HCG dieters see success, but is it worth the risk?

(WMC-TV) – It's a diet that promises to help you lose a pound or more per day, and it discourages people from exercising. But while there are those who are singing the praises of the HCG diet, others are asking if it is truly worth it.

For Keisha Marshall, her 'fat jeans say it all.'

Just before she decided to diet, she was on vacation in Cancun and embarrassed to be seen in a swimsuit. But now, Marshall says, her days of 'yo yo' dieting are over because of injections of the pregnancy hormone HCG. In non-pregnant patients, HCG tricks the brain into burning extra fat cells instead of using those cells to nourish a growing baby.

Patients take the injections, drops or nasal sprays over a three week period and limit their diet to 500 calories a day.

"I was fine," Marshall said. "I was good, really."

But according to national diet expert Dr. Neal Barnard, the diet is potentially dangerous.

"I think its dangerous for people to go this route, because first of all, a starvation diet has consequences," Barnard said.

Marshall's doctor, Dr. Bo Adams, does not believe it is dangerous, though he admits the diet is controversial and there could be unknown negative side effects, as there are with any diet.

HCG is not approved by the FDA for weight loss.

"There isn't a lot of long term data to show that HCG has any significant long term problems," he said.

For many people, Adams said, the diet can reverse serious health issues like diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

"If it was just cosmetic I would probably be a little bit leery of doing what I'm doing," he said.

Alice and Jack Hammer both used HCG to lose weight. Before HCG, Jack weighed 300 pounds.

"I'm a type two diabetic, so I decided that I needed to lose weight get off the medicine. My blood sugar went down," Jack said.

"As a nurse, I though it was crazy, and thought I would never do that…It forces your body to burn fat for calories, for energy," Alice added.

Still, many medical experts say the weight loss is a placebo affect, and that with a 500-calorie diet, you're going to lose weight anyway – and maybe not the healthy way.

"It's definitely advised not to consume that low of a calorie diet," said Mary Beth Cavanaugh, a dietitian at Case Western University. "The diet itself could lead to health problems."

But for Jack Hammer, who can see his feet again, his wife Alice, who can now fit in the same size she wore twenty years ago, and Keisha Marshall, who threw away her fat jeans, any dangers that may or may not be associated with HCG are worth the weight.

The cost of HCG supplements varies depending on whether you get injections, or use oral drops or nasal sprays. Patients can spend anywhere from $75 for a three week supply to $700 for the hormone plus clinical check-ins. As with any diet, do your research.

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