woman's body during pregnancy and there's a reason for that. I do consider it a dangerous diet because it's not normal for you to eat only 500 calories a day. It's not normal for you to take a hormone that's only produced during pregnancy. 500 calories a day is not even enough to support vital body organ functioning."

Dr. Jennings disagrees. She says you do get enough calories, because while taking hCG, your body accesses nutrients from your fat cells. Dr. Jennings says, "People who are opponents of the diet say anybody on a 500 calorie a day diet is going to lose weight. I say yeah. Yeah, you're going to lose weight but you're also going to be miserable. You're going to be tired. You're going to have all the bad side effects that come with trying to starve."

Side effects that Brown says include bad breath, weakness and possibly higher cholesterol; all associated with being on a ketogenic diet, basically starving your body of carbohydrates and sugars.

Dr. Jennings says the only side effect she's seen is hair loss. It happens to about 5% of hCG dieters. Dr. Jennings says it happens to people who go into the diet already nutrient deficient. Brown however isn't sold on that idea. She says, "It sounds great because you're burning fat and anyone would be attracted to that, but you have to think about the long-term effects."

Long term effects like metabolic function. As any yo-yo dieter knows, drastically changing your eating habits and weight eventually leads to a slower metabolism. But, Dr. Jennings says this diet won't decrease your metabolism. "Whatever thyroid function you go into the diet with, that's what you'll have when you come out."

Sandy McCalip says she's battled with her weight her entire life. Since starting the hCG diet in January, she's lost 55 pounds. "I don't want to ever go back to where I was. I just can't even imagine that that's how I was, that I looked like that." As a nurse, Sandy said she did a lot of research before starting the hCG weight loss plan. But after trying many of the diets out there, she decided to give this one a shot. "I had never experienced weight-loss like I did with hCG."

Sandy has completed three rounds of hCG and says she didn't have any side effects, just the mental anguish of sticking to such a rigid plan with limited variety. "With each round I did, it became more difficult."

But as the pounds melted off, her will power persevered.

As far as long term weight loss, both our experts agreed, as with any diet, keeping it off requires effort. Brown says, "You have to change your lifestyle. It's a long term commitment."

"It's not perfect. Honestly, if you go back to eating excessively you're eventually going to put the weight back on," says Dr. Jennings.

"It all boils down to calories in, calories out. You must eat less and exercise more," says Brown.

So will Sandy be able to keep the weight off long-term? She says, "I'm gonna give it my best shot."
hCG is also the hormone women take when they're trying to conceive, though the amount is considerably higher than that of the diet. So, I also asked Dr. Jennings about taking hCG while on other hormones, like birth control pills. She says to the best of her knowledge, it has no effect on fertility. But, it is recommended not to take hCG while menstruating; and as with any diet, this one is best under a doctors supervision because other medications may need to be adjusted due to the low caloric intake and change in weight. Additionally, something worth mentioning is the fact that hCG is a banned substance in professional sporting leagues. Just last month, Houston Texans player Brian Cushing tested positive for hCG and was suspended for four games. He joins a long list of professional athletes busted for the drug, something that's said to mitigate the effects of a cycle of steroids.