A Personal Look at the controversial hormone diet supplement hCG
The following is an investigative project written and researched by Samatha Sonderen for a senior year project at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is a Florissant native who served an internship with the Independent News and www. flovallynews.com this year.
hCG: Is It More than Starvation?
A Personal Look at the controversial hormone diet supplement
By Samantha Sonderen
Kara Phillips steps inside a little fitting room. The square space is her safe haven. As long as she doesn’t unlock the door, she remains protected—from judgment and embarrassment. It’s a place where she can say “I don’t like the style” or “This shirt is just not me” and nobody would know she’s lying. The truth stares back at her from the mirror. More than 15 extra large shirts are scattered across the hooks, seat and floor. Every one of them feels too tight. They cling to a body she’s trying to hide. She can hardly breathe in them, and restrictive stitching leaves red marks around her arms. Every shirt that she struggles out of is one more blow. Each stab to her ego makes her think, “’I’m the fat girl.’”
Kara’s a 21-year-old college girl. She’s fun, outgoing and actively involved in Greek life. Her curly red hair dangles just past her shoulders, and her blue-gray eyes seem to twinkle as much as the smile she rarely takes off. Kara has another reason to wear that smile. She’s lost 27 pounds in six weeks with the help of hCG—a hormone that is naturally produced in pregnant women to help deliver nutrients to a fetus. She’s tried a million diets in the past. She eats right and makes the gym her second home but loses only 15 pounds before she hits a plateau. Twenty-seven pounds is the most she’s lost since high school when she got down to her lowest weight of 163 pounds. She’s weighed 215 pounds at her largest. Her success comes in the form of drops that she takes under her tongue three times a day. Or so she thinks.
Like Kara, women and men across the world are taking these drops. It’s a quick fix for a smaller body, but a simple YouTube search will show that it has worked for many. The original protocol discourages exercising, and dieters can expect to lose one to three pounds a day. It seems like some sort of miracle—if you don’t mind eating only 500 calories a day.
British physician Dr. A.T.W Simeons created the diet. In 1931, he witnessed women in India giving birth to healthy babies despite their frail bodies and lack of nutrition. After researching how hCG played a role in delivering stored fat from the women to a fetus, he developed a protocol to be followed with injections of hCG. The hormone removes stored fat in a woman who’s not pregnant, also. The diet calls for two 100-gram servings of lean meat, two servings of vegetables, two fruits, two servings of Melba toast or grissini and unlimited water, tea or black coffee. It’s not that simple though. There is an extremely small list of acceptable forms of each type of food. No sugar is allowed, and even certain lotions and lipsticks are restricted if they contain oils or fats. Dozens of retailers are offering their own hCG product online and in stores. The Dr. OZ Show dedicated an episode to it. With special licensing and certifications, Chiropractors offer this new weight loss remedy with a specialized plan and ongoing support.
hCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin. It’s a hormone made from the placenta that affects the ovaries and testes in developing fetuses. It works to produce testosterone and progesterone. Columbia reproductive endocrinologist at Mid-Missouri Reproductive Medicine and Surgery, Dr. Gilbert Wilshire, acknowledges that the hormone has a real possibility for weight loss. “Testosterone makes more muscle mass even in women, and more muscle mass may increase metabolism and growth hormone levels,” Wilshire explains. He also believes that hCG affects the brain and can possibly change hunger patterns. “There have been a number of controlled studies looking at calorie restriction to see if hCG offers benefits, and so far in the studies that I have seen, there’s been no proven benefit to adding the hCG versus simple starvation,” Wilshire says. The FDA has also found ineffectiveness in hCG. “These products are marketed with incredible claims, and people think that if they’re losing weight, hCG must be working,” says Elizabeth Miller, acting director of FDA’s Division of Non-Prescription Drugs and Health Fraud in an article on the FDA’s website. “But the data simply does not support this; any loss is from severe calorie restriction. Not from the hCG.”
Dr. Velloff of the MU Student Health Center, Wilshire, the FDA and even Dr. OZ agree that a diet of only 500 calories for an extended amount of time is bad for the body. On his website, OZ states that such a restrictive diet can lead to hair and tooth loss as well as a number of other adverse side effects. Local chiropractor and hCG merchant, Kyle Bowers doesn’t deny this. However, he has only seen reactions to the low-calorie aspect of the diet and none to the actual drops. The FDA acknowledges an increased risk of gallstones, abnormal heartbeat and an electrolyte imbalance as a result of such low-calorie diets.
When examining hCG without considering effects of the restrictive diet, Wilshire has not seen any negative effects in people that take it occasionally. However, he realizes that there could be some consequences.
“Theoretically, if someone has been taking little injections and then they stop, there could be a rebound and a crash in testosterone levels,” Wilshire says.
Dr. Velloff also hasn’t heard of any proven side effects of the hormone itself, but her bigger concern is with what starvation can cause. “The body will use what it has available, and people will get to a state where it starts breaking down protein and muscle stores for energy,” she says.
Although Kara researched hCG and found no negative side effects either, she did have some concerns. “I was worried that it was a sham at first,” Kara says with a smirk. Once she found out about the extremely low-calorie diet, she had second thoughts, but they didn’t last long. “My immediate reaction was ‘this can’t be healthy,’” Kara says. But she figured she had nothing to lose—except a lot of weight.
Kara put her small worries aside and dived right in. The diet is broken up into phases. The first phase is called “loading.” During this two-day junk food fest, dieters are encouraged to eat anything and everything fatty and just plain bad. The goal is to store up energy for the upcoming weeks and to jumpstart the metabolism. She took her drops three times a day and ate her heart out. “It was really hard to explain to my friends that I’m eating ice cream because I’m going on a diet,” Kara says with a laugh. In one day, she ate chicken tenders and fries from Applebee’s, a triple chocolate meltdown, an entire burrito from Chipotle and ice cream. “I’m surprised I didn’t explode,” Kara says with a look of nausea that is immediately followed by relief. “During the second day, my body was like ‘What are you doing?’” She gained four pounds in those two days.
Up next was the low-calorie phase. This is when Kara had to buddy up with her will power and get down to business. Because she lived in a sorority house at MU, meals were prepared regularly. They were hardly healthy. “I was used to just going to the kitchen or calling up friends asking to go get pizza. I didn’t want to fail again. I didn’t want to say I was going to do something and not go through with it,” Kara explains with a touch of sadness in her voice.
The next six weeks tested her devotion, but after the first week, she got into the habit of what, when and how to eat. She swapped fried for baked chicken that she would measure out, cut into pieces and put into Ziploc bags. She even brought her chicken to restaurants with her friends. “The waiters would give me weird looks, but they never said anything,” Kara explained. She knew she had really gotten good when she was able to go to Shakespeare’s and eat chicken despite a cheesy pizza staring her in the face.
Kara never cheated on her diet. She made sure none of the seasonings she used had sugar in them, and she drank a lot of plain black coffee and about seven 25-ounce bottles of water every day. She paired the diet with exercise three times a week. It paid off. She lost 13 pounds in her first week. That was more than enough to keep her motivated. Kara lost about five to six pounds a week, but she did plateau twice. Her previous experience with plateaus made her depressed when it happened again. Her mom had tried a lot of diets and suggested that she eat just one real meal to kick her metabolism back into action. She chose mini cheeseburgers and was three pounds lighter the next day.
Kara was ecstatic about her success. “I was like yes! I can go shopping for smaller clothes,” Kara says with a smile as big as the excitement in her voice. She shopped in her own closet. She got to wear clothes that she hadn’t seen in years. Eventually, she had no choice but to buy a cheap pair of jeans from Goodwill. She shrank from a size 18 into a size 12.
The hCG protocol suggests doing the diet for six weeks at a time and then taking at least a three-week break. Kara began her diet on Valentine’s Day, 2011 and finished right before her Spring break vacation. Her reduced weight wasn’t the only benefit that came from the diet. “HCG gave me more energy, I think because I was eating correctly,” Kara says. One might wonder how 500 calories can be eating “correctly.” “I ate a lot more fruits and veggies,” Kara explains. “I had protein, and I was still getting carbs with the Melba toast. It was better than eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
It has been about a year since Kara finished the hCG diet. She’s tried getting back on it, but says that something always comes up that makes her not want to be restricted when it comes to food. She’s gained only 10 pounds back. Kara set a goal to be 155 pounds when she graduates. She walked across the stage at 175, but still feels good about herself. She’s well on her way to slimming down as she recently hired a personal trainer. She doesn’t want her weight to hold her back when she interviews for a job. “Being skinny and looking the part really plays a hand in it. I don’t want someone to be like ‘oh this girl’s fat; she can’t do the job,’” Kara says.
The FDA has declared homeopathic hCG diet supplements illegal because of the possible harm of such a restrictive diet. Nonetheless, hCG supplements still sit on store shelves and continue to be sold online. Dr. Wilshire is not fond of the availability of the hormone for dietary purposes. He says the extreme use of the hormone is limiting its availability for fertility procedures. “It’s an integral part of reproductive medicine,“ Wilshire explains with frustration. He uses it in specific doses to trigger ovulation.
Medical and fertility doctors have agreed that there are little to no side effects of hCG that dieters use. In fact, the hormone does little when taken orally. Dr. Wilshire says that drops under the tongue are worthless as only trivial amounts of hCG actually get into the body. With or without the hormone, studies show that the low-calorie diet is the key to the weight loss people have seen. The FDA has made it clear that they don’t want anyone restricting their intake so dramatically. Many will still try the diet regardless of FDA warnings. Losing weight is something people are desperate for. Even, if that means eating four pieces of fruit a day and a serving of baked chicken, many will try it. So long as hCG is offered in stores and online and word-of-mouth conversations include success stories, people will continue starving themselves.
The following are some of main sources for information for this research story written and researched by Samatha Sonderen for a senior year project at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is a Florissant native
Dr. Gilbert Wilshire
Dr. Tara Veloff
Dr. Simeons research
Dr. OZ info
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