The HCG diet: Weight-loss wonder or downright dangerous? - KHOU

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HOUSTON – The HCG Diet – a crash diet that supposedly tricks your body into thinking you're pregnant so you'll burn calories faster—is gaining popularity again. And while some tout it as a great tool for quick weight loss, others say it's downright dangerous.

Equilibrium Weight Loss and Longevity is one of the places in the Houston area where, after a consultation and blood work, patients can start the 30- to 90-day program. The program involves injecting HCG, a hormone normally used to treat fertility issues.

"Each week, we give you, we start you out with seven shots. You go through the week, you come in once a week and we do a full body composition analysis, which measures fat, measures water, measures your weight and you know, we watch you and guide you," Donna Pontello of Equilibrium Weight Loss said.

Patients also have to stick to a 500-calorie diet and follow a strict menu that supposedly forces the hormone to use stored fat to fuel the body while keeping hunger pangs at bay.

Janie Pineda, 28, is one of Equilibrium's success stories. She's lost 10 pounds in three weeks on the HCG diet.

"Now I feel like I look great," she said.

But the FDA has not approved HCG for weight loss, and some people have reported side-effects like headaches, constipation, hair loss, breast tenderness, blood clots and nausea.

Also, eating just 500 calories a day can be a concern. Health experts say most adult women need between 1,800 and 2,400 calories a day, and men need 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day. On most diets, those trying to lose weight typically eat between 1,200 and 1,500 calories a day. So on the HCG Diet, you're essentially starving yourself.

Still, proponents of the diet argue that it's safe—as long as you have the HCG injections.

"Yes, that is dangerous – 500 calories a day – if you don't have real HCG in your system, it is very dangerous to eat 500 calories a day. But with real HCG, we are teaching portion control, better eating habits so that when they're done, we add the calories back in to various foods," Pontello said.

But it's not cheap. The program costs about $800 for four weeks, or about $1,600 for 12 weeks.

Dr. David L. Katz, a board-certified internal and preventative medicine specialist and founder of Yale University's Prevention Research Center at Griffin Hospital, believes the diet is a bad idea – for your body and your bank account.

"The HCG Diet is entirely bogus. I believe it will separate you from your money, and possibly your health," Katz wrote in his blog on The Huffington Post. "The only advocacy for this diet comes from those peddling it and profiting from it."

Katz argues that the HCG Diet – which originally surfaced more than 60 years ago – is just one of those fads that comes and goes from time to time.

"When people forget that HCG Diet claims are all false, its popularity rises again," Katz wrote.

The FDA has said there is no evidence that HCG increases weight loss, but because it's received the organization's stamp of approval as a fertility drug, people will be able to obtain it for weight loss purposes—as long as there's a doctor willing to prescribe it.

As with any diet plan, people interested in the HCG Diet should consult with their physician.


11 Oct, 2011

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