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Expert Q&A

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Is the hCG dietgood to lose 20-30 pounds?

Asked by Stacey, Oregon

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I have repeatedly heard about the hCG diet, with many claims about tremendous weight loss on a very restrictive diet and the hCG oral drops. I have been skeptical of the results, even though there are many avid fans. Is this a good diet for people needing to lose 20-30 pounds?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Stacey -- I'm glad you asked this question as I get asked about this frequently in my practice. I was not completely familiar with this diet so I consulted a fellow member of the Obesity Society (a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the treatment and prevention of obesity), Dr. Caroline Apovian, the director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine.

HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy. HCG has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of overweight or obesity. FDA approval is an important process that requires years of research on both animals and humans to evaluate the safety of a drug and to determine whether the drug actually works before it is approved as a prescription medication. "We have no idea how dangerous this drug might be since there is no science behind it for safety and efficacy," Apovian explained. She went on to say that "the hCG diet allows one to lose weight because it is a very low calorie diet, and any diet that is so low in calories will promote weight loss." The diet is a 500-calorie diet, far below the level that most experts prescribe, as discussed in another recent CNNHealth article.

The only FDA-approved weight loss medications are sibutramine (Meridia), orlistat (Xenical), and phentermine. These medications are to be used in people with a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 or with a BMI of 27 and obesity-related conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. So, for someone like you who needs to lose only 20-30 pounds, medication is not generally recommended.

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