Is The HCG Diet For Weight Loss a Scam?

Question:I am having a hell of a time losing the last 10 pounds. I can get down a couple, but then I always gain them back. I have friends that went on this HCG hormone diet, where they are dropping weight like crazy – up to 7 lbs in a week. Of course, they have much more to lose, and I know the diet is only about 1/3 of the calories I need just to keep my muscle, but these people are losing so quickly! I am thinking of trying it for a couple weeks just to see if I can lose the last stubborn fat. Apparently the hormone comes from pregnant women and causes you to burn up your stores of fat. Have you heard of this crazy diet?Answer:

Oh yes, I certainly have heard of HCG and the HCG Diet. The program and some of the people behind it are quite “notorious.” There ARE different iterations of this program, but generally, the HCG diet is based on TWO principles:

1. A 500 calorie per day diet.
2. Injections of a DRUG called Human Chorionic Gonadatropin (HCG).

As weird as it sounds, the drug really is extracted from the urine of pregnant women. Technically HCG is a fertility drug, and in the bodybuilding world you hear about it being taken as part of the post-cycle therapy to restore normal testosterone production after it has been suppressed due to exogenous steroid / testosterone administration.

It’s important to stress again that this is a drug. This is not a natural approach – it’s a pharmacological attempt at increasing weight loss.

Everyone knows that there are certain drugs, anabolic, anorectic or thermogenic which can enhance weight loss, muscle retention and of course muscle gain (steroids). Yet many of these substances are banned or illegal without a prescription.

Many people don’t want to use drugs on matters of principle. Still others do not like needles. Incidentally, this is why pharmaceutical companies are constantly in search of a weight loss pill. Injections don’t have mass commercial appeal, but millions of people can and will pop a pill. We are a pill popping culture, unfortunately.

Ironically, research has proven that this particular injectable drug – HCG – does NOT work for weight loss, and I’ll show you the evidence in just a moment.

People DO lose a lot of weight on the “HCG diet.” But the explanation for the weight loss is simple: The injections come with a 500 calorie per day diet. Just do the math for what kind of weight loss you’d expect from a 500 calorie per day diet:

A typical male has a TDEE of about 2800 calories per day. At 500 calories per day, that’s 2300 calories per day deficit… 16,100 calories per week, or about 4.6 lbs per week. That’s not too far off from the the advertised pound a day. Actually a very large (overweight) male could easily have a TDEE of 3500 calories per day or even higher, so a pound a day could actually happen – very easily if you count water weight loss.

Women with a TDEE of 2200 or so on average would create a 1700 calorie per day deficit for a weekly weight loss of 3.5 lbs.

So this rapid weight loss of 4-5 pounds a week and even up to 7 pounds in a week is right in line with what you’d expect from eating a 500 calories a day crash diet.

That’s exactly what the HCG program is: is a starvation diet. Nothing more. Nothing Less.

Starvation diets go completely against everything we stand for in the Tom Venuto / Burn the Fat Community. If you refer to chapter two of the Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle ebook, you will understand why these kind of crash diets usually don’t keep the weight off in the long term and why they can be dangerous and unhealthy.

At 500 calories per day, you aren’t even taking in enough calories to provide all the essential nutrients you need! Lethargy, lack of training energy, hunger, cravings and desire for food are an ever present problem with all kinds of crash diets, including this one. how can you get any kind of good workouts when you’re eating 500 calories a day!?

How do we know that HCG injections do nothing to help with weight loss? Research.

HCG has been around since the 1950’s when Dr. Simeon’s first suggested its use for weight reduction. As far back as the 1970’s, HCG was proven no more effective than placebo for weight loss. Medical researchers looked at it in earnest because early studies prompted by Simeon’s claims suggested that it might work.

It was later discovered through continued research that the earlier studies were poorly controlled. In well controlled clinical trials, HCG was found no more effective than a placebo and the large weight losses were due to the massive calorie deficit, not the HCG.

There’s another twist to the story:

As most people know, if you take a pill and you believe it is a powerful drug, especially if it’s administered by a doctor you trust, but the pill is an inert substance (sugar pill), your body can actually respond to the dummy pill as if it were the real thing. This is known as the placebo effect. The change occurs in the mind.

What many people don’t know is that injections given by a doctor can have an even more powerful placebo effect than pills and HCG is a doctor-administered injection.

It’s mind boggling that so many people still want to take this expensive stuff when there’s so much evidence proving that it’s a waste of money. Why do people take it? Probably because of the advertising combined with the testimonials like the one you heard combined with the fact that people are desperate to lose weight.

This weight loss fad has been around a long, long time, but in the world of weight loss fads, people have short memories, and old snake oil is often brought back to life by new snake oil salesmen… Enter a slick informercial marketer by the name of Kevin Trudeau, who wrote a book called, “The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You To Know About.”

In a nutshell, here’s the sales pitch: “In the 1950’s, a doctor discovered the ‘cure’ for obesity but it’s been covered up ever since because the weight loss industry is worth $40 billion per year…”

That so-called “Cure” was HCG and a 500 calorie per day starvation diet.

When weight loss and alternative health salesmen start talking about conspiracy theories and cover ups, usually that’s a hint that YOU should run for cover. If that doesn’t do it, then Trudeau’s previous run-ins with the law should have been a tip off. But alas, most consumers were taken in emotionally by the claims and didn’t do their research homework.

In late 2007, Trudeau was charged with fraud by the FTC. Here’s the news release that was published by the National Council Against health fraud. An official statement was also published on the FTC’s website:

“Incorrigible infomercial marketer charged again. The FTC has filed suit against Kevin Trudeau for allegedly violating a court order by misrepresenting the contents of his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.” In several infomercials, Trudeau claims that the plan outlined in the book is easy to do, can be done at home, and ultimately allows readers to eat whatever they want. However, the book actually describes a complex plan that requires severe dieting, daily injections of a prescription drug that consumers cannot easily get, and lifelong dietary restrictions. In a 2004 order settling FTC charges that he had falsely claimed that his calcium product could cure cancer and other serious diseases, Trudeau was banned from using infomercials to sell any product, service, or program except for books and and other publications. Although he remained free to publish his opinions, the order specified that he must not misrepresent what is in the publications. The FTC is now charging that he violated that narrow exemption.”

Ok so research proved that HCG doesn’t work and the biggest, most public promoter of HCG diets has been charged with fraud by the FTC. So why do so many people STILL pursue this fad? I don’t know, but one reason may be because medical doctors are promoting it, and you tend to trust medical doctors. Some MD’s have built a thriving business around this.

This is an example that (A) medical doctors are not always right and (B) some doctors will shill or promote bogus “weight loss cures” for money.

Below you will see a list of all the pertinent studies about HCG…. and the virtually unanimous conclusion is that HCG is baloney.

Word to the wise: Stay away from this stuff and from the people who promote it.


NOTE: This is the one controlled study (Asher 1973) which showed that the HCG group lost more weight. Ironically, if you read into the text of the study, the same paper says that the use of HCG in a casual program of weight reduction is of no value and suggested that injections given by a physician can provide a placebo effect. All the rest of the research that followed found that HCG was not effective for weight loss. The underlined passages are my emphasis so you can quickly skim the abstracts and see the conclusions.

Effect of Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin on weight loss, hunger and feeling of well being, Asher, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 1973.

Twenty female patients on 500- to 550-kcal diets receiving daily injections of 125 lu of human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) were compared with 20 female patients on 500- to 550-kcal diets receiving placebo injections. Patients in both groups were instructed to return for daily injections 6 days each week for a total of 36 injections (unless desired weight was achieved prior to this). The HCG group lost significantly more mean weight, had a significantly greater mean weight loss per injection, and lost a significantly greater mean percentage of their starting weight. The percentage of affirmative daily patient responses indicating “little or no hunger” and “feeling good to excellent” was significantly greater in the HCG group than in the placebo group. Additional investigation 0′ the influence of HCG on weight loss, hunger, and well-being seems indicated.

It is interesting to note that HH’s patients who were given a placebo lost more on the average than either the HCG or placebo patients of the other four practitioners (11.05 lb versus 6.8 and 6.5 lb, respectively). It therefore appears that HCG used in a casual program of weight reduction, as it often is in a general practice, is of no value. The fact that HH’s placebo patients lost more weight in a 6-week period than most physicians’ patients do on other diets and/or medications is in itself interesting. Certainly, the psychological impact of receiving a daily injection which the patient believes in is important.

Risk-benefit analysis of a hCG-500 kcal reducing diet (cura romana) in females. Rabe T, Richter S, Kiesel L, Runnebaum B. Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 1987 May;47(5):297-307.

The British physician A.T.W. Simeons described in 1954 a new method for dieting. He combined a reduction diet (500 kcal per day) with daily injections of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) (125 IU i.m.). According to Simeons the patient should not lose more weight during a 4-to-6 weeks’ diet than without hCG, but the injections should facilitate to maintain the diet and to lose body weight at specific parts of the body (e.g. hip, belly, thigh). After the first publication various studies conducted with male and female patients analysed the efficacy of the “Cura romana”. 10 of these studies showed positive and another 10 studies negative results with regard to hCG-related weight reduction. Two of these studies with positive results were double-blind studies (hCG vs. placebo). Most of them were reports on therapeutical experiences and were not controlled studies. According to these reports the body proportions normalized and the feeling of hunger was tolerable. Four out of 10 studies with negative results were controlled studies (hCG vs. control without hCG), whereas 6 were double-blind studies. These studies showed a significant weight reduction during dieting, but no differences between treatment groups in respect of body weight, body proportions and feeling of hunger. One of them is the only German study conducted by Rabe et al. in 1981 in which 82 randomised premenopausal volunteers had been dieting either with hCG or without hCG injections. In recent publications describing mostly well-documented double-blind studies authors largely reject hCG administration in dieting. Supporters of the hCG diet must prove the efficacy of this method in controlled studies according to the German Drug Law. Until then the opinion of the German steroid toxicology panel is still valid, that hCG is ineffective in dieting and should not be used

Human chorionic gonadotrophin and weight loss. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Bosch B, et al. S Afr Med J. 1990 Feb 17;77(4):185-9 . Department of Medical Physiology and Biochemistry, University of Stellenbosch, Parowvallei, CP.

Low-dose human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) combined with a severe diet remains a popular treatment for obesity, despite equivocal evidence of its effectiveness. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, the effects of HCG on weight loss were compared with placebo injections. Forty obese women (body mass index greater than 30 kg/m2) were placed on the same diet supplying 5,000 kJ per day and received daily intramuscular injections of saline or HCG, 6 days a week for 6 weeks. A psychological profile, hunger level, body circumferences, a fasting blood sample and food records were obtained at the start and end of the study, while body weight was measured weekly. Subjects receiving HCG injections showed no advantages over those on placebo in respect of any of the variables recorded. Furthermore, weight loss on our diet was similar to that on severely restricted intake. We conclude that there is no rationale for the use of HCG injections in the treatment of obesity.

Human chorionic gonadotropin is of no value in the management of obesity.C. L. Birmingham and K. C. Smith. Can Med Assoc J. 1983 May 15; 128(10): 1156–1157.

It has recently come to our attention that a number of practitioners are still using daily deep intramuscular injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) as an adjunct in the management of obesity. We condemn, in terms that cannot possibly be misconstrued, such use of HCG. Six double blind studies have been conducted since 1973 in an attempt to validate the claims that injections of HCG are beneficial in obese patients. With the exception of the 1973 study by Asher and Harper, whose methods have been severely criticized, treatment with HCG was found to be of no benefit in terms of weight loss, the patient’s feeling of well-being or a more esthetic distribution of fat.

The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1995 Sep;40(3):237-43. Lijesen GK, et al. Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

1. A meta-analysis was conducted to assess if there is scientific ground for the use of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) as adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity.

2. Published papers relating to eight controlled and 16 uncontrolled trials that measured the effect of HCG in the treatment of obesity were traced by computer-aided search and citation tracking.

3. The trials were scored for the quality of the methods (based on four main categories: study population, interventions, measurement of effect, and data presentation and analysis) and the main conclusion of author(s) with regard to weight-loss, fat-redistribution, hunger, and feeling of well-being.

4. Methodological scores ranged from 16 to 73 points (maximum score 100), suggesting that most studies were of poor methodological quality. Of the 12 studies scoring 50 or more points, one reported that HCG was a useful adjunct. The studies scoring 50 or more points were all controlled.

5. We conclude that there is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight-loss of fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being.

Ineffectiveness of human chorionic gonadotropin in weight reduction: a double-blind study.Stein MR, Julis RE, Peck CC, Hinshaw W, Sawicki JE, Deller JJ Jr.Am J Clin Nutr. 1976 Sep;29(9):940-8.

Our investigation was designed to retest the hypothesis of the efficacy of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) on weight reduction in obese women in a clinic setting. We sought to duplicate the Asher-Harper study (1973) which had found that the combination of 500 cal diet and HCG had a statistically significant benefit over the diet and placebo combination as evidenced by greater weight loss and decrease in hunger. Fifty-one women between the ages of 18 and 60 participated in our 32-day prospective, randomized, double-blind comparison of HCG versus placebo. Each patient was given the same diet (the one prescribed in the Asher-Harper study), was weighed daily Monday through Saturday and was counselled by one of the investigators who administered the injections. Laboratory studies were performed at the time of initial physical examinations and at the end of the study. Twenty of 25 in the HCG and 21 of 26 patients in the placebo groups completed 28 injections. There was no statistically significant difference in the means of the two groups in number of injections received, weight loss, percent of weight loss, hip and waist circumference, weight loss per injections, or in hunger ratings. HCG does not appear to enhance the effectiveness of a rigidly imposed regimen for weight reduction.

Chorionic gonadotropin in weight control. A double-blind crossover study.Young RL, Fuchs RJ, Woltjen MJ.JAMA. 1976 Nov 29;236(22):2495-7.

Two hundred two patients participated in a double-blind random cross-over study of the effectiveness of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) vs placebo in a wieght reduction program. Serial measurements were made of weight, skin-fold thickness, dropout rates, reasons for dropping out, and patient subjective response. There was no statistically significant difference between those receiving HCG vs placebo during any phase of this study

A clinical study of the use of human chorionic gonadotrophin in weight reduction.Miller R, Schneiderman LJ.1: J Fam Pract. 1977 Mar;4(3):445-8.

Treatment of obesity with human chorionic gonadotrophin was shown to be of no better value than saline in a double-blind crossover study of weight reduction in obese subjects. There was also no significant difference in mood, hunger, or missed injections, and no apparent difference in adherence to diet when the two agents were compared. In contrast, a significant difference was found in the ability of subjects to lose weight in the first four weeks of the study in contrast with the second four weeks, no matter which agent was used. Thus, the initiation of a new therapeutic program, even using an inert agent, has a temporary benefit–a manifestation both of placebo effect and the Hawthorne effect.

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) in the Treatment of ObesityA Critical Assessment of the Simeons Method. Frank Greenway and George Bray. West J Med. 1977 December; 127(6): 461–463.

Injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) have been claimed to aid in weight reduction by reducing hunger, and affecting mood as well as aiding in localized (spot) reduction. We have tested these claims in a double-blind randomized trial using injections of HCG or placebo. Weight loss was identical between the two groups, and there was no evidence for differential effects on hunger, mood or localized body measurements. Placebo injections, therefore, appear to be as effective as HCG in the treatment of obesity.

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About the Author:

Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author ofBurn the Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has writtenover 140 articles and has been featured in Iron Man Magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development,Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for and the nutrition editor for and his articles are featured regularly on literally dozens of other websites.