A shot of quackery: starvation diet incorporates hCG hormone treatment

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Whether it’s in preparation for an upcoming wedding or a high school reunion, many of us find ourselves seeking a quick path to weight loss. The New York Times and ABC’s Nightline both reported that one of the latest weight-loss fads has dieters crowding doctors’ offices for $1000 shots of the pregnancy hormone hCG to supplement a 500 calorie-a-day diet regimen. Extracted from the urine of pregnant women, hCG is being touted as a means of losing weight “in all the right places” and without the dreaded hunger pangs. But there’s a paucity of evidence to support these claims. In fact, the FDA has already issued warnings that homeopathic forms of the hormone, such as lozenges and sprays, sold over the Internet are illegal if they are marketed as weight-loss aids.

ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan thinks it’s interesting that in the midst of the popular “all-natural” movement, these dieters are eagerly pumping this chemical into their bodies.

“I think it’s more than a little ironic that at a time when anti-chemical activists and the media are trying to scare us with daily hysteria over ‘endocrine disruptors’ in plastics without any evidence of such an effect on humans, we have hordes of willing patients eager to experiment on themselves, seemingly without qualms about getting injections of a hormone that can actually affect the endocrine system — assuming they’re using real hCG,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. He reasons that the 500 calorie-a-day is what actually causes the weight loss, “and the ultra-low-calorie diet will cause ‘starvation ketosis,’ from breaking down body stores of glucose and fat. This byproduct will also act as an appetite suppressant. The ensuing wonderful (but brief) burst of weight-loss will please those who use this plan, but hCG has nothing to do with it. I am disappointed to find that doctors are performing this $1000-per-shot treatment in their offices. This is classic quackery, and the doctors who are defending it are simply justifying what to me is an unacceptable exploitation of patients.”