Before diving into the hCG diet, let’s call out that with obesity reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S., weight loss remedies have never been more lucrative. By 2015, the weight loss market is projected to hit a whopping $672 billion. With that much money at stake, it’s not surprising the amount of fakes, scams, and quacks offered as scientific fact. It has become so convoluted that even physicians, pharmacists, chiropractors, and fitness professionals have a hard time discerning fact from fiction. The poor patient, with little knowledge on how the human body works, doesn’t stand a chance.

One that has surprisingly regained prominence is the hCG diet, which was created by its founder British endocrinologist A.T.W. Simeons in the 1940s after studying boys suffering from Froehlich’s disease in India.  It’s become so popular that it’s been featured on Dr. Oz multiple times, been promoted by healthcare and fitness professionals in almost every community across the U.S., and has even been copied by several prominent weight loss physicians (with slight variations). It’s no wonder why your girlfriend has been begging you to try it.  With so much support from the medical community, can I really call it quackery?

I firmly believe in its present state, it is indeed quackery. In fact, I believe Dr. Simeons, the creator of the hCG diet, would agree with me. The versions today are nothing like the original version. The majority of the hCG diet protocols I’ve reviewed are watered down versions that are nothing more than very low calorie diets masked as the original hCG diet. They are in complete disagreement with the very essence of Dr. Simeons’ treatment protocol philosophy.

So let’s take a deeper look into hCG and its proposed weight loss benefits.

The Supporting Studies

What studies? I couldn’t find a legitimate study supporting hCG’s role in weight loss. I did find two “studies” provided by physicians that use hCG in their practice. Here is one from Dr. Emma, and here is the other one from Dr. Bryman.

 Side note:  I completely understand that it’s extremely easy to find various faults with studies. In fact, it’s almost always easier to play devil’s advocate when it comes to natural products and their benefits. However, I’m not one of those pharmacists that have to have a stack of supporting data to recommend something. Sometimes the real world is 5 years ahead of the research. Plus, if a product doesn’t have a patent, there’s no reason to throw a lot of money to prove it works.  However, at the very same time, I’m also not Dr. Oz. I won’t go scream from the mountain top just because I found a single study that showed supplement “x” did “this” in 5 rats in a Lithuania lab. My opinion is my lifeblood. It is extremely valuable yet at the same time very fragile. Patients trust me, and if I lose that trust by succumbing to quackery framed as scientific fact, I lose everything. I simply become a pill counter.

Now it doesn’t take a 4th year medical student to begin dismantling either study. Neither is very convincing, and they both have multiple faults that would make it hard to conclude anything definitive from them.

We’ll start with Dr. Emma’s study. Here it is. Originally, I thought that link was just the overview for the study, but it appears as that IS the study. It’s hard to evaluate the credibility of a study as small as that. Surprisingly though, part of her conclusion states, “HCG demonstrates no significant stimulant properties or weight loss beyond diet alone.” Interesting.

The second study from Dr. Bryman wasn’t really a study, but a retrospective analysis. Essentially the author randomly grabbed 19 patient charts from patients treated with oral hCG and 19 patient charts from patients treated with a high protein, low calorie meal replacement treatment. He then compared the results. A few problems that immediately jumped out at me:

  • A placebo wasn’t used
  • It was an extremely small study
  • It was retrospective. Correlation doesn’t mean causation.
  • The hCG group had 3 more males than the meal replacement group. If anyone has ever participated in a weight loss contest at their gym or office, they know that males lose weight much easier than females. The team that’s stacked with males almost always wins.
  • Way too many confounding variables: exercise, how were meals tracked, supplements used, prescriptions other than anorectic medications used, etc.

Are you convinced by either of those studies? Other than Dr. Simeons’ manuscript from 1954, that’s all we have supporting hCG’s role in weight loss programs. Scary isn’t it?

Oral hCG

Can hCG even be effectively absorbed orally? Fertility treatments use the injectable form, as did Dr. Simeons’ original protocol. Even Dr. Emma, a huge supporter of hCG, admits that according to her records she has yet to see where hCG is absorbed orally. I haven’t able to find a single shred of evidence that it can be.

Deviation from Original Protocol

Almost every protocol I’ve evaluated deviates from Dr. Simeons’ original work. In fact, the majority of the hCG protocols I’ve seen have completely butchered Dr. Simeons’ work to the point that they are in almost complete disagreement with the foundational philosophy behind using hCG to lose weight. Just read a few of these quotes from Dr. Simeons’ book Pounds and Inches; A New Approach to Obesity.

  • “It should also be mentioned that two small apples weighing as much as one large one never the less have a higher caloric value and are therefore not allowed though there is no restriction on the size of one apple.”
  • “The 100 grams of meat must he scrupulously weighed raw after all visible fat has been removed. To do this accurately the patient must have a letter-scale, as kitchen scales are not sufficiently accurate and the butcher should certainly not be relied upon.”
  • “The juice of one lemon daily is allowed for all purposes.”
  • “For instance, if a patient drops the apple and eats an extra breadstick instead, he will not be getting more calories but he will not lose weight. There are a number of foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, which have the same or even lower caloric values than those listed as permissible, and yet we find that they interfere with the regular loss of weight under HCG, presumably owing to the nature of their composition.”
  • “Similarly, any gain of more than 100 grams is invariably the result of some transgression or mistake, unless it happens on or about the day of ovulation or during the three days preceding the onset of menstruation, in which case it is ignored.”
  • “’I never told you this, but I have a glass eye. In fact, I have a whole set of them. I frequently change them, and every time I do that I put a special ointment in my eyesocket.. Do you think that could have anything to do with it?’ As we thought just that, we asked him to stop using this ointment, and from that day on his weight-loss was regular.”

Now does that sound like a protocol that should be altered? Dr. Simeons spent 20+ years perfecting his hCG protocol. Because of his disciplined approach, he was certain of every variable in his program. A man that was simply cleaning his glass eye altered the results from his hCG protocol. Imagine what he would say about the hCG protocols that are being promoted today.

Bottom Line: The hCG Diet

Once again, the evidence is nowhere to be found. According to Dr. Simeons, hCG releases fats into the bloodstream from abnormal fat deposits thereby allowing the patient to not be hungry despite the fact she’s on a 500 calorie-per-day diet.

This could easily be proven. I read 3 or 4 studies per week looking at fat oxidation from various exercise and nutritional protocols. Why haven’t I seen one with hCG? All it would take is one, and the argument denying hCG’s effects in weight loss would immediately come to a halt. Yet we see nothing,

I’ve also searched through all 13 of my endocrinology-related textbooks and could not find anything that supported hCG’s beneficial role in weight loss. Topics range from endocrinology to behavioral endocrinology to exercise endocrinology. Nothing.  Although I did read an interesting tidbit about hCG’s similarity to TSH. There have even been cases where high hCG levels caused hyperthyroidism. However, that would explain the appetite suppression.

On another note, I’ve had the luxury of being around two pregnant women over the last 12 months. My wife’s best friend just recently had a baby, and now my wife is pregnant.  According to Dr. Simeons, “Certain phases of her pregnancy a woman may excrete as much as one million International Units (of hCG) per day in her urine – enough to render a million infantile rats precociously mature.” With that much hCG radiating through a woman’s body, you would assume they would struggle to ever be hungry. I can tell you firsthand that isn’t true. Milkshakes, cheeseburgers, anything that’s chocolate, pizza, etc. Their appetites are ravenous. How is that possible if hCG is releasing stored fats into the bloodstream?

About Dr. Simeons

On a more positive note, I  actually admire Dr. Simeons. If you haven’t read his book Pounds and Inches: A New Approach to Obesity, you should.  When you take into account it was written in 1954, it’s quite fascinating. Dr. Simeons spent 20+ years studying obese patients, created an extremely intelligent hypothesis, tested it vigorously, and according to him, proved it worked at his practice. And this was all done without the medical technology or the evidence-based mindset we have today.  It was a radical, original, well-thought approach. Although I don’t necessarily agree with it, I’d admire him his work. And in all honesty, I don’t know if I can call his original protocol quackery. It may indeed work, but there’s no way to tell because the current versions are so far from the original they aren’t even comparable.

Conclusion

After reading all of that, do you honestly believe hCG is going to help your girlfriend get ready for bikini season?