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Is the HCG Diet Safe?

Have you been convinced by the constant barrage of HCG diet testimonials? The diet has recently become the talk of the Internet, even though it was developed over 60 years ago.

The HCG diet claims this: HCG (or human chorionic gonadotropin), a hormone found in pregnant women, is supposedly responsible for releasing stored fat to feed the baby in utero. By restricting your caloric intake while injecting the hormone or taking HCG drops daily (typically for 23 days, but many people stay on the diet until they reach their desired weight), the hormone encourages your body to release its fat stores to keep you nourished — leading to weight loss that can be as high as a pound a day. Sounds good, but is it safe? We spoke with Adam Bornstein, editorial director of LIVESTRONG.com, to learn more about the diet and its safety.

Does It Work?
Judging by the amount of success stories seen on TV or on the Internet, the answer is yes. Many users have said that the HCG diet is not only effective, but sustainable. Guests on a recent Dr. Oz show, for example, said that they lost as much as 50 pounds on the HCG diet. Dr. Oz's guests also explained that the diet was only difficult for the first few days, after which the pounds melted away without the users ever feeling hungry.

Experts, however, aren't so ready to give the diet a stamp of approval. For one, there are no studies addressing whether there are long-term side effects in using the pregnancy hormone, and there are no studies that illustrate if the hormone actually helps your body burn stored fat. "There's no research that can actually back up these claims. It's all hypothetical," Bornstein said. The fact that dieters lose weight quickly can most likely be attributed only the dieter's ability to stick to a strict 500-calorie diet and not the HCG hormone itself.

Read on to learn if going on the HCG diet is safe.

Is It Safe?
The issue is not the lack of research on using the HCG hormone for weight loss; the restrictive diet, too, is a big cause of concern. HCG proponents claim that the hormone not only suppresses your appetite but also burns fat stores, providing all the calories you need. But since this hasn't been proven, most experts believe you risk becoming malnourished by following the diet, which only allows you 500 calories a day of fruits, vegetables, and proteins. You may lose weight, but you're depriving your body of adequate calories (which should be at least 1,200 calories a day), and that can lead to starvation. "Your body not only needs calories, but just as important, it requires vitamins and minerals. Creating deficiencies can set you up for a variety of health problems," added Bornstein. "This is glorified starvation."

Another cause for concern — while the injections are only available by prescription, many companies offer HCG drops, lozenges, or sprays online, and the FDA has issued a warning about these products.

Bottom Line
While the HCG hormone injections are FDA-approved for fertility therapy and therefore can be prescribed by a doctor, most health experts are against using the hormone for its weight-loss capabilities. A big reason? There is not enough research proving the diet is safe (or even works). "We know what HCG does in a pregnant woman’s body, but a pregnant woman is much different than a nonpregnant woman," Bornstein said. "Your entire body functions differently, so it’s a big leap of faith to assume that supplementing with HCG will turn your body into a fat-burning furnace." Not only that, but you may be wasting your money. Buying HCG injections isn't cheap, and studies have shown that the same weight-loss effects were seen in patients given a saltwater injection. "[The HCG diet is] manipulating people to give them the sense that they’re receiving something that’s powerful and potent and effective, and in fact, they’re receiving something that’s nothing better than a placebo," Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, recently explained in The New York Times.

While it may be true that the best answer for weight loss is a sensible diet and exercise plan, the HCG diet is a craze for a reason. Tell us, do warnings about the lack of evidence concerning the diet's safety and effectiveness deter you from trying it, or are you convinced by the HCG diet success stories?

Source: Thinkstock
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