The HCG Diet: Your questions answered

Apr 16, 2011 at 6:49 a.m. ET

Swimsuit season is right around the corner, leaving many women looking for something new to try this spring to lose those stubborn winter pounds. The HCG diet is one of the hottest diet crazes of the moment, leaving dieters curious. Here are the answers to the big questions.

HCG Diet

What is HCG?

HCG is short for human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone naturally produced by the placenta in pregnant women that helps control metabolism. This compound can be extracted from the urine of pregnant women.

How does the HCG diet claim to work?

It combines daily doses of HCG with a very low-calorie regimen of 500 to 800 calories per day. The diet claims that it can help you lose an average of 1 to 3 pounds daily.

Is the HCG diet safe?

At this time, there is insufficient scientific evidence supporting HCG injections as a beneficial weight loss strategy, nor have they been approved by the Federal Drug Administration for use as a weight loss aid. Since 1975 the FDA has required all marketing 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."

The safety of HCG as a weight loss tool is uncertain. Consulting with a physician before starting the HCG diet is highly recommended, as this very low calorie diet may pose risks to certain individuals. Regular and close medical monitoring is strongly advised while on the diet. Your doctor can observe potential side effects, such as headaches, mood swings, depression, blood clots, confusion, dizziness or ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).

What form is HCG available in?

HCG comes in different forms such as intra-muscular injections, pills and oral drops. Injections can be prescribed, and diluted HCG pills, oral drops and pellets are available over the counter. It is important to note that like all over-the-counter supplements, they are not closely regulated by the FDA.

Can the HCG diet be used as a permanent weight loss solution?

Controversy remains about whether the hormone itself enhances weight loss. Following any very low-calorie diet is likely to result in weight loss, at least for the short term, whether or not you take HCG. A 500-calorie near-starvation diet, with or without HCG, is clearly not conducive to any long-term sustainable method of weight control. The key to permanent weight loss is developing sensible nutrition and exercise habits to follow for a lifetime.

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