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chicagotribune.com

'HCG diet' stirs debate over weight-loss claims

Chicago Tribune 
April 20, 2008

Ask an obese man to take a pregnancy test and there's a chance he'll test positive.

That's because men and women throughout the country are latching on to a weight-loss craze—the HCG diet—and injecting themselves with pregnancy hormones in order to shed pounds.

Logically speaking, the diet makes sense, said Robert Kushner, professor of medicine at Northwestern University, who studied the weight-loss method. But he doesn't support it. "It's a waste of money, time and effort," he said.

HCG, which stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, is the hormone that pregnant women produce. During a pregnancy, the fetus needs an abundance of calories to grow, and HCG is believed to mobilize fat. In other words, the hormone converts the mother's abdominal fat into calories for the baby to use, essentially stimulating her metabolism, explained Brock Dunn, a counselor at Native Healing Ways, which sells HCG nationally by mail.

"We have thousands of people getting it from us," Dunn said. "You get to the point where it's a last chance for people, and it's easy."

Those who inject the hormone when they're not pregnant lose about a pound a day, Dunn said. The weight-loss method costs about $60 a week, taking six weeks to complete.

Shalom Shick, a 51-year-old from Tennessee, said she tried more than 100 diets before discovering HCG in September. "I was already obese, and I was headed for morbid obesity," Shick said. "I was really scared, and I was praying that some solution would come my way."

That solution came in the form of a late-night infomercial about the hormones. She got a prescription from a doctor over the phone whom she hadn't met in person and eventually started ordering HCG from overseas because of the low price. Shick said she has lost 45 pounds in five months. She takes HCG twice a day, which she said blunts her hunger, making it possible for her to stick to a 500-calorie-a-day diet.

The online health message boards are buzzing with the news of the hormone, even though the Food and Drug Administration doesn't approve of HCG for weight loss and the few doctors administering HCG in Illinois quickly closed their doors and disappeared once their names became popular through word of mouth.

Furthermore, Kevin Trudeau, author of "The Weight Loss Cure" and a key HCG diet advocate, was charged in September by the Federal Trade Commission with deceptive practices and earlier accused by the New York State Consumer Protection Board of selling names and contact information to telemarketers.

Now, the only place to get the hormone locally is online, but that may not stop Julie Bronski of Chicago, who said she's determined to lose at least 100 pounds.

After reading the reviews of Trudeau's book on amazon.com, Bronski said she will ask her doctor about the weight-loss hormone in the hope of losing as much weight as the publicized claims.

"One guy said he lost all this weight after two weeks," Bronski said. "I'm the one who always tries everything, so I'm hoping this diet will work."

The HCG diet was actually created decades ago in Europe, and although it moved through the United States about 30 years ago, it has been resurrected in recent months because people are looking for a quick solution more than ever before, said Kushner, who reviewed the studies when they arrived here in the 1970s.

Although using HCG for weight loss hasn't been shown to do any damage, Kushner said, it doesn't have any effect on losing the pounds. What did have an effect, he said, was the 500-calorie diet that many of the HCG patients adhered to, in addition to the injections.

"There are so many people who are struggling to manage their body weight, and they're frustrated, anxious, desperate to get their weight under control," Kushner said.

John Bersin, co-owner of HCG Medical, a consulting company that connects doctors with HCG-hungry patients, said that although the hormone shouldn't be considered a "magic pill," he has thousands of people waiting to try it.

"It's a national phenomenon right now," he said, adding that the hormone can cause people to feel less hungry and more regulated."

 

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