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Health Team

FDA: Hormone diet drug doesn't work

Posted February 25, 2011 11:56 a.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2011 6:39 p.m. EST

— A weight-loss program based on a homeopathic product and a restrictive diet is gaining devoted followers, but it isn't all it claims to be, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

Various diet programs based on human chorionic gonadotropin, or HGC, appear to be a dieter's dream – take the homeopathic hormone, eat a very low-calorie diet, and avoid strenuous exercise.

"I haven't worked out one day, and I've lost 31 pounds" in two weeks, HCG dieter Shawn Welch said.

Welch said he's always been a big guy.

"It's just because I love to eat. I admit. That's why I'm here," he said. "I have to get over that because of what's happening in my life and how I feel."

High blood pressure and cholesterol forced Welch to make changes, and a friend recommended HCG. It's a natural hormone produced in large quantities during pregnancy.

People like Welch take a few drops of HCG a day. A 2-ounce bottle is priced around $70 to $80.

More than 50 years ago, Dr. Albert Simeons found that HCG supplements helped obese people break down problem fat and suppress their appetite – if they stick to a 500 calorie-a-day plan of lean protein, fruit, vegetables, no starches or refined sugars, and plenty of water.

"That's actually the reason people are losing weight – not because of HCG drops," said Ashley Honeycutt, a registered dietitian with Rex Healthcare.

FDA officials have called over-the-counter HCG "fraudulent" and said it doesn't even fit their definition of homeopathic.

"There's no research behind it to say that it actually works," Honeycutt said.

Welch said he's convinced the drug is the key to helping his body return to a normal metabolism, so once the weight is gone, maintaining it will be easier.

"The thing to this HCG diet is it resets your hypothalamus," he said.

Honeycutt, though, said that a HCG diet is just like every other low-calorie diet.

"It's going to be a quick fix, and the minute you start to go back to normal eating, you're going to gain every bit of that weight back, plus some," she said.

Welch agreed that keeping the weight off is the key test, but he said that for now, hunger isn't a problem, and he feels great.

"I'm losing weight. I'm energetic," he said.

The FDA does not consider HCG products to be dangerous to a person's health, so they are considered a low priority for any action.