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The Dangers of HCG Injections

Shoot up, slim down: That's the premise behind HCG injections, hormone-containing syringes that stick dieters to help them lose weight—and they're becoming increasingly popular.

Proponents claim regular injection of human chorionic gonadotropin—a hormone that women produce during pregnancy and that is sometimes prescribed as a fertility treatment—speeds metabolism and breaks down the body's stored fat, allowing dieters to get by on 500 calories a day without the hunger and health risks that accompany other starvation diets.

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False. Being on the HCG diet—just like any seriously low-cal diet—lowers your metabolism and results in serious muscle loss, says Pamela Peeke, M.D., M.P.H., senior science advisor at Elements Behavioral Health and author of The Hunger Fix. And while starving yourself for a week may yield short-term weight loss, over the long haul, you are more likely to gain weight from trying the HCG diet than anything.

The Food and Drug Administration states that HCG does not aid in weight loss, and a 1995 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (yes, this is the fad diet that just keeps coming back!) concluded that "there is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight loss or fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being." Researchers believe that when dieters do happen to lose weight on the HCG diet, it's most likely from a combination of calorie restriction and placebo effect.

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Whether HCG makes you lose or gain weight is one thing, but more concerning is what else it could do to your body. HCG is a hormone, and once you start manipulating your body's delicate hormonal balance, wide-ranging effects can occur, says Peeke. "HCG injections have been associated with headaches, blood clots, leg cramps, temporary hair thinning, constipation, and breast tenderness." The FDA has received at least one recent report of an HCG dieter developing a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal blood clot in the lung.

Think that's bad? There's more. When you get an HCG shot from anyone other than a licensed physician, you don't know what you're really being injected with. The FDA does not approve over-the-counter use of HCG, meaning that the ingredients are not regulated—and any shots or serums sold online are offered illegally. The FDA does allow physicians to administer HCG injections for off-label uses, but giving it to a patient definitely enters into an ethically murky area as FDA labeling for approved HCG products requires the following statement:

"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."

The bottom line: "Avoid falling for a fad, especially one that is expensive and fraught with side effects and serious health risks," says Peeke. Our suggestion? Stick with these science-backed ways to lose weight.

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