Battle Tested

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I first heard about this HCG diet shortly after the B-12/Phentermine fad was shot down by the FDA. For the record, phentermine works, it destroys the integrity of the heart, but hey, it really did melt fat away fairly well, lol. I remember the kinds of “medical” facilities that promoted the B-12/Phentermine fad; chiropractic and holistic health centers with hippy doctors making you think this B-12 thing must be safe and natural, after all, B-12 is a well known vitamin, right? Well yes, but let me assure you from personal experience that B-12 (while it may well kick up your appetite and maybe your energy), certainly won’t help you lose weight. It was the far less natural and potentially deadly phentermine that was causing the dramatic weight loss.



Fast forward to 2011. I mean, it’s almost become a bone of contention with me, the re-invention of the wheel, be it training, diets, whatever, as the bible says: there is nothing new under the sun. I’m going to offer a counter point to all the training protocols that have made similarly erroneous claims in a future article, but for now, let me explain HCG as a misconceived weight loss solution:

What is HCG? HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) is a hormone extracted from urine of pregnant women. It is approved by FDA for treatment of certain problems of the male reproductive system and in stimulating ovulation in women who have had difficulty becoming pregnant. The sales pitch is that the HCG diet (using daily hcg injections) will help you lose 1-3 pounds per day. The HCG diet combines the daily injections with a very low-calorie diet (500 calories per day). The reality is that a 500 calorie per day diet is severely restrictive! In fact, it is not enough calories to support normal brain function. Your body will compensate by using stores of glycogen, protein (muscle) and some fat, which lowers your resting metabolic rate. For most, before any appreciable weight loss can occur, you will be so irritable, lightheaded, and cranky that you’ll reach for whatever food you can get your hands on and have a field day. There is no scientific evidence supporting HCG injections as a weight loss strategy. In addition, these injections have not been approved by the FDA for use in weight loss. In fact, since 1975 the FDA has required all marketing and advertising of HCG to state the following: “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”.

How did the HCG diet come about? The use of HCG to treat obesity was first suggested by ATW Simeons in a 1954 Lancet paper. He reported that injection of HCG resulted in rapid mobilization of body fat stores and induced feelings of well-being. He also claimed that HCG reduced weakness and hunger during very low calorie diets (500kcal/day) and that HCG treatment could be used to prevent the protein and vitamin deficiencies which are a frequent side-effect of such low caloric intake. Finally, he suggested that HCG could be used to successfully treat a range of ailments ranging from diabetes and gout to ulcers and skin diseases. However, it is important to note that no actual study was performed; these were just subjective observations. Naturally, Simeons’ observations spurred actual research into HCG.

Unfortunately for Simeons’, the vast preponderance of studies examining the effectiveness of HCG in the treatment of obesity found absolutely no effect. For example, a 1976 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association performed a rigorously controlled, double-blind crossover study examining the effects of HCG on weight loss in obese individuals undergoing very low calorie diets. In a double-blind study, neither the patient, nor the physician, knows whether the patient is receiving HCG or a placebo. What were their results? Both groups lost a significant amount of weight (not surprising given subjects were only consuming 500 kcal/day), however there was no difference in weight loss between the HCG and placebo treatments.

Of the 12 studies with the strongest methodologies and proper clinical controls of HCG as a form of weight loss treatment, 11 showed HCG to be utterly useless in inducing weight or fat loss. Additionally, they point out that the use of HCG is also unethical, given that HCG is obtained from the urine of pregnant women who donate their urine idealistically in the belief that it will be used to treat infertility.

That’s not all. An editorial by John Ballin and Philp White in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Fallacy and Hazard” claims that “no rational basis exists for [HCG] use in weight reduction, except as placebo”. Further, “weight loss under the Simeons regimen can be attributed solely to the semi-starvation diet that is required”, a diet which is so restricted as to raise safety concerns. Finally, they claim that Simeons weight clinics “pose serious questions for physicians who participate in them”.

Diet fads, crazes and schemes are nothing new. In the 1920s, overweight consumers were marketed “reducing soap,” the ads for which promised to eliminate fat on any part of the body that was washed with this miracle soap. From the 1920s through the 1950s, some people would partake of the tapeworm diet, which didn’t require much change in diet, other than consuming a tapeworm. The belief was that the tapeworm would helpfully join you in eating your meals, albeit from the comfort of its home in your intestines. As many current diets are developed by doctors, so it goes with diet trends and devices of yesteryear. In the mid-1950s, a Swedish doctor developed a fat-busting vibrating belt that required nothing more of a person than to stand there and let the belt helps shake loose all those excess pounds. In the 1920s, Babe Ruth himself often used similar vibrating-belt devices to lose weight, and the results or lack thereof, remained evident throughout his career.

In closing, if we’re keeping score here, good old fashioned hard work, 1, bullshit, fad, here today, gone tomorrow diets, 0. There is NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN folks!