Hcg diet dangers: is there a source for concern?

Hcg diet dangers: is there a source for concern?

Hcg diet dangers: is there a source for concern?

Who hasn’t tried to lose weight at one time or another? Raise your hand!

Just about everyone that you run into has tried diet “X” or workout “Z.” However, when results don’t come instantaneously, it’s deemed a failure. Then it is on to the next new craze or fad.

Losing weight is such an emotional endeavor that most people will literally try anything to do it, even at the detriment to their long term health. It’s the constant search for the next quick fix that promises results with doing the least amount of work possible.


In general, we logically know what to do in order to lose weight. If we exercise, move more, and eat a clean diet we can lose unwanted fat. The problem lies in that often we are highly illogical creatures chasing the shiny object that is fat loss. So we make illogical, irrational decisions based on our need to lose weight. That leads to following all sorts of crazy diets.

Take for instance one of the latest “diets” that is circulating amongst the public, the HCG diet. Do a quick Google search for “HCG” and half of the first page is about the diet, not even about the actual hormone.

All the requirements for this diet rest in taking shots or drops of the HCG hormone and maintaining a 500 calorie diet. And to be fair, people do lose weight, quite quickly in fact. You may be asking “Why is that a problem?” “What is the danger?”

First, let’s look at what HCG exactly is. HCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin. Simply stated, it is a hormone produced by women when they become pregnant. As such, it is also used for fertility treatments in women and sometimes men.

HCG has also been deemed a prescription drug by the FDA since it is used in certain treatments. Recently the FDA came down hard on manufacturers of HCG as a “treatment” for weight loss.[1]

Why would they do that?

Too low-calorie

Aside from taking drops or injections, one of the main ingredients for this diet is following a diet that limits you to 500 calories. This is starvation level low. As a nutrition coach through Precision Nutrition, that is about 1/3 to ¼ of the amount of calories I recommend my clients start out with.

The severe restriction of calories is why this diet is dangerous. You are literally starving yourself (isn’t that borderline anorexic). The body is an amazing organism and will always find a way to survive.

Yet, as smart and complex as our bodies are they can’t tell the difference between knowingly restricting calories through diet and actually starving to death. A diet such as the HCG diet will trigger survival mechanisms because in the end, the body wants to live. Following this diet can lead to decreasing energy, increasing appetite, and slowing metabolism. These are all ways the body can defend itself against the HCG diet.

Hcg diet dangers: is there a source for concern?

In addition to doing damage to ones metabolism, there is also the distinct possibility that you are losing out on important vitamins and minerals, leading to deficiencies that can cause long term and short term health problems. Issues such as gallstones, electrolyte imbalance among others are possible.

Side effects

Aside from the side effects of a severely low calorie diet that was mentioned above, HCG itself has a list of side effects. Among them are headache, fatigue, irritability, gynecomastia, pulmonary embolism, depression, cardiac arrest, and death.[2]

Those side effects would be enough to warrant anyone to run away from this. Unless you are prescribed by a doctor to take HCG, I would be wary of using it for anything other than what is intended for, fertility treatments.

Not long term

It is nearly impossible to maintain this diet for the long haul. The calorie restriction is too low for one to continue for the rest of their lives. It is because of this fact that the HCG doesn’t pass the acceptable diet list.

One of the most important factors in deciding on a diet to follow is whether or not you can sustain it for the rest of your life. If the answer is no, then you should run. That is one of the last dangers to the HCG diet.

There is no lifelong sustainability. You are forced to be reliant on not only the HCG hormone itself, but maintaining a low calorie diet. Sure you could stick with the low calorie diet, but there comes a point that the severe restriction will catch up to you and your health.

When you try to make a lifestyle change, the best bet is to attack one habit at a time. The HCG diet avoids all of that. When looking at the plan, there is no learning of what to eat, how to eat, portion control, hunger cues, etc. The choice is either stay on the HCG diet, taking injections or drops along with a severely low calorie diet, or risk going back to old habits and regaining all the weight lost.


If you follow the HCG diet, you’re going to lose weight, but not for the reasons you think. Ask yourself these questions before starting any diet:

– Is it healthy?
– Will it help you reach your goals in a healthy manner?
– Where’s the science?
– Is it sustainable?
– Are you losing weight for right now or for the rest of your life?

According to research backed by several studies and the medical community, HCG is a dangerous diet to follow. It is too low in calories to be sustainable over the course of a lifetime and the hormone has a negligible effect if any on the actual weight loss taking place.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence stating that this person lost “X” amount of pounds or “Y” amount of inches, or that you can use it to “jumpstart” your metabolism. However, use common sense. Any plan that tells you to avoid exercise or to restrict calories to starvation levels, or demonizes a particular nutrient is probably not a great choice.

Your best bet? Learn healthier habits. Start today. Pick one habit that you struggle with, like making sure you have a vegetable with every meal and do it for the next week or month. Then pick another one. We all know that following a diet that is based around protein, lots of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and a limited amount of grains is a great plan to be healthier and see fat loss success.

The problem is that plan is not sexy or “buzzwordy.” It takes dedication, consistency, and perseverance to reach goals. It won’t result in drastic “lose 20 pounds in 20 days” success, it’ll more likely come in waves. In the end you’ll be healthier and you’ll be able to sustain it for a lifetime.

[1](“HCG Diet Products are Illegal.”2014) Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm281333.htm

[2] (“Questions and Answers on HCG Products for Weight Loss.” 2012) Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/consumers/buyingusingmedicinesafely/medicationhealthfraud/ucm281834.htm