Female Hormone Injections for Weight Loss: Another Quack Remedy

Some unethical doctors are charging patients big bucks for prescriptions of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) for weight loss. Supposedly you can lose fat in just the right places, the belly for one, if you take daily hCG injections in your abdomen. The claims are sheer quackery.

This use of hCG, a pregnancy hormone that is derived from the urine of pregnant women, is “off label,” meaning the manufacturer is not allowed to promote its use for weight loss, since it’s never been proven to work.

For the doctors who prescribe hCG for weight loss, it’s not illegal, just unethical. The use of hCG for weight loss has never been proven to work any better than injections of salt water (placebo).

The injections are prescribed along with an anorexic diet of 500 calories a day. So any claims about weight loss from the hCG are scientifically impossible to prove, since starvation is likely to cut weight anyway.

The hCG weight loss remedy has been exposed as quackery in articles in WebMD, Wikipedia, and other media.

Yet still the New York Times reports that women are lining up to pay up to $1,000 a month for hCG prescriptions and the syringes needed to stick themselves.

As the Times reports:

[t]he F.D.A. has also reiterated a warning, first issued in the mid-1970s, that is required on hCG packaging: It has not been shown to increase weight loss, to cause a more “attractive” distribution of fat or to “decrease hunger and discomfort” from low-calorie diets.

The F.D.A. recently received a report of a patient on the hCG diet who had a pulmonary embolism, said Christopher Kelly, a spokesman for the agency. He said the hormone carried risks of blood clots, depression, headaches and breast tenderness or enlargement.

Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard medical school who researches weight-loss supplements, said that aside from the issue of side effects, the use of hCG as a diet tool was “manipulating people to give them the sense that they’re receiving something that’s powerful and potent and effective, and in fact they’re receiving something that’s nothing better than a placebo.”

But unlike other popular diet supplements, hCG, which is derived from the urine of pregnant women, has acquired an aura of respectability because the injections are available only by prescription.

The promoters of hCG for weight loss throw big dollops of paranoia and conspiracy theory into their pitches. Supposedly this is a “secret” that “they” don’t want you to know about.

Well, here’s a non-secret: The only way to safely keep a healthy weight has been known for a long time: A well-rounded, balanced diet plus regular exercise. But what could be more boring?

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