HCG Worthless as Weight-Loss Aid

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG)—also spelled chrionic gonadotropin—is a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women. More than 50 years ago, Dr. Albert T. Simeons, a British-born physician, contended that HCG injections would enable dieters to subsist comfortably on a 500-calorie-a-day diet. He claimed that HCG would mobilize stored fat; suppress appetite; and redistribute fat from the waist, hips, and thighs [1]. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims [2-13]. Moreover, a 500-calorie (semi-starvation) diet is likely to result in loss of protein from vital organs, and HCG can cause other adverse effects. Gabe Mirkin, M.D., has noted:

At one time, HCG was the most widespread obesity medication administered in the United States. Some doctors liked it because it assured them of a steady clientele. Patients had to come in once a week for an injection [14].

HCH is also marketed in sublingual (under the tongue) form. No scientific tests of sublingual HCG have been published, but it is safe to assume that it would be no more effective than injected HCG.

In 2009, the American Society of Bariatric Physicians issued a position statement which stated:

Numerous clinical trials have shown HCG to be ineffectual in producing weight loss. HCG injections can induce a slight increase in muscle mass in androgen-deficient males. The diet usedin the Simeons method provides a lower protein intake than is advisable in view of currentknowledge and practice. There are few medical literature reports favorable to the Simeonsmethod; the overwhelming majority of medical reports are critical of it. Physicians employingeither the HCG or the diet recommended by Simeons may expose themselves to criticism fromother physicians, from insurers, or from government bodies [15].

Legal and Regulatory Action

In 1976, the FTC ordered the Simeon Management Corporation, Simeon Weight Clinics Foundation, Bariatrics Management Corporation, C.M. Norcal, Inc., and HCG Weight Clinics Foundation and their officers to stop claiming that their HCG-based programs were safe, effective, and/or approved by the FDA for weight-control. Although the order did not stop the clinics from using HCG, it required that patients who contract for the treatment be informed in writing that:

THESE WEIGHT REDUCTION TREATMENTS INCLUDE THE INJECTION OF HCG, A DRUG WHICH HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED BY THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION AS SAFE AND EFFECTIVE IN THE TREATMENT OF OBSITY OR WEIGHT CONTROL. THERE IS NO SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE THAT HCG INCEASES WEIGHT LOSS BEYOND THAT RESULTING FROM CALORIC RESTRICTION, THAT IT CAUSES A MORE ATTRACTIVE OR "NORMAL" DISTRIBUTION OF FAT, OR THAT IT DECREASES THE HUNGER AND DISCOMFORT ASSOCIATED WITH CALORIE-RESTRICTIVE DIETS [16].

Since 1975, the FDA has required labeling and advertising of HCG to state:

HCG has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity. There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or "normal" distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restricted diets.

In 2011, the FDA and FTC warned six companies that it is illegal to market over-the counter HCG products that are labeled as "homeopathic" for weight loss [17]. The targeted companies were:

HCG Platinum LLC was also targeted by a class-action suit which charged that the company had made weight-loss claims (such as "up to 1-2 lbs of weight loss daily") that were "unlawful, unsubstantiated, and . . . false and deceptive." [17] The class included all persons who purchased HCG Platinum, HCG Platinum Original Formula, X-30, and/or X-14 in the United States for personal consumption from December 13, 2006, through February 9, 2012. In 2012, the defendants, without admitting fault, agreed to modify their advertising and reimburse settlement class members $79.99 for each unit of HCG Platinum or HCG Platinum Original Formula; $31.99 for each unit of HCG Platinum X-14; and $58.00 for each unit of HCG Platinum X-30 [18].

In 2013, the FTC filed suit in Arizona federal court against the marketers of HCG Platinum diet products. The defendants include Kevin Wright, his companies (HCG Platinum, LLC and Right Way Nutrition, LLC), and seven relief defendants who received money from sales of the HCG product but had no active role in the alleged efforts to deceive consumers [19]. The products were marketed through Web sites, Facebook, Internet pop-up ads, and retail outlets such as GNC, Rite Aid, and Walgreens. The suit charged that Wright and his companies improperly promised consumers that HCG Platinum drops would cause rapid and substantial weight loss. One video, for example, flashed "before and after" photos on the screen with claims that product users lost as rapidly as 43 pounds in 7 weeks—which cannot be done safely and may not occur even with starvation.  

Promotion By Kevin Trudeau

Negative studies and government action reduced the use of HCG injections for weight control close to zero. However, promotion by infomercial king Kevin Trudeau has caused their use to increase. His 2007 book, The Weight Loss Cure They Don't Want You to Know About, claims that "an absolute cure for obesity was discovered almost fifty years ago" but was "suppressed" by the AMA, the FDA, and "other medical establishments throughout the world." Trudeau further claims that until now, "this miracle weight loss breakthrough has been hidden from the public so that drug companies can make billions of dollars selling their expensive drug treatments and surgical procedures for obesity." The alleged cure consists of HCG injections plus 50 to 60 required and recommended do's and don'ts [21].

In 2007, the FTC charged Kevin Trudeau with violating a court order by misrepresenting the contents of the book [22]. In infomercials, Trudeau falsely claimed that the book's weight-loss plan is easy to do, can be done at home, and ultimately allows readers to eat whatever they want. Previous FTC action had led to a court order banning from using infomercials to sell any product, service, or program except for books and other publications The order specified that he not misrepresent the content of the books. In 2008, the Court ruled that Trudeau had violated the previous order and ordered him to pay more than $37 million.

References

  1. Simeons ATW. The action of chorionic gonadotrophin in the obese. Lancet 2:946-947, 1954.
  2. Asher WL, Harper HW. Effect of human chorionic gonadotrophin on weight loss, hunger and feeling of well-being. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 26:211–218, 1973.
  3. Bosch B and others. Human chorionic gonadotrophin and weight loss. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. South African Medical Journal 77:185–189, 1990.
  4. Carne S. The action of chorionic gonadotrophin in the obese. Lancet 2:1282–1284, 1961.
  5. Craig LS and others. Chorionic gonadotrophin in the treatment of obese women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 12:230–234, 1963.
  6. Frank BW. The use of chorionic gonadotrophin hormone in the treatment of obesity. A double-blind study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 14:133–136, 1964.
  7. Greenway FL, Bray GA. Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity: a critical assessment of the Simeons method. West Journal of Medicine 127:461–463, 1977.
  8. Shetty KR, Kalkhoff RK. Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) treatment of obesity. Archives of Internal Medicine 137:151-155, 1977.
  9. Lebon P. Treatment of overweight patients with chorionic gonadotropin: follow-up study. Journal of the American Geriatric Society 14:116–125, 1966.
  10. Lijesen GK and others. The effect of human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 49:237–243, 1995.
  11. Miller R, Schneiderman LJ. A clinical study of the use of human chorionic gonadotrophin in weight reduction. Journal of Family Practice 4:445–448, 1977.
  12. Stein MR and others. Ineffectiveness of human chorionic gonadotrophin in weight reduction: a double-blind study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 29:940–948, 1976.
  13. Young RL and others. Chorionic gonadotrophin in weight control. A double-blind crossover study. JAMA 236:2495–2497, 1976.
  14. Mirkin G. Getting Thin. Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1983.
  15. American College of Bariatric Physicians. Position statement: Use of HCG in the treatment of obesity. Approved Dec 2009.
  16. In the matter of Simeon Management Corporation et al. Order, opinion etc., in regard to alleged violation of Secs. 5 and 12 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Docket 8996. Complaint, Oct 15, 1974. Final Order April 29, 1976.
  17. FDA, FTC act to remove "homeopathic" HCG weight loss products from the market. Joint action is first step in halting sale of the products. FDA news release, Dec 6, 2011.
  18. First amended complaint. Wike v. HCG Platinum, LLC and Right Way Nutrition, LLC. Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. BC451080, filed Feb 14, 2012.
  19. Complaint for permanent injunction and other equitable relief. Federal Trade Commission v. Kevin Wright; HCG Platinum, LLC; and Right Way Nutrition, LLC, Defendants, and Weekes Holdings, LLC; Primary Colors, LLC; KMATT Holdings, LLC,; Nutrisport Holdings, LLC; Ty D. Mattingly; Julie Mattingly; and Annette Wright, Relief Defendants. U. S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Case No. 2:13-cv-02215-HRH, filed, Oct 21, 2013.
  20. Stipulation and agreement of settlement. Wike v. HCG Platinum, LLC and Right Way Nutrition, LLC. Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. BC451080, filed Feb 14, 2012.
  21. Trudeau K. The Weight Loss Cure They Don't Want You to Know About. Alliance Publishing, 2007.
  22. FTC: Marketer Kevin Trudeau violated prior court order. FTC news release, Sept 14, 2007.

This article was revised on November 1, 2013.

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