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Dr. Gott: Newest diet fad should be avoided

DEAR DR. GOTT: I have been reading about a diet using hCG drops on Facebook. Apparently, three drops under the tongue three times a day rids you of hunger pain, and then you only eat 500 calories a day for a month with a loss of 30 pounds a month. What do you know about this drug?

DEAR READER: This diet fad frightens me.

First, hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is an FDA-approved prescription-only drug for fertility. HCG is a hormone present in pregnant women’s urine and was first discovered in 1927. To this day, physicians look for this hormone to determine pregnancy. Levels peak at around 14 weeks gestation and then drop off for the remainder of the pregnancy.

It is known that hCG plays many roles, including guaranteeing that a developing fetus receives the calories and nutrients it needs to grow. It is able to do this by releasing fat from the hips, buttocks, abdomen and thighs to give the developing fetus the nutrients it needs.

In terms of the hCG diet, the dieter must find a physician willing to prescribe the medication. Next, following a 26- to 43-day cycle, the user must inject the medication once a day for 23 to 40 straight days, skipping the last three days of the cycle. Some physicians also prescribe appetite suppressants. This is because the daily caloric intake while using the drug for the purpose of weight loss is 500. That is one-quarter of the normal recommended daily caloric intake.

Following the cycle, the hCG must then be discontinued for at least six weeks because the body will develop temporary immunity. The process may then be started all over again, for a total of no more than four cycles, including breaks.

Now, to the reasons I oppose this diet. Any diet that restricts caloric intake to 500 calories a day is going to cause weight loss whether or not there is a medication or supplement involved. The reason for the weight loss is starvation. The body can survive on drastically reduced calories for a time, but it will lead to some serious complications.

Also, given that hCG is a naturally occurring pregnancy hormone, it can lead to symptoms of pregnancy, such as swollen, tender breasts and water retention. There are also reports of health problems resulting from the diet, including increased risk of blood clots, depression, restlessness and headaches.

This diet isn’t covered under insurance. The injection itself costs about $10. Multiply that by the number of days you need the injection, that’s between $230 and $400. Add that to the consultation that can typically cost $150 or more, and one cycle can cost in excess of $400.

Finally, the studies. A physician’s initial “discovery” and published findings of hCG’s ability to aid weight loss have not held up to scrutiny. Subsequent studies found that there was no weight loss difference between people using hCG and those taking a placebo along with the required calorie cuts. One study even found that both groups experienced “major hunger pangs” throughout the treatment.

Any person who purchases hCG over the Internet or without a prescription probably isn’t getting what he or she paid for.

In the end, this diet is just another unhealthful fad. You would be better off following my no-flour, no-sugar diet and getting regular exercise.

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