Has the HCG diet been shown to be safe and effective?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

No on both counts. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has advised consumers to steer clear of over-the-counter weight-loss products that contain HCG. HCG is human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced during pregnancy.

As a prescription medication, HCG is used mainly to treat fertility issues. HCG is not approved for over-the-counter use, nor has it been proved to work for weight loss. Companies that sell over-the-counter HCG weight-loss products are breaking the law.

So why has there been so much talk about the HCG diet? Perhaps it's because the diet recommends severe calorie restriction — typically just 500 to 800 calories a day. People who follow such a very low calorie diet are likely to lose weight, at least in the short term.

However, diets that so severely limit calories have risks, such as gallstone formation, irregular heartbeat and an imbalance of electrolytes.

Side effects have also been reported with the HCG diet and include fatigue, irritability, restlessness, depression, fluid buildup (edema), and swelling of the breasts in boys and men (gynecomastia). Another serious concern is the risk of blood clots forming and blocking blood vessels (thromboembolism).

If weight loss is your goal, there are safer ways to lose weight. Talk with your doctor or other health care provider about how to make healthy changes that lead to permanent weight loss, such as eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.

Nov. 14, 2014 See more Expert Answers