Is the HCG diet safe and effective?

Doreen Rodo
Nutrition & Dietetics
Any diet that limits your calories to 500 per day is not safe or effective. It would be difficult to maintain 500 calories per day and you mostly likely would not be able to stick to that type of eating pattern for long. Thus, you will likely go off it and binge, feel guilty, and go on it again which leads to Yoyo dieting and that is extremely stressful on the body. Also, any time you are injecting a hormone into your body, you are taking a risk and the side effects can be dangerous to your health. It's best to eat healthy, watch your portion sizes and exercise (if permitted by your doctor).
    Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
    Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

    The HCG diet couples a 500-calorie per day diet with a hormone to help adherents lose weight. But is it safe? In this video, Dr. Oz reveals if the diet plan is really safe -- and if it really works.

    Carol Cottrill
    Nutrition & Dietetics

    HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is a hormone produced during pregnancy by the cells that form the placenta. While it is most commonly associated with pregnancy, it is present in both genders. HCG signals the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that affects metabolism) to break down ingested fats into simpler compounds that can be used by the cells of the body. In pregnancy, this helps the body bring nutrients into the placenta, fueling the fetus with the energy to grow. The HCG diet—a daily ration of 500 calories plus injections of the hormone—promises to help you lose from 1 to 3 pounds per day.

    Eating only 500 calories per day is severely restrictive.  In fact, 500 calories per day are not enough to support normal brain function. Your body will compensate by using stores of glycogen (stored carbohydrates), protein (muscle), and some fat, which in fact lowers your resting metabolism. You may lose weight initially, but you won’t be able to keep it off. The body is a pretty efficient machine, and in an effort to save your life, it will react to starvation mode by shutting down and converting whatever little food you do consume into fat.

    Then there’s the question of how long you can stand to be on such a diet, and in the meantime you will be so irritable, lightheaded, and cranky that at any given moment you’ll be at risk of snapping, reaching for whatever food you can get your hands on, and having a field day. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that you manage to grin and bear the diet. Is the weight loss sustainable?

    Sustainable weight loss is achieved through sensible, balanced eating and moderate exercise based on our individual daily requirements. Our bodies (specifically, our metabolisms) are not designed for the on again, off again, abusive behavior of caloric restriction and subsequent bingeing. As we have saw in the paragraphs above, we cannot outsmart the wisdom of our bodies. As long as we continue starving and bingeing and not expending the calories in the food we consume in a recurring way, we leave the body with no alternative but to pile up the unburned food reserves, leading to the endless cycle of weight gain, weight, loss, weight gain, weight loss.

    Shannon Butler
    Nutrition & Dietetics

    Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) is a hormone produced by pregnant women and is prescribed as a fertility drug. For over 3 decades, HCG injections along with a severely calorie restricted diet (500 kcal/day) has been used as an extreme weight loss strategy. Proponents of the diet claim that HCG increases the usage of stored fat, suppresses appetite, and allows a more favorable distribution of fat around the waist, hip and thighs.

    However, this severe calorie restriction is not safe and will not likely enable long-term maintenance of a healthy weight. It is generally recommended by health professionals to reduce calories only by 500-1000 calories/day in order to lose about 1-2 lbs per week. Severe calorie restriction will not provide the adequate amount of amino acids needed to preserve lean body mass. Also, no current evidence exists to prove that the HCG diet is an effective weight loss tool or that HCG provides any added benefit. Of course one will lose weight when severely restricting calories, but it is not sustainable or healthy. Additionally, there is no research into the safety of injecting HCG in the overweight or obese individual.

    When something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. There are many claims that using HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) hormone which is made by the placenta in pregnant women, will help with weight loss. The evidence has not shown this to be the case. 

    The weight loss claim has been marketed since the 1950's but controlled studies have shown that HCG works as a placebo only, when used in this regard. Injectable HCG has been approved for the treatment of infertility in both women and men. However, some physicians are prescribing HCG oral drops and sprays for the purpose of weight loss. This hormone is being combined with a 500 to 800 calorie diet to acheive this weight loss. This is too restrictive and is not nutritionally sufficient to support healthy brain function. 

    The use of HCG for weight loss is not supported by scientific research. The product may contain contaminants and there is a risk of infection with any injectable. The common side affects of HCG include headaches, mood swings, blood clots, depression, and dizziness.

    Since 1975 the FDA has required all marketing materials for HCG to include the statement, "HCG has not been demonstrated to be an effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity. There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from calorie restriction".

    The only plan for weight loss should be a healthy food intake control and a planned exercise routine. This will provide long term results.

    Dominique Adair

    HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is a hormone produced during pregnancy by the cells that form the placenta. HCG signals the hypothalamus (area of the brain that affects metabolism) to mobilize fat stores. In pregnancy, this helps the body bring nutrients into the placenta, fueling the fetus with the energy to grow.  There is no scientific data to support HCG’s ability to facilitate weight loss. This diet’s exceptionally restrictive calorie allowance (500 kcal – about ¼ of what a healthy woman would eat in one day) is responsible for the rapid weight loss promoted by the diet’s marketing claims.

    Unfortunately, because of the exceptionally restrictive nature of the diet, it does not teach long-term life style change and the anecdotal reports of regain are discouraging at best. Additionally, there are significant medical side effects from the administration of HCG that should be strongly considered.

    As I tell most of my clients what are the first three letters in diet (DIE).  Which is what you may feel like when on a diet.  As for the HCG diet it is not the best one out there to help you long term.  As in most diets they help you with the quick fix and sometimes in unhealthy ways.  Most diets you can't even stay on for long term.  You need to change your eating habits and lifestyle to keep it off.  HCG diet with its restrictive calories does not really help the cause for long term benefits.  I don't endorse diets but you need a lifestyle change and bottom line if you burn more calories than you take in you will lose weight.  So no the HCG diet is not good if you want to keep the weight off long term.
    Jamie Johnson
    Nutrition & Dietetics
    No period! The HCG diet is not a good diet. While no "diet" is a good diet, the HCG diet is an exceptionally bad and dangerous fad diet! In addition to a lack of evidence to support this notion that ingesting a pregnancy hormone leads to weight loss, the diet depends on a 500 calorie/day restriction. As a registered dietitian, it is not advised to ever recommend a diet below 1,200 calories for the average adult female (more for men) because it is nearly impossible to obtain one's nutrient needs from such a low energy intake. 500 calories per day absolutely guarantees nutrient deficiencies that are likely lead to sickness, severe health conditions, disease, injury and muscle atrophy. Additionally, an individual's basal metabolic rate (BMR) or the energy needed just to sustain bodily functions and life at rest, burns well over 500 calories per day, so failing to supply the body with fuel for these needs plus any additional daily activities will send the body into starvation mode, thus plummeting one's metabolism as it is forced to breakdown muscle proteins for energy. By degrading lean muscle, which is the metabolically active tissue within the body, one will burn calories less efficiently and start to gain weight.

    “The hCG diet combines extreme calorie restriction with daily shots of a hormone produced by pregnant women called human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG)” said By Pieter Cohen, MD.

    Will you lose weight?

    Yes, if you don’t eat, skip meal or reduce your calorie to the extreme, you’ll lose weight. HCG restrict you calories to only 500 calories a day, it’s possible to lose 5 or more pounds a week.

    Why Doctors don’t recommend it!

    Such calorie restriction diets are shown to cause you to regain the weight back after the diet ends. This diet is also very unsafe and many will develop health problems like hair loss, constipation and gallstones.

    For a health method of weight loss go to

    1. The safety of HCG has not been verified by any controlled trials. However, in my practice when patients have admitted to using HCG, i have seen them suffer from mood swings and hair loss.
    2.  For those patients I have seen on this type of diet - there isn't the appropriate loss of body fat vs. lean muscle mass as suggested by those that support its use.
    3.  Severely restricted calorie diets can be harmful and should be monitored very closely by a physician - unfortunately most people on this type of diet are not having this appropriate level of care.
    The HCG diet is not a sound diet. It requires that you eat only 500 calories a day which is a starvation diet. You lose weight on the diet because of the very low calories, but it will include muscle loss which is not good. Individuals who are on the HCG diet will likely gain the weight back plus some once they discontinue the diet.  A healthy, well rounded diet, and exercise regimen is the best way to a healthy lifestyle.
    Kat Barefield, MS, RD
    Nutrition & Dietetics
    Although HCG is not approved for weight loss, in the short-term, under a qualified doctor’s care, using HCG during dieting is generally safe but a poor weight loss solution. And no one knows how using injections of HCG will affect your other hormone levels in the long-term. HCG is an acronym for human chorionic gonadotrophin. This hormone is produced in pregnant females and its presence in urine results in a positive pregnancy test. HCG is used as a drug to treat infertility among women and to help increase sperm count in men.  In the 1950s a British doctor claimed HCG injections would help obese patients lose weight more comfortably. It doesn’t. Twenty-four controlled studies found the weight loss no different between subjects receiving HCG injections or placebo. Nor did HCG reduce hunger, establish feelings of well being or preserve lean body mass. The weight loss in all studies were equal to the calorie reduction and the misery the same. So that bears repeating: 24 to 0 is the HCG score, with 0 being the number of HCG studies that support the claims! Also keep in mind that HCG supplements are considered illegal since they are not approved by the FDA for weight loss. The HCG protocol includes regular injections or oral drops and a strict 500 calorie per day diet for 26-45 days. Unfortunately the HCG diet also restricts exercise because the nutrient intake is dangerously low. So as boring as it may sound, stay away from the HCG diet for weight loss and use the Sharecare app under the Coach tab, which is an edence-based program for tried and true weight loss and your best chance of maintaining it.
    Sheri L. Emma, MD

    Nutritional Medicine specialist Dr. Sheri Emma discusses whether or not injecting HCG for dieting is safe. Watch Dr. Emma's video for information on the HCG diet and overall nutritional health.

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    Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.