The HCG diet combines the use of hormone supplements or injections and calorie restriction to promote weight loss. However, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the diet is safe or works in the way that supporters claim it does.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not consider HCG supplements safe for weight loss. In July 2020, they announced, “HCG is not approved without a prescription and is not approved for weight loss.”

This article will discuss the HCG diet and explore the evidence for and against its use.

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Some people use supplements for weight loss, but doctors do not recommend this.
José Antonio Luque Olmedo/Getty Images

HCG is a hormone that the female body produces during pregnancy to help the fetus develop. Doctors sometimes prescribe HCG injections for treating fertility issues in females and hormone problems, such as hypogonadism, in males.

The HCG diet first became popular in the 1950s. Its promoters claimed that taking HCG could reduce feelings of hunger and support weight loss by redistributing body fat from the thighs, stomach, and hips.

According to the FDA, the proponents of popular diet products containing HCG claim that they can reset the body’s metabolism and fix “abnormal eating patterns.”

The manufacturers of these products also claim that the HCG diet promotes weight loss of up to a pound per day. However, there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims.

According to a commentary in the International Journal of Obesity, no research has shown that the HCG hormone has any effects on weight loss. Furthermore, it may be unsafe for some people and in certain dosages.

What is HCG, and what role does it play in pregnancy tests?

Experts say that the HCG diet is neither safe nor effective. The FDA advise people to avoid any over-the-counter (OTC) products that say that they contain HCG.

HCG has FDA approval as a prescription medication for treating fertility issues, but they warn against using it for weight loss. The FDA have not approved HCG in any form for OTC sale.

The use of HCG can cause a range of potential side effects, including:

  • mood changes
  • fluid buildup in bodily tissues
  • enlarged breasts in males
  • blood clots

Another concerning aspect of the HCG diet is that its promoters often recommend that people severely restrict their calorie intake to around 500 per day.

Although a very-low-calorie diet (VLCD) may promote short-term weight loss, it puts people at risk of potentially serious side effects, including:

One 2015 review identified 12 studies that reported that weight loss was no greater in people following a VLCD who took HCG than in those following a VLCD who took a placebo.

The researchers concluded that HCG:

  • is not effective in supporting weight loss
  • does not redistribute fat
  • does not alleviate hunger

People who follow the HCG diet typically limit their calorie intake to around 500 per day. They also take HCG as oral drops, pellets, or sprays or receive injections. Manufacturers market these products as being “homeopathic.”

However, this is misleading and potentially dangerous. In addition, consuming 500 calories per day is a very low energy intake. Restricting calories to this extent may be harmful for the body. Also, there is no evidence to suggest that the supplements are safe or beneficial.

Is a 500-calorie diet safe? Find out here.

In the United States, it is illegal to sell OTC products containing HCG. This restriction also includes homeopathic HCG products.

By May 2016, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission had already issued seven warning letters to companies that marketed products claiming to contain the hormone. These companies had violated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The HCG hormone is legal when a doctor prescribes it in injection form. The FDA approve HCG as a treatment for female infertility and male hormone issues.

Sometimes, doctors may prescribe HCG for unapproved weight loss purposes. There is no evidence to suggest that this is effective, and it may cause several adverse reactions.

There is no evidence to support taking HCG to promote weight loss, and using the hormone may cause side effects.

According to some research, reported side effects of HCG include:

  • depression
  • a buildup of fluid in bodily tissues, or edema
  • fatigue and lack of energy
  • enlarged breasts in males, or gynecomastia
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • blood clots, or thromboembolism

Taking HCG can also affect the result of pregnancy tests, which work by detecting HCG in a person’s urine.

Another potential risk can occur during a medical emergency if doctors are unaware of the person’s HCG diet.

Severe calorie restriction can also cause adverse effects, such as:

Low calorie diets may boost weight loss in the short-term, but some research suggests that they may have adverse effects on a person’s mental and physical health. A person is also likely to regain the lost weight after they stop following the diet.

Those who experience side effects from following the HCG diet or using HCG supplements should see their doctor immediately.

Also, the FDA recommend that people only follow a VLCD under proper medical supervision.

The HCG diet combines the use of hormone supplements or injections and severe calorie restriction to promote weight loss. However, there is no research to support this diet being either safe or effective.

In the U.S., HCG is a prescription-only drug, and companies that market HCG products for weight loss are breaking the law.

Although people following the HCG diet may initially lose weight, this appears to be entirely due to the severe calorie restriction rather than the effects of the hormone. Eating just 500 calories per day is neither healthy nor sustainable, and it can cause serious adverse effects.

People who wish to lose weight should speak to a doctor or dietitian for advice and information. An experienced healthcare provider can help a person develop a sustainable weight loss plan that works for their individual needs.

However, these measures may not be suitable for everyone, so it is essential that a person speaks to a professional before making significant dietary or lifestyle changes.