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Thousands of people are latching onto a diet regime that promises rapid fat loss-around 30 pounds monthly-and, judging by its recent surge in popularity, actually delivers. But the so-called hCG weight loss program is either a weight-loss miracle or even a dangerous fraud, based on who’s talking. The program combines drops or injections of hCG, a pregnancy hormone, with just 500 calories a day. Although some believers are so convinced of their power they’ll willingly stick themselves by using a syringe, the federal government and mainstream medical community say it’s a gimmick that carries way too many health problems and doesn’t result in hcg diet drops.

“It’s reckless, irresponsible, and completely irrational,” says Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Could you lose fat into it? Obviously, but that’s for the reason that you’re hardly consuming any calories. And then any benefit will not be gonna last.”

HCG is licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat infertility in men and women. But its weight-loss roots trace back to the 1950s, when British endocrinologist A.T.W. Simeons discovered that giving obese patients small, regular doses of the hormone helped them lose stubborn clumps of fat. It only worked, however, when along with a near-starvation diet. Simeons began touting hCG as a potent hunger controller that might make anything more than 500 daily calories unbearable. And the man claimed the hormone could blast fat in key trouble spots such as the upper arms, stomach, thighs, and buttocks, while preserving muscle. Save for a couple of tweaks, the modern-day incarnation is largely as Simeons presented it: Dieters supplement an exceptionally low-calorie diet plan with daily injections prescribed off-label by medical experts, or take diluted, homeopathic hCG- typically in drop form-sold online, in drugstores, and at nutritional supplement stores.

The key reason why the hCG meals are experiencing a revival is now unclear, but the hype has sparked a response in the FDA. In January, the agency warned that homeopathic hCG is fraudulent and illegal when sold for weight-loss purposes. Even though the FDA said such products aren’t necessarily dangerous, their sale is deceptive, since there’s not good evidence they’re effective for losing weight. What’s more, all hCG products, including injections prescribed from a doctor, must possess a warning stating there’s no proof they accelerate weight loss, redistribute fat, or numb the hunger and discomfort typical of your low-calorie diet.

Nonetheless, doctors will still be doling out prescriptions for that daily injections, typically inserted into the thigh. At New Beginnings Weight Loss Clinic in Florida, by way of example, an in-house physician has prescribed injections to 3,000 clients since 2008, and clinical director Jo Lynn Hansen recently observed a marked jump in interest. There, clients can opt for either a 23-day plan ($495) or perhaps a 40-day regimen ($595). After having a six week break and eating normally-to avoid against becoming “hCG-immune”-many resume this process, completing multiple cycles. “We have people flying in from across the country,” Hansen says. “It’s merely a tiny little needle that pricks the skin. Everyone can practice it.”

Though hCG dieters incorporate some leeway in the way that they spend their 500 daily calories, they’re urged to decide on organic meats, vegetables, and fish. Dairy, carbs, alcohol, and sugar are common off limits. A day’s meals might consist of coffee as well as an orange for breakfast; a bit tilapia and raw asparagus for lunch; a piece of fruit in the afternoon; and crab, spinach, Melba toast, and tea for lunch. If dieters slip up, they’re encouraged to compensate by drinking only water and eating outright six apples for twenty four hours. That’s thought to help squeeze out water weight, a psychological boost to help them get back on track.

“It wasn’t that tough to pull off, and I’d get it done again inside a heartbeat,” raved London-based fashion stylist Alison Edmond in February’s Marie Claire. “Eventually, I lost an absolute of 25 pounds, finding yourself in a weight I hadn’t experienced ten years.” Despite success stories like hers, scientific evidence about the plan is shaky at best. In 1995, researchers analyzed 14 clinical trials about the hCG diet. Only two concluded hCG was any further effective compared to a placebo at helping people lose fat. And nearly ten years earlier, a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal stated hCG has “no value” as a method of managing obesity, and that the diet plan has become “thoroughly discredited and consequently rejected by a lot of the medical community.”

Detractors repeat the hormone isn’t some miracle ingredient to weight reduction-the restrictive meals are. “When you don’t eat, you slim down,” Cohen says. “If hCG truly diminished hunger, it will be a wonderful drug. However if that were the way it is, why couldn’t you merely modestly lessen your intake while using it? Why would you must simultaneously starve yourself?” But believers insist that, thanks to hCG, they could stay with a small-calorie diet without hunger pangs, while losing extra fat. They’re adamant that hCG is essential on the diet’s success. “People are strongly convinced this hormone could keep them on the 500-calorie diet. And the power of suggestion may be an extremely strong force,” says Cohen.

Naturally, the regimen isn’t without risks. The hormone is recognized to cause headaches, thrombus, leg cramps, temporary hair thinning, constipation, and breast tenderness. The FDA has gotten a minumum of one recent report of an HCG dieter creating a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal blood clot within the lung, says agency spokesperson Shelly Burgess. Yet, the hormone’s full risk profile is unknown. “HCG was studied briefly [to lose weight] and found to become ineffective, therefore we have no idea what its potential risks are,” Cohen says. “Should I have data that it causes cardiac arrest, stroke, or cancer? No, I don’t, because we merely don’t know at this stage.” While hCG may be safe on its own-the FDA says it’s safe as an infertility treatment-pairing it having an extremely low-calorie diet may have unexpected side effects.

A couple of years ago, Lori Hill, 40, of Salt Lake City, Utah, began a 28-day hCG diet cycle. She says she lost about 26 pounds, including thigh fat, largely without hunger. But she felt ill very quickly, and through the last week of the diet, Hill-a fit and active soccer referee-couldn’t climb your flight of stairs without 08dexppky for breath. The time and effort made her muscles burn and shake, too. After completing the cycle, Hill regained all the weight she had lost, along with an additional 15 pounds. “I starved myself and threw all of my nutrients away from whack,” she says. “You’re tricking your body into enabling you to starve, without feeling any major hunger. What you’re doing to the body just isn’t worthwhile.”

There’s no question that 500 calories every day is tantamount to malnutrition-dieters must not dip below 1,200, say experts-and federal dietary guidelines recommend over three times the amount of calories the dietary plan prescribes for women ages 19 to 30. Moreover, extremely low-calorie diets might cause severe bone and muscle loss, electrolyte imbalances, gallstones, and also death. “I’ve heard many people say the unwanted effects with this diet are overwhelming,” says registered dietitian Keri Gans, a spokesperson for that American Dietetic Association. “And so they could start as soon as 1 day in-you’ll start feeling irritated and tired.”

To Gans, the regimen is nothing but a crash diet-plus an expensive one at that. A more sensible path to weight-loss, she says, is not any more mysterious than choosing healthy foods, limiting the size of portions, and exercising. “This really is another approach for folks who believe there’s a silver bullet, but there is no such thing. This diet does is reveal to you the way to restrict, and an individual can only do that for so long without returning to old habits.”