Are Doctor’s being Irresponsible?

There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to opinions about the popular HCG diet. On the one hand, thousands swear it works. On the other hand, mainstream diet and health experts claim it’s deceptive, fraudulent and maybe even downright dangerous, and doctors who prescribe it are irresponsible.

HCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadoptropin, a hormone that exists naturally in men and women but which is present in very high levels in pregnant women. In pregnancy, this hormone greatly influences a woman’s metabolic functions.

The HCG diet has been around since the 1950s when British endocrinologist A.T.W. Simeons began prescribing it to obese patients, injecting them with the hormone and supervising them on an ultra-low calorie diet. He insisted that small, regular doses of HCG helped these patients lose fat in concentrated areas in key trouble spots such as stomach, thighs and buttocks – while sparing muscle tissue, unlike other low-calorie diets. Simeons also believed that HCG acts as a powerful appetite suppressant, allowing his patients to live on very little food with little to no hunger cravings.

Over time, the diet remained largely the same as Dr. Simeons designed it, but with some minor variations. Today the diet is prescribed off label by physicians (the FDA has approved HCG only as a fertility treatment and not as a weight loss aid), with physicians administering doses via injection. Or, there is the “homeopathic” HCG variant in which dieters take diluted HCG in drop form. The drops can be obtained by health-care practitioners, and are also sold online, in drugstores and at nutritional supplement stores.

There’s little dispute that this diet works. However, whether it is the hormone or the near-starvation diet that causes patients to lose 1 to 4 pounds daily is the focus of controversy. For six weeks, patients receive daily injections (or drops) and are allowed to consume 500 calories daily in the form of lean protein, a narrow range of vegetables and fruit, one fat-free breadstick, 1 tablespoon of nonfat milk, and absolutely no fats or oils. The no-fats rule extends beyond food – there is also a stricture against oil-based nutritional supplements, body lotions, cosmetics, hair products, even sunscreens.

At the end of 4-6 weeks the patient is given a 2-3 week respite to prevent “HCG immunity,” and then another six-week HCG regimen may commence if more weight loss is desired.

Many physicians and nutritionists discourage the HCG Diet – as well as any other regimen that promises such quick and dramatic weight loss. Patients who experience such extreme weight loss are statistically very likely to regain the lost weight – and then some – very quickly once they resume normal caloric intake.

Side effects of the HCG diet have been reported, including nausea, dizziness, headaches and constipation. More worrisome to doctors are the health dangers from consuming fewer than 1,000-1,200 calories per day.

Mayo Clinic nutritionist Jennifer Nelson says, “People who follow such a very low calorie diet are likely to lose weight, at least in the short term. However, that level of calorie restriction has risks, such as gallstone formation, irregular heartbeat, and an imbalance of the electrolytes that keep the body's muscles and nerves functioning properly.”

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