In fact, beta-hCG was never approved by the FDA for over-the-counter use, nor has it been approved for the treatment of obesity or weight loss. In 2011, the FDA and the FTC pulled the drug from OTC preparations, arguing that the use of hCG was “fraudulent and illegal” despite homeopathic labels4. Further, Elizabeth Miller, who was the acting director of the FDA’s fraud unit, further clarified that “there is no substantial evidence hCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from the recommended caloric restriction.4
The fad did die out, but only for a short while. It has now resurfaced with multiple manufacturers offering “Hormone-Free” hCG products. Let that sink in—hormone-free beta-hCG. They packaged the amino acids used to form hCG into a solution and are selling them as “hormone-free” hCG to get around the FDA sanctions against selling hCG over-the-counter. The strategy allows the massive profits that the hCG fad has generated over the last four or five decades to continue to roll in. It would be as though I dissolved sugar, eggs, flour and salt into a solution of water and sold it as a cake-free cake. This ploy by the “non-hCG” hCG manufacturers is completely ridiculous. Even more ridiculous are the clinicians who promote these products.
Dr Mehmet Oz, for example, promoted the diet on one of his shows. This is the same man who had to stand before congress to explain his baseless marketing claims and was nearly booted out of Columbia University by his own colleagues. Protein function—hormones such as hCG are proteins—results from the three-dimensional structure that is based on the amino acid sequence of that protein and its post-translational modification, which results in specific folding patterns. In simple terms, if you do not mix the cake ingredients in the right concentrations and bake it at the right temperature, it won’t become a cake. Likewise, those amino acids that are just floating around in solution will not randomly come together on their own to form these hormones. The body will just use those free amino acids to build any of the other proteins it needs—none of which is beta-hCG.
What does this mean for clinicians? It means they’re doing harm. Even if beta-hCG was benign, it is a scam—and scamming patients is harmful, both financially and morally.
It’s shameful to think that there are colleagues who are prescribing and selling this fake therapy, and I hesitate to call any who do so physicians. This is just one stark example of how we let down ourselves and our profession—if we let such misinformation and patient deception continues without speaking out against it. Both the FTC and the FDA have done their part in denouncing the hCG scam. Now it’s time that we, as responsible physicians, do the same.
- Rabe T, Richter S, Kiesel L, Runnebaum B. “Risk-Benefit Analysis of a hCG-500 kcal Reducing Diet (Cura Romana) in Females.” Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 1987. 47(5): 297-307.
- Barrett S., “HCG Worthless as Weight-Loss Aid.” Updated January 26, 2016. Available at: http://www.dietscam.org/reports/hcg.shtml. Accessed November 28, 2016.
- Mirkin G. “Getting Thin.” Boston: Little Brown & Co.1983.
- Gever J. “FDA Yanks HCG Weight Loss Agents from Market.” MedPage Today. Updated December 6, 2011. Available at: http://www.medpagetoday.com/ProductAlert/OTC/30042?pfc=101&spc=230. Accessed November 28, 2016.
- Hellmich N. “HCG Weight-Loss Products Are Fraudulent, FDA Says.” USA Today. Updated January 23, 2011. Available at: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/yourlife/fitness/weight-loss-challenge/ 2011-01-24-hcgdiet24_ST_N.htm.. Accessed November 28, 2016.