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Warning issues over weight loss supplement, HCG

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) regularly monitors advertising in newspapers, on TV and radio, as well as online advertisements. In recent months, it has noted an uptick in advertisements focused on weight loss, many promoting a dietary supplement called HCG.

HCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, a hormone produced in the body during pregnancy. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pronounced the use of this product for dietary purposes "fraudulent and illegal." Based on the FDA's assessment, the BBB is advising consumers to be extremely wary of any advertisements promising easy weight loss in conjunction with the use of HCG.

Clinical trials evaluated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a federal agency that commits itself to protecting the marketplace by policing unfair practices, showed that claims made by firms marketing HCG could not be substantiated. In many HCG advertisements, what isn't mentioned is that users of the product are counseled to consume less than 500 calories per day. This is what causes weight loss, not the HCG hormone. There have also been claims that the hormone will decrease hunger, but this is also unproven. Samuel Klein of Washington University School of Medicine says, "Data from most randomized controlled trials show that HCG is no better than a placebo in achieving weight loss or reducing hunger."

While HCG may not be dangerous, Elizabeth Miller, the FDA's leader for the Internet and Health Fraud Team, notes the drug is not approved for weight loss, and also declares it's "at least a form of economic fraud."

The fact that this diet requires such a low caloric intake could be dangerous to one's health. The daily average recommended caloric intake is 2,500 for men, 2,000 for women and 1,800 for children. These numbers vary slightly based on age, weight, and height and activity level. Consuming only 500 calories daily has the potential to produce dangerous side effects such as blood clots, dizziness and Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) in women, as well as undesirable side effects for people trying to lose weight, including rapid weight gain once a person returns to their normal caloric intake. The BBB strongly urges consumers to consult with a physician or certified trainer/dietician before beginning any diet or using any weight loss supplement.

At certain weight loss clinics HCG is still administered through injection by doctors even though, according to Dr. Cohen, M.D. of the Cambridge Health Alliance at Harvard Medical School, "Every single well-done trial showed that the HCG injections were no better [at improving weight loss] than a saltwater placebo."

The Federal Trade Commission decreed back in 1976 that consumers signing up for injections of HCG be informed in writing that:

These weight reduction treatments include the injection of HCG, a drug which has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective in the treatment of obesity or weight control. There is no substantial evidence that HCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or "normal" distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restrictive diets.

Many HCG distributors advertise free trial offers, which the BBB considers misleading. Four companies offering HCG that were reviewed by the BBB stated they offer a 14 day trial for $5.99, or people can buy a 90 day supply, with the first month free. What consumers are often unaware of is that when they agree to the "free" trial they are also agreeing to purchase two months worth of HCG as well. This generally costs around $80.00.

For those considering trying weight loss supplements in order to lose weight, it's important to remember that nothing can replace exercise and a well-balanced meal plan. The BBB offers some additional tips to follow when trying to lose weight:

• Always consult with a physician, nutrition specialist or dietician before engaging in any diet.

• Do not participate in diets that require starvation (cutting your caloric intake to less than 50% of your recommended amount).

• Do not eliminate an entire food group or drastically reduce portions of certain food groups.

• Avoid using products claiming the following:

o Speedy results with little to no effort on the consumer's part

o No lifestyle changes are necessary

o Weight loss exceeding two pounds per week

o No exercise is necessary

o That a patch or a cream will cause you to lose weight

o You can continue consuming high-calorie foods and still lose weight

o Promises long-term results without maintaining ongoing maintenance

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at or 651-699-1111, toll free at 1-800-646-6222.