Dangers of the HCG Diet

Losing weight at the rate of a pound a day may sound tempting, but the hCG diet may pose some very serious health risks.

Taking the hCG hormone itself can cause a variety of complications that can read like the fine print in a prescription disclaimer: Users may report incidences of headaches, blood clots, restlessness, leg cramps, constipation, temporary hair thinning, depression and male breast enlargement. Also, you may feel, well, like you're pregnant -- swelling, breast tenderness and water retention, anyone? HCG can also cause a potentially life-threatening condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), in which ovaries over-stimulated by hormones can swell and leak fluid into the abdomen. This can cause abdominal pain and weight gain but can lead to blood clots, kidney failure, fluid build-up in the abdomen or chest, and electrolyte imbalances.

On top of the possible complications from the hormone, severely reduced calorie diets have their own set of side effects. While the amount of calories your body needs depends on how much activity you do everyday, most adult women need between 1,800 and 2,400 calories per day, and adult men need 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. Those trying to lose weight typically eat between 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day. At 500 calories, the hCG diet calls for only a fraction of those requirements.

When you're on an extremely reduced calorie diet such as the hCG plan, you're basically starving yourself. By allowing so few calories per day, it can be difficult to meet your daily nutritional needs. You may also experience some not-so-pleasant side effects such as fatigue, nausea, constipation and diarrhea. Your hair might start falling out. Even worse, you may develop gallstones, which could require surgery to correct.

Another problem with severely restricted calorie diets is that once you go off them and start eating a regular amount of calories, you're bound to regain some of the weight you lost.

The FDA has also received at least one report of an hCG dieter who developed a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung that can potentially be fatal [source: Haupt].

Proponents of the diet point out that the hormone hCG is natural and clearly safe for pregnant women and the fetuses they carry, and that dieters receive a much smaller dose of hCG than is found under normal conditions in pregnant women.

What does the FDA make of the hCG diet? Find out in the next section.