HCG Worthless as Weight-Loss Aid
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) 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 . 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 .
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 used
in the Simeons method provides a lower protein intake than is advisable in view of current
knowledge and practice. There are few medical literature reports favorable to the Simeons
method; the overwhelming majority of medical reports are critical of it. Physicians employing
either the HCG or the diet recommended by Simeons may expose themselves to criticism from
other physicians, from insurers, or from government bodies .
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 .
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.
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 .
In 2007, the FTC charged Kevin Trudeau with violating a court order by misrepresenting the contents of the book . 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.
- Simeons ATW. The action of chorionic gonadotrophin in the obese. Lancet 2:946-947, 1954.
- 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.
- Bosch B and others. Human chorionic gonadotrophin and weight loss. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. South African Medical Journal 77:185–189, 1990.
- Carne S. The action of chorionic gonadotrophin in the obese. Lancet 2:1282–1284, 1961.
- Craig LS and others. Chorionic gonadotrophin in the treatment of obese women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 12:230–234, 1963.
- 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.
- 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.
- Shetty KR, Kalkhoff RK. Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) treatment of obesity. Archives of Internal Medicine 137:151-155, 1977.
- Lebon P. Treatment of overweight patients with chorionic gonadotrophin: follow-up study. Journal of the American Geriatric Society 14:116–125, 1966.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Young RL and others. Chorionic gonadotrophin in weight control. A double-blind crossover study. JAMA 236:2495–2497, 1976.
- Mirkin G. Getting Thin. Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1983.
- American College of Bariatric Physicians. Position statement: Use of HCG in the treatment of obesity. Approved Dec 2009.
- 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.
- Trudeau K. The Weight Loss Cure They Don't Want You to Know About. Alliance Publishing, 2007.
- FTC: Marketer Kevin Trudeau violated prior court order. FTC news release, Sept 14, 2007.
This article was revised on May 10, 2010.