HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women. In recent years, the hormone has gained popularity as a weight loss supplement, better known as the HCG diet.
In the early stages of pregnancy, HCG is produced to ensure the fetus has enough calories and nutrients to grow, no matter how much food the pregnant woman is consuming. Levels of the hormone peak around the end of the first trimester and taper off from there. It can take a couple months for women to realize they’re pregnant, and HCG ensures that the fetus is well-fed even if the mother isn’t conscious of the need to eat for two.
HCG works in pregnant women by taking calories from fat stores in the body. The idea is that the supplement will work in non-pregnant, overweight individuals to cause ketosis, or the consumption of body fat. Currently, the FDA only approves HCG as a fertility drug for women and as hormone therapy for boys. Still, doctors sometimes prescribe injections or pills of the hormone for weight loss. Also, homeopathic drops of HCG are on the market and available without prescription at a low cost. These homeopathic products have been banned by the FDA since December of 2011, but are still being sold by manufacturers until supplies run out.
HCG injections or drops are used in conjunction with a special diet, the HCG diet, to facilitate rapid weight loss. The diet involves consuming 500 calories a day, consisting of high-protein and low-carb foods. The average recommended calorie consumption for a person is between 2,000 and 3,000 calories a day. Reputable sources on safe weight loss like WebMD.com recommend reducing calorie consumption by no more than 500 a day when trying to lose weight. The HCG diet departs drastically from this recommendation.
The theory behind the diet’s combination of restricted calorie consumption and HCG supplementation is that the hormone alleviates hunger by encouraging the body to live off its own fat stores. However, studies have not confirmed any beneficial effect of the hormone to this end. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/hcg-diet-for-weight-loss_b_809660.html for a compilation of negative study results.
There are risks associated with both the crash diet and the hormone itself. Users of the hormone have reported headaches, blood clots, leg cramps, constipation, hair thinning and depression. Women may experience breast tenderness and males may experience breast enlargement. HCG has also been linked to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHS), a dangerous condition in which the ovaries swell and leak fluid. This can cause fluid buildup in the chest and abdomen, blood clots and kidney failure. If you’re a woman and feel abdominal and/or back pain while taking HCG, it is possible that OHS has occurred. Another concern for some women is that HCG can increase your chances of becoming pregnant while you use it.
The crash diet itself can cause a host of medical problems. The body’s consumption of its own fat stores is not enough to replace vital nutrients from food. Mild symptoms of malnutrition are nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Malnutrition is also linked to much more serious problems, such as poor function of the heart, liver, gallbladder and kidneys. Gallstones or kidney problems may develop that require immediate medical attention. If you are using HCG and have back pain and/or abdominal pain in the area of the kidney or gallbladder, seek medical attention.
Back pain and HCG are linked in another way. Muscles that don’t receive sufficient nutrients like protein and calcium begin to fatigue, cramp and spasm. Muscle aches and pains can be expected when doing this or any other calorie-restricted diet.
Any drastic dietary change should be accompanied by medical guidance. Over-the-counter or internet sales of HCG give the impression that the hormone and diet are perfectly safe to pursue on one’s own and fail to attest to the real risks of this diet.
If you’re looking for a weight loss method, the HCG diet is not a safe choice. If you’re on this diet and experience abdominal and/or back pain, confusion, extreme dizziness or redness and warmth in a limb, seek immediate medical attention.