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What is the hCG diet? An article I wrote for Watchfit

Have you heard of the HCG diet?

I began looking into it this week, and I have to say, this is one to avoid. Let me explain why.

The HCG diet, or Simeons protocol, was published in 1954 but gained huge popularity in recent years. Dr Simeons claimed that the combination of a reduced calorie diet of 500 calories a day combined with a daily injection of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)promotedfast weight loss and non-essential body fat loss in specific areas of the body like the thighs, belly and hips.

However, the research that took place in the 1970s was not based on controlled studies, but anecdotal clinical experience.

The rationale behind the diet comes from hCG’s role in causing nausea in early stage pregnancy , and suppressing hunger as a result. Because of this, people following this limited calorie regime are able to subsist without feeling starved. Hormonal deficiency or imbalance may drive weight gain, especially in cases of menopause, andropause or sluggish thyroid function.

HCG is a pro-hormone and the premise of the diet is that it can correct hormone deficiencies. It claims that it can prevent muscle loss by elevating hormones like testosterone, which induces anabolic muscle building (as opposed to catabolic muscle breakdown as often seen in the Atkins diet). This is important, because when dramatic weight loss occurs, the muscles are the first thing to go and unfortunately, muscle tissue is the hardest to rebuild.

Muscle loss destroys the body’s metabolism, muscle shape and may affect the distribution of any regained weight. Like all diets which induce dramatic weight loss, the weight usually returns when the dieter resumes normal eating habits.

HCG injections are available only on prescription, which means only medically qualified doctors are able to issue them. And there is no demonstrable evidence that detectable levels of hCG are found in the bloodstream when taken orally even though it’s sold as a diet supplement: drops, pellets, sprays or in homeopathic form, none of which are approved medicines or supplements.

The diet’s rules are draconian:

Extreme detoxification followed by a fat-loading period for two days where the dieter may eat whatever he wants. The maintenance phase give followers a selected list of foods from which they may choose only two fruits, two vegetables and two protein servings daily for 21-40 days. Meat must be completely lean, and limited to a strict weight.

Next, there’s the stabilisation phase. The 500 calorie diet is continued for 72 hours, but after this healthy fats and more calories are added with the exclusion of sugar, starch and grains.

A 6 week break from hCG ingestion is required between rounds. Only moderate exercise is allowed, including walking and non-strenuous biking. Anything too taxing would risk depletion of the body’s glycogen stores and loss of muscle mass, sacrificed to fuel energy requirements.

Finally, the diet encourages daily weight-monitoring and correction days if weight gain occurs. This has a negative psychological impact on the dieter and may lead to unhealthy habits and poor nutrition.

The oral contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy have been classified as Grade 1 carcinogens by the World Health Organisation. The risks of any sort of synthetic hormone therapy are always great and some cases of ovarian hyperstimulation symptoms have been recorded with hCG therapy.

My advice?

Diets such as this don’t work in the long-term. The important thing is to work out what your metabolic type is and to eat according to your body’s requirements. Try and eat a wide range of phytonutrients (fruits and vegetables) in order to harness the health benefits they offer. Don’t be scared of fat. Fat is needed for correct hormone synthesis and brain activity.

Good nutrition through variety is key. If you eat a good range of foods matched to your metabolic type, you’re halfway to regaining your health and optimum weight and if you get that right, you’re doing very well.

You can read the article in its original form here.

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