hCG 'Diet' Controversy: Dangerous Diet Or Healthy Hormone Treatment?

The hCG "Diet" has been stirring quite a bit of controversy after Dr. Oz took a closer examination of the already controversial weight-loss program.

While the wildly popular doctor said the treatment requires "further examination," many doctors don't approve. However, some dieters disagree.

The program, which has dieters consume less than 500 calories per day, is supplemented by "daily shots of a hormone produced by pregnant women called human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG)."

But the question of whether it works or not has raised a lot of questions about the "diet." While hCG proponents claim to lose up to 30 pounds in a single month, those results aren't unexpected on such a restricted diet.

One variation of the hCG diet, involving homeopathic supplements, has reportedly been dismissed as illegal and fraudulent by the FDA. Elizabeth Miller, who leads the agency's Internet and health fraud team, tells USA Today that even if not dangerous, the products are, at minimum, "economic fraud."

What about the hCG injections -- doesn't that make the diet more effective?
No. Promoters of the hCG diet claim that when people are injected with hCG hormone they don't feel hungry even though they're not eating. The idea of using hCG injections to curb appetite was introduced over 50 years ago and has been carefully studied in over a dozen well-done trials. Every single well-done trial showed that the hCG injections were no better than injecting a salt-water placebo. In other words, people injected with hCG lost the same amount of weight as people injected with a salt-water placebo.

According to Dr. Oz, the shots don't even make the restricted diet any safer.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that the FDA deemed hCG shots illegal and fraudulent. It has been updated to reflect that only certain over-the-counter hCG products have been deemed illegal and fraudulent, as reported here. There are approved prescription uses for hCG, including as a treatment for infertility.