Does the HCG diet work — and is it safe?

Answers from Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D.

No on both counts. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 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, that level of calorie restriction has risks, such as gallstone formation, irregular heartbeat, and an imbalance of the electrolytes that keep the body's muscles and nerves functioning properly.

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.

Dec. 21, 2011